February 10, 2016
Bernie had to win or tie in Iowa. He did. Bernie had to win by a decent margin in New Hampshire. He did more than that. Hillary needs to win South Carolina. But what about Nevada? Who needs what to have a good chance to win the nomination?
Hillary Clinton is still the favorite. She’s at approximately 78% to win the nomination in the betting markets. The majority of super delegates are on board. She has a huge majority of endorsements.
But a bad result in Nevada changes the narrative. Nobody can blame it on an all-white electorate. It’s not part of her Southern Firewall, but it’s not Iowa or New Hampshire either. Let’s take a look under the hood:Bernie Sanders
Wants: A clear win. There are only so many excuses. This is a closed caucus. No Independents can participate. Nevada Democrats are diverse. If Bernie wins by 5 or more points and gets more delegates, it’s a clean win on what is perceived as unfriendly turf.
At that point, you would have to think the week between Nevada and South Carolina represents Hillary’s last stand as a front runner.
Needs: An Iowa-style muddle, with either more state delegate equivalents or more national convention delegates. He can’t let Hillary declare victory like she did in Iowa, but can get away with her making his Iowa speech and calling it a relative tie.
This scenario leaves Hillary as the favorite, but means it’s very unlikely she will shake her pursuer before June. Bernie would need to make things close in South Carolina to maintain an underdog path to the nomination.
Might Survive: A narrow loss, if he does better in the delegate equivalents than Barack Obama in 2008 (6 point margin), and is very, very close in convention delegates. If this happens, Bernie would really need to outperform in South Carolina, without being able to rely on massive momentum.
Hillary would definitely hold the edge, but Bernie could keep it close enough to see what happens when later state voters who were paying less attention get to know him better. His people can say he’s ahead of Obama’s ’08 pace in the three states to have voted. That’s of limited value, but it’s something.
Wants: A win. She doesn’t need a large win. A few point margin without Bernie repeating Obama’s rural delegate grab and she’s good. This lets Hillary say she’s won 2 out of 3, with the only exception being Bernie’s neighbor state.
An expected South Carolina victory (very likely if Bernie couldn’t win Nevada) then makes it 3 of 4 heading to March 1. It’s not enough to clinch the nomination as early as she would have preferred, but puts her clearly back in the driver’s seat.
Needs: An Iowa-style muddle. Not ideal. This gives Bernie a big win and two ties. Still, it’s both a good indicator for a Clinton win in South Carolina and an argument afterward that the two candidates effectively split the first four states. An underdog probably needs to draw more blood than that.
Bernie would still retain more than a minor chance at the upset, but it keeps the balance of power from becoming uncomfortably even.
Might Survive: Losing by about 10 points. If Bernie wins by 15 or 20 points, it becomes clear Democratic voters are flat rejecting her. It’s hard to see how she could do better than a paper-thin win in South Carolina, which would then look like the outlier instead of New Hampshire.
A 10 point loss puts her on the 2008 trajectory, but with far more institutional support in the party, which was somewhat divided 8 years ago. President Obama gave a speech in Illinois today with the express purpose of shoring up her foundation. As long as it’s not a huge blowout, she lives to fight another day.
It’s amazing what a difference a few votes makes. A shift of 10,000, maybe 15,000 voters is all it takes to turn a clear Bernie Sanders win into a clear Hillary Clinton win. Assuming both candidates make it to March 1 with their nomination chances intact, this changes.
Then the race turns into a delegate battle instead of an expectations and narrative one. That’s then. For now, each vote has an entirely outsized importance. For all the talk of South Carolina, Nevada is the pivot point of the Democratic contest.