By Jim EllisMarch 8, 2019 — Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision earlier this week not to enter the Democratic presidential race becomes the first major surprise move of the early campaign.
It was clearly expected that he would become a candidate. After all, he was talking about committing $500 million of his own money to the effort, he’d hired key campaign staff, designed a presidential campaign logo, and even organized an announcement tour beginning in his birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts.
Speculation continues to surround former Vice President Joe Biden’s decision regarding whether or not he may also ultimately decide to take a pass on the race; Bloomberg’s reasoning provides us a key clue that at least he thinks Biden will soon form a campaign.
So far, 11 Democrats have become candidates with two more filing exploratory committees. The pair remaining in pre-candidate status are Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).
It is conceivable that one or both of the latter women could decide not to become candidates. Rep. Gabbard has run into organizational trouble, is being attacked for her foreign policy positions, and now has drawn serious primary opposition for her congressional seat. Just recently, state Sen. Kai Kahele (D-Hilo) has earned public endorsements from former governors and key Hawaii Democratic Party leaders.
While many in the media cast Sen. Gillibrand as a top-tier candidate, she has gone nowhere since her exploratory announcement, failing so far to even break one percent in any released poll.
Examining Bloomberg’s belief that he would have matched up well against President Trump in the general election but faced a delegate mathematics problem in securing the nomination is likely true if Biden enters because they would largely occupy the same space. Both were expected to appeal to the more centrist element of the party’s national primary electorate. The greater problem, however, might lie for those further on the left who are all targeting a smaller voting universe.
While a recent Gallup poll identified that 54 percent of a representative sample of the Democratic universe believes the party should be more ideologically centrist, one could argue that at least eight of the remaining contenders are attempting to capture the far left, and smaller segment, of the party spectrum.
Their reasoning for doing so may be their three-fold. First, the leftward lane is their authentic ideological position. Second, is likely their belief that the typical primary voter and caucus attender will be further to the left of the mainstream general election Democratic voter, thus giving them greater influence over the nomination and third, that the elected delegates will fall even further left of the average voting participant.
This latter tenet would come into play should the convention become deadlocked early, meaning the delegates would eventually become free of their state’s voting commitment. Every state binds their delegates to vote in proportion to the state’s primary or caucus vote on the first ballot. Some free their delegates on the second ballot, some on the third. If voting exceeds three roll calls, all the delegates become free.
The field is beginning to settle, but at least four individuals remain on the sidelines who appear ready to announce. In addition to Biden, former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Virginia ex-governor and former Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, are expected to become candidates; but it is possible that one or more could back away in the same manner as Bloomberg.
On the other hand, Bloomberg’s decision not to run might spur at least Sen. Brown and McAuliffe into running because they, too, could begin to see a path for a candidate with more moderated positions, and particularly so if Biden decides not to enter. O’Rourke appears committed to crowding into the leftward space.
It is likely that the Bloomberg announcement will be the first of many surprises, twists and turns as we head toward the first votes being cast in the Iowa Caucuses early next February, and then through the entire voting process all the way to the Democratic National Convention in July of 2020. And, at this point, considering the large number of contenders, who’s to say that the eventual winner won’t also be a surprise.