Have you ever had a significant other whose prior significant other was particularly good-looking or talented, leaving you feeling a little, um, “inadequate”?
No? Oh. Me neither.
If we had, though, I bet we’d feel a little like today’s slate of primary contests. Super Tuesday spoiled us. Remember when a single state and just a few dozen delegates got us excited? Those were the days. But after mega Super Tuesday, with Joe Biden now on a likely inexorable march toward the nomination, nothing can compare to the exhileration of the unknown. Just 352 delegates? Please. That’s not even one California. It’s barely a Texas-and-a-half!
But I digress. Let’s take a look at Mediocre Tuesday.
|10 Tue.||Idaho primaries||20|
|North Dakota Democratic caucuses||14|
My preview will look at these in an unusual order. I am, after all, an unusual man. The rest of this primary boils down to a narrative of “Will Sanders catch Biden?” Since my answer is, “No,” I’d like to order these contests from Sanders’s best to worst state to show how he has a tough row to hoe, even if he does quite well in states that are good for him.
To be clear, I think this race is more likely to turn into a Biden blowout than it is Sanders making this competitive. I believe we can best learn just how difficult Sanders’s path is if we’re kind to him in today’s predictions.
Here’s the latest delegate count:
- Biden: 681
- Sanders: 608
- Candidates must get to: 1,990
- Remaining delegates to win: 2,511
North Dakota caucuses: 14 delegates
Statewide delegates: 5
Congressional district breakdown: a single Congressional district with 9 delegates
Latest polling: None. North Dakota still doesn’t have phones.
Breakdown: Sanders country — four years ago he earned 64%. Plus: it’s a caucus! Let’s be nice and give him a big win.
Pick: Sanders (Delegates: Sanders 10, Biden 4)
Idaho Primary: 20 delegates
Statewide delegates: 7
Congressional district breakdown: two district (6 and 7 delegates)
Breakdown: Also Sanders country — he won 78% of the vote here four years ago. Even though Joe Biden has more momentum now than Hillary Clinton did then, and even though our only poll shows Biden with a 4-point lead, let’s pencil in Sanders with three-quarters of the vote again.
Pick: Sanders (Delegates: Sanders 15, Biden 5)
Washington Primary: 89 delegates
Statewide delegates: 31
Congressional district breakdown: 10 Congressional districts with between 3 and 11 delegates for a total of 58
Breakdown: In yet more evidence of how Biden’s South Carolina-Super Tuesday two-step changed everything, Biden’s Washington state numbers appeared to have jumped 40 points. Sanders has also climbed, however, and they’re now close. As we see in these polls, Elizabeth Warren was still a part of the surveys, so how those votes break can determine the winner. It’s a good test to see if Warren truly was at least partially responsible for Sanders’s Super Tuesday struggles.
Four years ago, in this white, western, and liberal state, Sanders romped (though it was a Sanders-favorable caucus then and a primary now). Also unlike four years ago, there’s now a coronavirus freaking out the state. Luckily for Washingtonians, the primary is exclusively vote-by-mail, a process that will protect voters from each other, though I do sympathize with the civil servants opening licked-closed envelopes. The 18-day mail period should help Sanders, as about half of it took place before South Carolina. All of these indicators can reasonably point to a Sanders win despite Biden’s momentum and advantage in the last two polls.
Pick: Sanders (Delegates: Sanders 48, Biden 41)
Michigan Primary: 125 delegates
Statewide delegates: 43
Congressional district breakdown: 14 districts with between 4 and 9 delegates for a total of 82
Breakdown: The day’s biggest prize, Michigan makes up more than one-third of the day’s delegates. In 2016, it was home of the Democratic Primary’s biggest polling upset when Sanders squeaked out a 49.7 to 48.3 win over Clinton despite the polls showing a 21-point polling-average advantage for Clinton. The polls now point to a similarly sized win for the establishment candidate, including a 41-point drubbing predicted by the dubiously spelled Target-Insyght pollster. What an eerie potential repeat of history this would be.
