August 15, 2015
Server or no server, Biden or no Biden, Hillary is still the favorite. She’s by far the most likely Democratic nominee and, though I think the eventual GOP candidate (who won’t be Trump) will have a greater than 50% chance of winning next November, Clinton is still more likely to get inaugurated on 1/20/17 than any other human.
If she fails to win the nomination, the two most likely replacements are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders (if there’s a path for Martin O’Malley, we’ll explore at such time that it becomes plausible).
Uncle Joe’s path is very straightforward. He gets in the race in the next 4-6 weeks to give him enough time to put together a mostly legit campaign and get some PAC money.
For all the voters who want to blow everything up and elect an outsider who doesn’t have his fingerprints on the last couple of decades, there are an equal amount who want to see bipartisan cooperation to pass some legislation.
This is Joe’s constituency, something Team Biden probably recognizes as they leak the idea he may run on the idea of only serving one term and being able to serve more effectively as a result. These sort of things sound great to the No Labels crowd, but aren’t going to inspire party activists or convince the Bern Unit to vote for him.
It does give mainstream Democrats cover to vote for him and politicians to endorse him if damaging things are found in Hillary’s server, on a thumb drive, or if there’s proof she wiped hard drives clean.
It is hard to imagine a scenario where Biden defeats Clinton without her weakening beyond her current status. About ten days ago, I gave him about a 30% chance of winning if he got in. That was based primarily on thinking the email problem likely wouldn’t blow over, rather than great confidence in Biden’s odds of beating a viable Hillary.
So my dart-throwing breakdown for Biden looks like this:
If email/server thing blows over or doesn’t get much worse: 95% chance Hillary defeats Biden.
If it gets worse, and Hillary has to sacrifice a close associate or two to the Feds, but nobody tries to indict her and President Obama doesn’t directly endorse Biden, it’s still 75% chance Hillary defeats Biden.
If it gets significantly worse and Obama openly bails on Hillary, Biden will likely replace her.
If you think these are outcomes with somewhat equal possibility, Biden winds up in the 30% likelihood range. Getting in sooner than later is important so he can show the insiders he’s campaigning effectively and would be the safest choice for Fall 2016.
Ok, whatever. All of the above is a waiting game. Will Biden play, will Hillary impale herself…yada, yada, yada.
Is it possible to construct a reasonable path for Nominee Bernie Sanders? Does that path require the entry of Biden and/or collapse of Hillary or can he win straight up?
- He will have plenty of committed volunteers, especially helpful in caucus states.
- Closer scrutiny shouldn’t cause him too much trouble. Bernie has stayed very consistent over the years and isn’t trying to disavow his positions from the 1980s. Instead his claim is that he was right all along.
- Having won the past two elections and four out of six, many Democratic voters are not willing to do whatever it takes to win and are more focused on intellectual/ideological purity.
- Sanders claims he has never run a negative ad, or used negative campaign tactics. While he will draw policy contrasts, he won’t attack Hillary personally. This is very helpful. Hillary will get attacked by GOP candidates and is not popular with the mainstream media. He can stay above the fray and let others attack for him.
- Turnout as a percentage of registered voters is low in primaries, lower still in caucuses. Bernie’s voters are likely more committed.
- If Biden does enter the race, he is far more likely to take voters from Hillary than Bernie. While some Sanders supporters are looking for a Hillary alternative, his base is for Bernie rather than against Hillary.
- The Democratic Party has moved left over the past decade. As fewer Senate and House seats are strongly contested by both parties, the primary has become the more important election in non-presidential contests. Many voters (just like their GOP counterparts on the right) are waiting for their support of progressive candidates to turn in to something. More Democrats think President Obama was too conservative than too liberal.
- Democrats reserve approximately 20% of the total nomination delegates for party insiders. These “Super Delegates” can break anything approaching a tie. It’s almost unimaginable these people, who include Democratic elected officials, state party chairmen, etc. would prefer running with Sanders at the top of the ticket in 2016. If Hillary proves completely toxic, they would prefer Biden. If she’s hanging in, Bernie better have enough votes for nomination without their help.
- The Deep South. Remember, Hillary actually got more primary votes than Obama. His delegate advantage came from being more organized in small caucus states and winning more Super Delegates. Though Obama was ahead for most of the process, it was still very close, like a football team that scores first, rarely trails, but still only wins 28-27. This was with Obama winning Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina (not to mention North Carolina and Virginia which are less southern now). While it’s very possible Bernie’s appeal will advance beyond the white voters who are the bulk of his support now, absent a complete implosion, expecting southern African-Americans to favor him over Hillary feels like a stretch.
