Biden’s Survival Path

By Jim Ellis

2020 Presidential Candidate and former vice president, Joe Biden (D)

Feb. 11, 2020 — Former Vice President Joe Biden said his campaign took a “gut punch” with his fourth-place finish in the Iowa Caucuses and, in the nationally televised debate on Friday night from New Hampshire, lowered future expectations when indicating that finishing close to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary would be an acceptable showing.

Recent polls suggest Sen. Warren will do no better than third place, meaning Biden, who can no longer be considered the national front runner, again looks to be lagging behind in fourth place among the Democrat candidates. Does another fourth-place finish doom his national campaign? Would Biden have a path to the nomination even if failing to win yet again in Nevada on Feb. 22?

The answers to the two queries are no and yes, and South Carolina is the key. After a win in the Palmetto State, he would then need to strongly springboard into Super Tuesday just three days hence on March 3. On that day, citizens in 14 states and one territory are scheduled to cast votes, and half of those states are in the South, a region where the former vice president has been dominant in polling.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the likely national leader headed to Super Tuesday, should find some relative strength in the southern states, and billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg will likely also break the 15 percent threshold in some of these places and others to score a limited number of bound delegate votes. If Biden wins most or all of the southern states with approximately 30 percent of the aggregate vote, it would likely give him approximately 200 delegates, a number that certainly could boost his viability within a national context.

From a delegate count perspective, even if he fails to break 15 percent to qualify for convention votes in New Hampshire tonight and doesn’t win Nevada, he is still not going to be unreasonably behind. In Iowa, the projected delegate count suggests that former mayor, Pete Buttigieg, will record 14 first-ballot national convention votes, Sanders’ 12, Warren 8, Biden 6, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), 1.

Even if Biden is shut-out in New Hampshire, the state only has 24 first ballot delegates and we are likely to see a three-way split among Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren. Should the former VP scratch his way into delegate apportionment he, too, would earn a few New Hampshire delegate votes.

Therefore, his deficit coming from Iowa and New Hampshire is only likely to be in the neighborhood of 15 combined delegate votes. A similar story occurs in Nevada. The state has only 36 first-ballot delegates, and even if Biden just barely breaks 15 percent and receives a minimum of delegates, he should be trailing by just 23-25 total delegate votes despite not scoring a victory in any of the first three places. This deficit number could be easily eradicated in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, assuming he rebounds to score a win in the former, which is fast becoming a necessity for him.

Even a 30 percent victory total in South Carolina, with its 54 first ballot delegates, would allow Biden to substantially cut his deficit. If for example, he records 30 percent through the statewide total and in the congressional districts and Sen. Sanders just gets the minimum 15 percent, Biden would reduce his 23-25 delegate vote deficit closer to 15 on Super Tuesday eve.

The seven southern Super Tuesday states are Alabama (52 first ballot delegates), Arkansas (31), North Carolina (110), Oklahoma (37), Tennessee (64), Texas (228), and Virginia (99). The southern first-ballot aggregate, first-ballot delegate total is 621.

American Samoa (6) and the non-southern Super Tuesday states: California (415), Colorado (67), Maine (24), Massachusetts (91), Minnesota (75), Utah (29), and Vermont (16), account for a total of 723 first-ballot delegate votes with California, obviously, being the big prize. Also notice that three presidential candidates, Sens. Warren, Klobuchar, and Sanders will each see their home states voting on Super Tuesday.

This home-field advantage for Warren in Massachusetts, Klobuchar in Minnesota, and to a lesser degree Sanders in Vermont because its delegate total is so low, in addition to a potential four-way delegate split in California, would actually play to Biden’s favor if he can break through and score a string of victories in the southern sector on this major electoral day because no candidate would have a large bound delegate vote total.

It also appears possible that as many as seven candidates, including Bloomberg and Steyer, could record bound delegate votes on Super Tuesday. If Sen. Sanders were to finish first in most of the non-southern states, it would be conceivable that he would only obtain about 25 percent of the aggregate delegate vote considering the number of his opponents who would also earn national convention support.

This means that should Biden actually come through in all of the southern Super Tuesday states where he currently leads in polling, which is all of them, the two contenders, Biden and Sanders, at the end of Super Tuesday voting would be within the same range of approximately 225 total delegate votes, with the others not far behind.

Keep in mind, however, that 1,990 delegate votes are required for a first ballot nomination, which means, if these projections prove relatively accurate, that any candidate garnering an outright majority of the 3,979 first-ballot delegate universe becomes highly unlikely under the aforementioned scenario; therefore, going to at least a second ballot would become necessary.

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