Anyone picking a Biden victory in Michigan may be reminded by a Sanders supporter of 2016, and perhaps lightning will strike twice. Maybe there’s something systemically wrong in Michigan polling. However, pushing back on that hope is the different circumstances this time around. Not only does Biden have more momentum than Clinton did (Clinton was seen as struggling to put Sanders away after she was an enormous favorite while Biden was all but written off but is now in the midst of a surge) but there’s more to consider. FiveThirtyEight did an autopsy of the polling misses and found a variety of problems that contributed to the miss, including pollsters not measuring a last-minute shift. Two days before the Michigan Primary there was a debate, but only one pollster did a poll between the debate and the primary. This time: no debate, and we do see a slew of recent polls that confirm big time momentum to Biden.
The numbers say Biden takes the state quite comfortably. Still, remember that today I’m more trying to see what Sanders’s best-case scenario is heading into the two states Biden is slated to win big, so let’s say Michigan polling is fundamentally flawed and give Sanders a narrow win.
Official Prediction: Biden
Experimental Pick: Sanders (Delegates: Sanders 65, Biden 60)
Here’s where the delegate count stands with just those four primaries counted:
- Sanders: 138
- Biden: 110
- Gabbard: 000000000000000
Assuming a Michigan surprise, Sanders has eaten into Biden’s overall delegate lead by 28 delegates, shortening the deficit from 73 to 45. (Accurate Michigan polling would mean Biden basically negates the delegates won by Sanders in the other three states.)
But now we head to Biden country…
Missouri Primary: 68 delegates
Statewide delegates: 24
Congressional district breakdown: Eight districts with between 4 and 8 delegates for a total of 44
Breakdown: Oh my. Biden’s opening up a huge lead here. Let’s take the median result of these polls — Biden by 22 — which is below the average but gives more emphasis to the most recent polling data.
Prediction: Biden (Delegates: Biden 41, Sanders 27)
Mississippi Primary: 36 delegates
Statewide delegates: 13
Congressional district breakdown: four districts with 5, 8, 5, and 4 delegates for a total of 23.
Breakdown: Holy Mississippi, Batman! Hillary Clinton won the state with 82% of the vote, which got her 31 delegates to Sanders’s 5, and I see no reason it should be much different today. If Biden cranks it up to 85 statewide, or even just in a district or two, we’ll see Sanders really get crushed in delegates.
Prediction: Biden (Delegates: Biden 29, Sanders 7)
Today I was generous and gave Sanders four wins. With two small states by big margins and two big states by small margins, Sanders made up 28 delegates on the leader.
But then we got to Biden’s big Missouri and Mississippi victories, where he won 70 delegates to Sanders’s 34, winning back 36 or +8 on the day. And again: today’s estimates were kind to Sanders in his four states, particularly in Michigan.
If such a night as this one transpires, we can expect Sanders will try to make hay out of winning a majority of the states and shifting the momentum, but in reality Biden will have grown his delegate lead. Meanwhile, 352 fewer available delegates remain for Sanders moving forward.
To my mind, Sanders must pin his hopes on one of the following scenarios:
- He stuns us on a voting Tuesday this month. Today, for example, that could be by winning four states big or somehow finding a Missouri win to make it five. Such a jaw-dropping result would turn the tide in his favor early enough where it might make a difference. He could also do the same next week, a day where, as it stands, Florida is expected to deliver Biden a huge delegate haul on a huge primary day (588 delegates). If a Sanders surprise comes too much later, it won’t be occurring with enough delegates remaining for it to matter. There’s urgency here.
- This Sunday’s Phoenix debate. If Joe Biden absolutely bombs — like, if he lives out one of those nightmares where we can’t move, or he accidentally sets his podium on fire — Sanders can have a big March 17 with Arizona, Ohio, and Illinois wins (Florida would still vote for the fire-starter over Bernie Sanders). At that point we can talk about a competitive April that culminates in the huge northeast primary day of April 28, when 795 delegates weigh in near Sanders’s home state.
But that’s it. Those are the only scenarios left for Bernie Sanders. Meanwhile, if Biden crushes today and next Tuesday — very much on the table — it’s all over. And that’s more likely than the Sanders comeback.