By Jim Ellis
Feb. 6, 2020 — Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) yesterday announced that she was suspending her presidential campaign, which became an eventuality when she finished third in her home state primary last Tuesday. Her exit helps evolve the Democratic presidential contest into a two-way affair.
Can Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) win a two-person race when starting behind in the delegate count?
With political endorsements regularly being announced for former vice president Joe Biden during the post-Super Tuesday period, and momentum clearly behind his reinvigorated campaign, Sen. Sanders appears to have his political back against the figurative wall.
Currently, the unofficial delegate standing according to The Green Papers statistical website, a group that fully extrapolates the count in conjunction with Democratic National Committee apportionment rules, projects Biden to hold 656 bound first-delegate votes as compared to Sanders’ 584, an obvious difference of 72, which is a much better position than the media is currently portraying.
The March 10 primaries, which have not received much attention to date largely because most of the six states voting are relatively small, will become very important. Combined, the states possess a total of 352 bound first-ballot delegates led by Michigan’s 125 votes. The other states are Idaho (20 delegates), Mississippi (36), Missouri (68), North Dakota (14), and Washington (89).
From a national perspective, Sen. Sanders may well be in a position of having to score first-place finishes in four of these states. In the remaining two, Mississippi and Missouri, Biden has run strong in their region so there is little reason to believe that Sen. Sanders will be particularly competitive in either state.
The Vermont lawmaker has done well in traditionally Republican states among Democratic voters, so his chances in small Idaho and North Dakota should be strong.
The most recent available Washington state polling data comes from Elway Research and was taken in mid-February. That survey gave Sen. Sanders 21 percent of the vote while Biden lagged all the way down in fifth position with just 10 percent preference. The study, conducted over the Feb. 12-13 period, came before the Biden post-South Carolina resurgence and it is safe to assume that polling results would be considerably different today.
Predicting that Sen. Sanders will get the lion’s share of the Washington vote that would have gone to Sen. Warren, his delegate total will substantially increase. The Biden vote will obviously rise, too, if the Bloomberg and Klobuchar voters, who also finished ahead of Biden in the Elway poll, likewise gravitate to the former vice president. Therefore, it is seemingly realistic to state that Sen. Sanders has an advantage in Washington, but likely a smaller one.
Michigan then becomes key and there polling has been inconsistent. The latest survey comes from the Glengariff Group (Feb. 28-March 2; 600 likely Michigan Democratic primary voters) and finds Biden leading Sanders, 29-23 percent. Earlier, a YouGov poll (Feb. 11-20; 662 likely Michigan voters) found Sanders holding a 25-16 percent lead over the former VP.
Should Sen. Sanders convert the four states in question and avoid getting blown out in Mississippi and Missouri, the delegate count would likely become quite close. A cursory estimate suggests that doing so might be difficult, however.
Just to avoid losing any ground in the delegate count, Sen. Sanders would have to score approximately 54 percent in Washington, Idaho, and North Dakota, while capturing 52 percent in Michigan. He must then cut his losses by keeping Biden’s winning share of the delegate apportionment to 60 percent in Mississippi and Missouri. At this point, achieving such numbers in each state appears to be less than realistic, but performing any worse could also force the Vermont senator from the presidential picture.
Should he survive March 10, Sanders would have to score big in the March 17 primaries of Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio in order to make a serious dent in the Biden national lead.