Friday, February 14, 2020

Drawn-Out Fight Is More Likely Than Ever for Dems

It looks like it.

From Ronald Brownstein, at the Atlantic:

Senator Bernie Sanders’s unexpectedly narrow victory in New Hampshire underscored the splintering of the Democratic presidential field that was evident in last week’s murky Iowa caucus—and left two of his opponents facing grim questions about their future viability.

Just as in Iowa, the results illuminated the inability of any of the contenders to build a coalition broad enough to span the party or establish much separation from rival candidates. The roughly 26 percent share of the total vote that Sanders captured represents much less than half of his winning 60 percent just four years ago. And similar to former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s performance in Iowa, Sanders won the smallest share of voters ever garnered by a Democratic winner of the New Hampshire primary. (The previous low was nearly 29 percent, for Jimmy Carter in 1976.)

The New Hampshire results confirmed Sanders and Buttigieg as the field’s top-tier contenders and elevated Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who surged from a fifth-place finish in Iowa to a strong third here after a widely praised debate performance on Friday night. But the outcome may end up diminishing two of the field’s previous leaders more than it boosts the candidates who came out on top.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who were widely considered the race’s principal contenders for most of last year, were staggered by showings even weaker than anticipated. “I think everyone thought two weeks ago that Biden probably had the best chance of building the coalition that could pull everybody together,” Simon Rosenberg, the founder of the Democratic advocacy group NDN, told me. “And right now, assuming that Biden is weakened, it’s not clear that anyone is going to be strong enough” to amass a coalition that can produce a delegate majority for the convention this summer.

Biden’s campaign says it is ready to fight on in Nevada and especially South Carolina, with its large population of African American voters. But the extent of Biden’s collapse in New Hampshire, where he won less than 9 percent of the vote, has many Democratic strategists questioning whether he can forge a path back to relevance in the race. “I don’t see how he carries forward,” the veteran Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg told me. “I think it’s too much of a repudiation.”

Biden’s precipitous decline will immediately shift more focus to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg among party centrists skeptical of Sanders. Yet the release yesterday of an audio tape capturing Bloomberg defending in stark language the controversial stop-and-frisk policing tactic he employed in New York City underscores the ideological and racial obstacles he may face as the media and other candidates zero in on his record.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the past four Democratic nominating contests, when the race effectively resolved to a two-person battle after Iowa and New Hampshire. This year, the party faces the prospect of sustained uncertainty not only after the first two states, but even after the Nevada and South Carolina competitions still to come in February—and maybe even after Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states will vote.

“We’ll head into Super Tuesday without a lot of clarity and with Bloomberg representing an entirely new dynamic in all of this,” the Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told me. “This race is very, very different, where these first four states are setting the table for Super Tuesday but they are not the main event.”

If anything, the New Hampshire results spotlighted the obstacles confronting each of the candidates...