Is Bernie Sanders winning or losing?

Despite looming Super Tuesday, long way to go for Democrats

Joe Biden's South Carolina win reshaped the Democratic contest, and it will keep doing so even after Super Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Joe Biden's South Carolina win reshaped the Democratic contest, and it will keep doing so even after Super Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 2, 2020 at 7:38am


ANALYSIS — A week ago, after CBS News and NBC News/Marist polls showed former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead in South Carolina shrinking to the mid-single digits, it appeared that Sen. Bernie Sanders was about to get another boost in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Yes, others might still be vying for the pragmatist banner, but an imploding Biden campaign had to be good news for the Vermont independent. Most of the TV chatter wasn’t about who would win the party’s nomination but rather whether anyone or anything could slow Sanders — producing a “brokered convention” that might give anti-Sanders forces a fighting chance.

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But after Saturday’s results propelled Biden very much back into the Democratic race, supporters of Sanders must feel less comfortable than they were. And if they don’t, they should. Their revolution might have gotten a little ahead of itself.

Even with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s exit from the race, there are too many “establishment” contenders in the race, which gives Sanders an advantage on March 3rd, Super Tuesday. But, with the help of Rep. James E. Clyburn, Biden proved his strength with black voters and older voters in South Carolina, and the rest of the South, as well as non-Southern states with a considerable African American population, offers Biden a potential source of support on which he must capitalize.

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The stronger Biden looks, the less Democrats need former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar as backup plans.

Indeed, if after Super Tuesday Biden looks as if he can beat Sanders, there are few reasons for other pragmatists to stay in the contest. All of that is why Buttigieg exited and why Klobuchar is not likely to be far behind.

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After the Palmetto State results, Sanders’s radicalism has become fair game, as has his impact on down-ballot races in November. And Biden’s supporters will continue to raise doubts about the Vermonter’s approach of changing the electorate by bringing in new voters, especially younger ones.

But Sanders still has plenty going for him, including financial resources and grassroots enthusiasm. He is likely to have a good Super Tuesday, picking up large numbers of delegates in California and Texas, in addition to showing well in Colorado and Maine. His supporters are animated and energetic.

Sanders continues to do well with younger voters and the most progressive elements of the Democratic Party, and that seems to guarantee him delegates in all (or almost all) state contests. Some Democrats do want a revolution, a word that the Vermonter uses often.

Biden had a great night Saturday, but it was only one night, one contest in what had been a dreary month for the former vice president.

In contrast, Sanders’s demonstrated appeal to progressives means that he remains a threat — though a lesser one now — to win the Democratic nomination before the DNC convention in the middle of July.

The focus on Super Tuesday is both understandable and warranted, but the Democratic calendar doesn’t end on March 3rd. And that could be a problem for Sanders, especially as anti-Sanders Democrats coalesce around Biden.

March 10th has more than 350 delegates in play, including 125 in Michigan and more than 100 (combined) in Missouri and Mississippi.

On March 17, three large states (plus Arizona) will be selecting 577 delegates: Florida, Illinois and Ohio. A week later, Georgia’s 105 delegates are at stake.

If the race is still up for grabs in late April, six states will have important primaries on April 28th: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. More than 650 delegates will be at stake.

In May and June, a total of more than 500 delegates are at stake.

The point is that as important as Super Tuesday is, there is a long way to go until Milwaukee. The two wings of the Democratic Party — the pragmatists and the revolutionaries — each have enough muscle to make the fight for the Democratic nomination into an extended struggle. Don’t assume that Super Tuesday is the whole ballgame.

If Saturday was the beginning of a Biden resurgence, the pragmatists will likely be able to celebrate in Milwaukee. On the other hand, if it was merely an aberration, then Sanders will reassert his front-runner status in the race, and the Democratic Party is in trouble.