With dizzying speed, Joe Biden races to the front

Events in the American presidential election campaign are overtaking each other with dizzying speed. What was conventional wisdom just a week ago – before the South Carolina primary on February 29 – has after Super Tuesday been completely trashed.

Almost counted out, Joe Biden is now in the lead. The front runner, Bernie Sanders, stumbled badly, and the field got thinner, a lot thinner — out is Tom Steyer; out is Pete Buttigieg; out is Amy Klobuchar; and out is Michael Bloomberg.

Only Elizabeth Warren remains, but her days are clearly numbered. After a series of third and even worse finishes, she did not even manage yesterday to win her home state, Massachusetts, coming in third after Biden 33 percent, Sanders 26, Warren 21, and Bloomberg 11. In my hometown, Great Barrington, in the western part of the state, with a population of a little over seven thousand, Sanders won with 691 votes, followed by Biden 606, Warren 515, and Bloomberg 180.

Biden surprised all evening as the results came in, from east to west, and ended up winning ten of the fourteen states. His huge victory in Virginia stunned observers and set the tone for the evening. And what followed surprised even more, when, in the North, he captured Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Maine. And his victory in Texas was truly mind-boggling – no one saw that coming. His support, just like in South Carolina, among the African American voters, continued to be solid, 60 to 70 percent. But he also made big inroads among white suburban voters, who, in many places, went to the polls in larger numbers than 2016 and even than 2008, when Barack Obama captured the presidency. That bodes well for November.

Sanders, on the other hand, failed to expand his support, and, writes professor Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, “it’s clearer than ever now that at least some of his support in 2016 was simply a function of being the alternative to Hillary Clinton. Matched up with Biden more directly now, it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to match his 2016 achievements.” Momentum is now with Biden. Still, Sabato adds, the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nominee might change again. “Certainly, Biden is going to be under renewed scrutiny, and his campaign performances have been shaky at best.”

The consequences of Biden’s weaknesses, when the Democrats do not have “an awesome” candidate, as Tom Friedman writes in today’s New York Times. the party needs to have an “awesome coalition.”  “That means a party that is united as much as possible – from left to center to right – so it can bolster the nominee against what will be a vicious, united and well-funded Trump/GOP campaign.”

Right now, that unity does not exist, although it took a big step forward with Biden’s former rivals, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, with his billions, all endorsing Biden and, thereby, the moderate wing of the party against Sanders’ left-wing progressivism, his “democratic socialism.” Biden, should he win the nomination, needs Sanders and his young supporters to win in November. On the day after Super Tuesday, Sanders showed no indications that he is ready to play ball, at least not yet.  And, so, the race goes on, to the next Tuesday and maybe the Tuesdays after that, all the way to June and then the convention in Milwaukee in July. For the Democrats that is a dark scenario indeed.

 

As race tightens VP debate becomes more important

Tonight’s TV debate between Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger Paul Ryan will be exciting and important, although it will not affect the election outcome in any significant way.

That’s the belief, at least, of Gallup, whose recent report shows that none of the last eight debates between vice presidential candidates, between 1976 and 2008, had a major impact on the election results. In the 2008 election, for example, when Joe Biden debate Sarah Palin, support for the Republicans fell by only 1 percent after the debate, while support for the Democrats rose by 2 percent.

The race has tightened since Romney’s strong debate last Wednesday coupled with Barack Obama’s close to catastrophic performance. But, warns Nate Silver on his excellent political statistics blog FiveThirtyEight, in spite of Romney’s great success in the polls after the debate, he has not taken the lead in one of the ten “swing states” or “battle ground states”.

Romney, according to Silver, may have improved his chances of winning the election by 15 to 20 percent a result of his victory in the first TV debate, but:

”The more troubling sign for Mr. Romney, however, is that although he’s made gains, he does not seem to have taken the lead in very many state polls. That trend, if anything, has become more entrenched. Of the half-dozen or so polls of battleground states published on Wednesday, none showed Mr. Romney ahead; the best result he managed was a 48-48 tie in a Rasmussen Reports poll of New Hampshire.”

So Biden-Ryan debate tonight becomes very important for the remaining four weeks of the election campaign. For the Democrats the goal is to regain the lead and the momentum before Obama’s failed debate and for the Republicans it’s about not losing their new momentum. How will it happen?

I like Matt Miller’s advice to Biden in his weekly column in the Washington Post about what the vice president must do to win the debate. It will not be enough to accuse Romney of being a “liar” – more is needed.