Who Will Win the Democratic Primary?

Can it be? Is it here? Is the first voting day actually here?! Happy Iowa Day!

Yesterday I went with the Republicans first when doing Iowa predictions, so today I’ll start with the Democrats. Unlike those Iowa predictions or my Republican Primary prediction later today, I’ll keep this one short and sweet (or bitter, as the case may be for some of you).


Bernie Sanders has no margin for error. If he doesn’t win Iowa (though he might!), it’s over. If he doesn’t win New Hampshire (and he will!), it’s over. If he doesn’t win Nevada (but he could!), it’s over. And that’s just in the month of February:

February 1, 2016 Iowa 46 delegates
February 9, 2016 New Hampshire 24
February 20, 2016 Nevada 31
February 27, 2016 South Carolina 51

Sanders needs to win three of the first four states because a tie goes to Clinton. She’s up huge in South Carolina, so winning any other February state secures the tie, and a tie goes to the status quo. The status quo is Clinton with a solid lead nationally. When the Democratic Primary goes national in March, Sanders needs to have that gap almost totally closed. He can’t do that if they each won two February contests. Moreover, the delegate math is unfortunate for the Senator; his best February state, New Hampshire, is worth the least, while the Secretary’s best February state, South Carolina, is worth the most. So even if Sanders squeaks out Iowa, wins tiny New Hampshire by 20 points, and finds a win in Nevada, she might totally erase that slim delegate lead with a big win in the Palmetto State.

But let’s say he does win three of four. It’s not that improbable. He can win Iowa today, win New Hampshire huge next Tuesday, and then ride that momentum into Nevada for three states in a row. Run this campaign a hundred times, he might pull that off a third of them. The question then becomes: what happens next?

Well, it would certainly get even more interesting, but sorry, Sanders supporters, I still don’t think your candidate pulls it off. He’s run a brilliant campaign, connected to millions of voters, galvanized millennials to get involved in their first election, pulled Hillary Clinton to the left, and made this contest closer than anyone could have possible expected. That’s a big win right there. But as for earning the Democratic Nomination, I’m sorry, but I still don’t see it.

If Sanders defeats Clinton in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada over the course of February, there are two realistic scenarios waiting us in the month of March and beyond.


The Smooth Scenario

Look what’s waiting for us on March 1:

Super Tuesday:

March 1, 2016 Alabama 52
March 1, 2016 American Samoa 4
March 1, 2016 Arkansas 32
March 1, 2016 Colorado 64
March 1–8, 2016 Democrats abroad 13
March 1, 2016 Georgia 98
March 1, 2016 Massachusetts 95
March 1, 2016 Minnesota 78
March 1, 2016 Oklahoma 38
March 1, 2016 Tennessee 68
March 1, 2016 Texas 208
March 1, 2016 Vermont 15
March 1, 2016 Virginia 95

Alabama. Arkansas. Georgia. Oklahoma. Tennessee. Texas. Virginia. Not exactly the young, white, and liberal Democratic electorates that Sanders does well in. Sure, Sanders will win Vermont and its 15 delegates going away, and he’ll do well in Massachusetts and Minnesota, too. But his strength in the liberal cities of Colorado can be negated by its Latino population, which is about 20 percent of the state. The other states are all in Clinton’s wheelhouse. She should win big on Super Tuesday and firmly regain her inevitability status. Democratic voters will then rally to their new candidate and she’ll be the presumptive nominee by the end of April or May at the outside.

As for the other scenario…

The Stormy Scenario

Let’s say Sanders’s February momentum is so great that Clinton’s national lead totally collapses, even across the South. The two candidates are then neck and neck or Sanders even leads. The party then realizes it’s going to have a long, damaging fight on its hands, and that if it doesn’t do something, either an emotionally shattered Clinton or a democratically socialist Sanders will emerge as its nominee. Neither is appealing for a general election.

The Democratic Party would have an emergency, and it’d be time to break glass.

In comes Joe Biden. For the “good of the party,” he enters the race. He won’t make a lot of ballots, but his late presence and the tight race between Clinton and Sanders are enough to block either from getting the majority. Moreover, he’ll announce a staunch progressive — paging Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren to the emergency room, please — as his running mate in order to ensure Sanders supporters are on board and their insurgency cools. This ticket wins over the establishment and the progressives. Biden-Warren win on the second ballot at the convention. Sanders goes back to the Senate. Clinton loses her mind. Everybody’s happy. (Side note: This is also the scenario that plays out if Clinton’s email scandal reaches indictment levels.)

Is it likely? Certainly not. The Smooth Scenario is at about an 80 percent probability in my mind. But if it doesn’t pan out, the Stormy Scenario leading to a Biden nomination is much more likely than a Sanders Scenario.

Sanders supporters, it’s not all depressing news, though. How many times has the punditry, including this website, been wrong during this election cycle? If anything, you want us predicting your guy will lose!

See? I’ve done you a favor.

Later today: The February (and Final?) Republican Power Rankings, including the predictions for the Republican Primary.


9 thoughts on “Who Will Win the Democratic Primary?”

  1. I don’t think you’ve covered it yet, but how does the prospect of a mayor mike third party run affect these scenarios? Sanders-trump would be begging for a fiscal conservative social liberal, right?


  2. Right you are, loyal reader — I haven’t so much as mentioned Bloomberg’s name. It feels like a general election conversation. It has no impact on these unfolding primaries.

    If it is Sanders-Trump, you better believe the Mayor is jumping in. It’ll be the most viable third party attempt since TR ran Bull Moose in 1912.


    1. He has time, but he’ll want to qualify for ballots before mid-to-late summer. To qualify for ballots, he’d need hundreds of thousands of signatures (it varies by state), which would take time. An independent big has no impact on primaries.


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