Proto-Spring Edition

In its first entry of the 2020 primary season, Herman’s Toteboard began the new year by observing the that “the race seems to have settled into something of a dull, sticky paste, as very little has actually happened among the main contenders for quite some time.” In a nutshell, for perhaps a solid eight months, Biden stood as the weak frontrunner, trying to poke his nose up to 30% in the national polls, while Bernie claimed a weak second-place slot, trying to crack 20%, as the others scrambled to get out of the teens or single digits. There were a few moments that suggested we might see some plot developments – e.g., Kamala Harris impressing in the first debate, Buttigieg shining in an early town hall, Warren surging in October – but these all turned out to be mere blips on the motion sensor, as things eventually settled back into their original stasis. Then suddenly the first few primaries and caucuses seemed to indicate a volatile, rapidly shifting narrative, with a different headline du jour, alternately touting Bernie’s juggernaut, Biden’s demise, Buttigieg’s early competitiveness, Klobuchar’s brief day in the sun, and Warren’s delightful emasculation of Bloomberg.   But by the time Super Tuesday actually rolled around, the largely unchanged national polls brought things back down to earth. The great midwestern hopes were history, Bloomberg was exposed for the joke that he is, and Warren just didn’t have a plan for getting enough people to rally around her as the un-Bernie, un-Biden. Instead, it ended up where it started, with a showdown between the two candidates who consistently (albeit weakly) led the polls for what seemed like an eternity, and the voters making a clear statement as to which one of them had the lower ceiling. And when push came to shove, the late deciders decided they felt safer with the un-Bernie than the un-Biden. To invoke the Toteboard’s other early observation about the three pillars of Obama’s coalition, it looks like Biden ran away with the African-American vote (based largely on historical connections and personal loyalties), soundly carried the moderate white working-class vote, and performed respectably with the educated white liberals, holding his southern firewall, grabbing Texas, making dramatic inroads into New England, and effectively making Bernie look like a niche, single-constituency candidate. So where are we now? The contests tomorrow are basically Bernie’s last chance to reverse that narrative, but he has a thin needle to thread, and it’s not clear that even a few Tuesday surprises can make him truly competitive again. The polls and conventional wisdom say that Biden has a lock on Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho, and North Dakota (though the latter don’t have any recent polling), so that leaves Bernie Washington (which theoretically should be his best pick up opportunity) and Michigan (his surprise 2016 win) at best, but the polls show that even those could be a heavy lift. Bernie could actually lose everything, but it’s hard to imagine him not soldiering on. The numbers: Biden: 1-6 (previously 4-3) Sanders: 7-1 (previously 4-3) Someone else: 200-1 (previously 50-1) Happy Spring from Herman’s Toteboard!!!