Two-horse race for the democratic nomination

The riveting opposition Democratic party race for a presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump in November had narrowed to a two-horse race

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)
Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Ashis Ray

At the climax of Super Tuesday – 3 March last – the riveting opposition Democratic party race for a presidential candidate to challenge Donald Trump in November had narrowed to a two horse race. The contestants needed at least 15% of votes to earn delegates. Socialist Bernie Sanders, 78, hung in by clinching the greater share of pledges in delegate-rich California. But the night belonged to former vice-president Joe Biden, 77, who maintained his calibrated comeback since winning South Carolina on 29 February. He procured a majority of delegates in nine of the 14 states that were up for grabs, including Texas.

“We were told, well, when you got to Super Tuesday, it’d be over,” Biden said at a celebration in Los Angeles. He triumphantly added: “Well, it may be over for the other guy!” He continued: “I’m here to report we are very much alive; and make no mistake about it, this campaign will send Donald Trump packing.”

With the verdicts of other populous states like Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Georgia (24 March, 105 delegates) to be decided this month, the scene will soon be candid. After Sanders stole a march in the first three primaries in February, Democrats apparently decided he is too far to the Left to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters in an essentially and historically capitalist electorate. Thus the surge towards the centrist Biden. Trump, too, has betrayed with his alleged attempt to arm-twist the Ukrainian government into investigating him and his son, that the vice-president under President Barack Obama poses the greatest threat to his incumbency.

The destination is 1,991 delegates to win the race. And the over-stretched, time consuming process is only a quarter of the way to completion. Official confirmation of the winner will only occur in July at the Democratic convention. But if the change in sentiment towards a moderate choice, namely Biden, continues, the nomination could effectively be sealed earlier. Pundits believe he is poised to prevail in delegate-sizeable Florida.

Sanders sustained his support among Spanish-speaking people of South American origin; whereas Biden retained his hold over blacks and suburbia. Following the latter’s significant margin of victory in South Carolina, a good chunk of voters on Super Tuesday switched in his favour. Nearly 50% of late deciders opted for Obama’s once second-in-command; only one in five chose Sanders.

Even the Hispanic vote bank of Sanders was breached. One-third in this category lined up behind Biden, while fewer than three out of 10 selected Sanders. In general, a quarter of left-leaning voters plumped for Biden; about 20% for Sanders. Among younger voters - who root for Sanders – Biden narrowed the gap. Just under a third approved of the former vice-president; and a little over a third picked the senator. College-educated white voters preferred Biden.

An important takeaway from Super Tuesday was Sanders – who gave Hilary Clinton a run for her money four years ago – had failed to enlarge his following. Indeed, compared to 2016, the votes for him decreased. In contrast, the alliance behind Biden expanded appreciably. Quite remarkably, he spent little or no time campaigning in Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Tennessee; yet he triumphed in all these states. His ad spend on TV, radio and other media was the lowest among all contestants; yet he came up trumps. This indicated an advantage of being a known face; and the desire of committed Democratic to carve out a winnable candidate.

The returns were a car crash for Michael Bloomberg, the multi-billionaire former mayor of New York City, who delayed his debut in the primaries until Super Tuesday. At the end of a massive half a billion dollar advertising blitz, all he had to show for was the minor scalp of American Samoa.

Liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren has not notched a single success in a month of contests. She was defeated even in her home state of Massachusetts. When she and Bloomberg withdraw from the race – as seems to be inevitable – it will be interesting to see who her backers gravitate towards between Biden and Sanders. In terms of policies, she is closer to the latter. As for Bloomberg, who is rather right-wing to be a Democratic candidate, his supporters are quite far removed from Sanders. Incidentally, Indian-origin candidate Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who reportedly enjoys the endorsement of the RSS, is bringing up the rear in the competition.

Stung by the unexpected setback, Sanders waded into an immediate attack on Biden. This suggested he is likely to sharpen his criticism of his opponent. “You cannot beat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics,” he was quoted as saying. “What we need is a new politics that brings working class people into our political movement.”

After lacklustre performances in February’s first three primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Biden was short of funds and in danger of being outstripped by Bloomberg’s money power. But with solid showings in two successive television debates and a high profile endorsement from the highest-ranking African-American Congressman, Representative James Clyburn, he flipped his fortune. On the eve of Super Tuesday, three of his former rivals in the race – Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke – had also milled around him, not to mention donors. In other words, the momentum from South Carolina carried the day.

The doubts Democrats harboured about Sanders’ electability were driven home in no uncertain manner, his consolation in California notwithstanding. The United States prides itself as being the home of capitalism and a virulent adversary of anything remotely resembling state-ism. Even in an unpredictable political world, this could be Sanders’ undoing and a boon for Biden.

Regardless of the ultimate Democratic contender (neither of whom is likely to view kindly Narendra Modi's pitch for Trump), the spread of the coronavirus could have a debilitating short-term impact on the US economy. In fact, the emergency lowering of interest rates in America followed forecasts of GDP growth collapsing in the near term. In short, Trump’s rosy portrait of prosperity is in danger of being rattled. It’s a windfall the Democrats could not have dreamed of.

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Published: 05 Mar 2020, 8:00 AM