Super Tuesday Upended the Democratic Primary

The race for the Democratic Presidential nomination took a sharp turn this week with the arrival of the so-called Super Tuesday. If you’re not familiar, Super Tuesday is the first day of the primaries with major pledged delegates actually on the line including critical races in delegate-rich California and Texas. After the first three contests, Bernie Sanders was in the driver’s seat. He won the popular vote in all 3 contests and seemed poised to keep it close against Biden in South Carolina and nobody else seemed to have a viable path to beat him.

But Biden surged after a massive win in South Carolina and the math changed once more. With less than two days until the critical Super Tuesday, when a third of all the primary delegates on the line, Biden had resuscitated his campaign and Bernie was suddenly pressed.

Biden won a stunning string of victories on Super Tuesday that have catapulted him into a dominant position in the primary. Prior to South Carolina, his projected odds of delegate majority per FiveThirtyEight were less than 1/10, while Sanders had peaked at just below a 1/2 chance. Now the odds place Biden as a near 90% favourite, a complete upending of the race in less than 72 hours. Now, these odds are liable to change once again with the upcoming contests but make no mistake, Sanders is fighting for his life in the next few contests – and it would take a miracle larger than the one that just saw Biden’s surge to return him to equal footing with Biden. 

Sanders suffered for having adapted a more passive posture,clearly  believing that he was in a strong position heading into Super Tuesday and hedging against risking further acrimony with opponents who would need to soon be his allies. But the gambit backfired, eggs thoroughly counted before they hatched.

Since Tuesday, the Sanders campaign has adopted an attacking posture for the first time since January. Hitting Biden for his record on Social Security cuts, the Iraq War, Gay Rights and many other policy positions. It’s not clear how much any of it will matter. Biden’s argument for the nomination has been that he is the most electable candidate, and thus best suited to defeat Donald Trump – nevermind that there’s very little evidence for this being the case – his sudden position as frontrunner will seem to affirm that argument in the minds of those who were wavering. Winning begets winning, and even though Sanders and Biden do not have a significant delegate total difference – Biden has recaptured the momentum at a critical juncture.

How did Biden manage this sudden turnaround?

Well, it began with a strategic phone call from Obama to Pete Buttigieg. What happened behind the scenes is out of reach, but something tipped the moderates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and even Beto O’Rourke to Biden at the 11th hour. Biden is rallying his supporters to form an Anti-Sanders coalition. It could be pressure from their donors, or promises of appointments to important positions in a Biden White House, regardless, much of it comes off as cynical politics.

While Amy Klobuchar positioned herself as very much of the political tradition of centrist pragmatism and thus a natural ally of Joe Biden, the endorsements by Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke speak to a more sinister, careerist aspect of electoral politics. While Pete had tacked right in an effort to find a lane for himself the later the contest got, he began his campaign representing new ideas, and a fresh way forward – and Beto was the same. To now be endorsing Joe Biden, the embodiment of the Democratic old guard, is a complete about-face. 

Much of this ties directly into the recently suspended campaign of Elizabeth Warren, who’s decision to stay on through Super Tuesday significantly harmed the Sanders coalition. And though she has dropped out, she has declined to endorse Sanders despite their supposed ideological similarities. Instead, she has hit out against the “toxic” elements in the Sanders campaign in multiple tv appearances. The first realistic candidate for a Jewish president just had White Supremacists show up and drop a Swastika banner at his rally. So you’ll have to spare me if I find the endless handwringing about a few rude Twitter personalities a touch trite. Sanders, a Jewish man whose entire extended family line was extinguished in the horror of the holocaust, has assembled a progressive coalition built on youth of colour, and organized racists in America know the danger he represents to their hateful ideologies.

Returning to Warren, even if she were to endorse Sanders now, the acrimony directed by her and her campaign towards Sanders has probably lowered the number of potential supporters that would willingly jump from the Warren to Sanders camps simply at he say so. Warren’s choice was to lose with dignity or to risk sabotaging the progressive causes she claims to champion. She chose the latter, and split the liberal vote with Sanders, leaving him to pick up far fewer delegates than he might have otherwise, particularly egregious as Warren was not viable in many states or districts, meaning her votes were essentially wasted. This means that not only did those votes not add to Bernie’s progressive total but that the portion of votes even in states where Sanders won went more favourably for Biden.

Bernie Sander’s coalition reflects the future of the Democratic coalition, all the segments of society that the party must win over to win in the future. The recent endorsement by Jesse Jackson could strengthen Sander’s legitimacy among a so-far elusive demographic, older Black democrats. While the Democratic primary is defined by class interests, it is playing out as a generational battle. Sanders wins every demographic under 40, while Biden dominates over 65 of nearly every race and income. Sanders will need to crack Biden’s support among seniors if he is to return the delegate math to his favour, one of the reasons he is hitting Biden so hard on his record on social security. Where it works, your guess is as good as mine, but if it doesn’t Biden will very likely be the Democratic nominee.

 

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