- Any remaining big city African-American or Latino attachment to Hillary. Again, don’t think it’s impossible for Sanders to make progress, particularly if he continues to build momentum. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, the train will have left the station. However, with such a disadvantage in the South (even the entry of Biden is probably not enough to swing those states to Bernie), he needs to win delegates in California, Illinois and New York, places that are Hillary’s home turf. Many urban leaders have longstanding ties to the Clinton machine. In 2008, the chance to nominate the first African-American president wasn’t enough to break all of them free. It’s doubtful the opportunity to choose an elderly Jew will do what that couldn’t.
- The Clinton campaign will not ignore small caucus states again. In 2008 they underestimated Obama and did not organize well enough in places like Idaho. They also ran out of money when the nomination fight dragged on longer than expected. This won’t happen twice.
Bernie has more advantages than disadvantages, but the obstacles are likely lethal. In order to assume he could win a head-to-head contest with Hillary, you would need to assume she weakens enough to have more voters look at Bernie as an alternative to her, as opposed to just their favorite candidate. Even in a Democratic primary, he’s not getting to 50% in most states just by turning out his worshippers.
Can’t see how Bernie becomes the alternative without Hillary weakening enough to ensure Biden is in the race. The only way Sanders wins a head-to-head contest is if Hillary weakens severely, Biden does not want to run (even a last-minute entry after saying no now) and Martin O’Malley pulls away just enough voters to matter, but not enough to become a contender himself. That’s also unlikely. Either he gets enough traction to pull 10-20% away from her, in which case O’Malley gets a real view from the voters and it’s a three-way contest, or he doesn’t get enough attention to make a difference.
Moral of the story: Sanders is not defeating Hillary on his own, even though he’s a better candidate than many realize.
Could he defeat Hillary and Biden? Still unlikely. Most primary states are not winner-take-all. This was Hillary’s issue in trying to catch Obama last time. Even if Sanders were to win a majority of states due to Biden and Hillary splitting the 60% of voters that would prefer someone other than him, Sanders won’t get anywhere near 100% of the delegates in those states.
Head-to-head, he loses, and with Biden around, primary wins come at a cost, as Sanders might not wind up with that many more delegates than he would have had against Hillary.
So if he won’t likely win this way either, how does Bernie get the nomination?
Step 1: Biden enters race sometime in next 4-6 weeks. Focusing more on South Carolina and Nevada than Iowa/New Hampshire, and talking about only serving for one term, Biden makes Hillary fight on a second front.
Step 2: Things keep getting worse for Hillary on the email/server front, but no major indictments, nothing to force her from the race yet.
Step 3: Bernie wins Iowa, probably not by much, as his supporters come out in the cold, while some of Hillary’s do not. Biden draws a mere 10-15% of the vote, but it’s just enough to get Sanders past Clinton.
Step 4: Sanders does not say anything concescending to Hillary in New Hampshire prior to the vote (like Obama did) and wins that state too, getting over 50% of the vote as nonaffiliated voters turn out for him in large numbers.
Step 5: Hillary wins South Carolina over Biden, with Sanders finishing a stronger third than expected. After spending several months trying to win the state, Biden’s camp is disappointed he didn’t get it done.
Step 6: On the eve of the Nevada vote, more damaging info about Hillary comes out. While Democratic voters aren’t inclined to hold it against her, they are worried about what shoes may drop next. Surprisingly Hillary finishes 3rd in a close race.
Step 7: Hillary spends March trying to put out fires, while Sanders wins in CO, MA, MN, VT for starters, and then sweeps Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Missouri on March 15 with no more than 40% of the vote in any state, making it clear that if Biden and Clinton both stay in, Sanders will benefit.
Step 8: With Hillary refusing to exit, the Obama administration turns the screws, endorsing Biden and letting the Justice Department finish Hillary off. However, having won very few primaries so far, Biden is not seeming like a winner to voters. Meanwhile, Sanders wins caucuses in AZ, UT, AK, HI and WA, before beating Biden in the Wisconsin primary on April 5.
Step 9: Hillary still won’t go, so Sanders wins NY on April 19, finally forcing her from the race before the Biden Primary in MD, CT, DE, PA and RI on April 26. Biden wins his home state of Delaware, but splits the other states.
Step 10: Sanders gets just enough delegates the rest of the way to build up a solid pre-convention lead. In particular, his California win, sends a signal to the Super Delegates that giving the majority of their delegates to Biden after Sanders bested him in most of the large states and most of the swing states would lead to a revolt. Begrudgingly, they give in and turn their attention to the 2018 midterms.
The above is implausible but not impossible. Could happen, probably won’t. This is why Bernie’s odds are still under 10%.