March 13, 2016
In just 48 hours we’ll find out exactly how big a problem Bernie Sanders is going to pose for Hillary Clinton going forward. Her delegate math advantage means there’s no way for him to knock her out on Tuesday, even if he greatly exceeds expectations.
She can knock him out by winning all 5 states. That doesn’t mean Bernie would take the remaining millions in his campaign bank account and go home. He would continue forward as he’s promised, fighting all the way to California.
The calendar improves for him immediately after March 15. He has an excellent opportunity in the several caucuses and primaries taking place between March 22 and April 9. But without a strong enough performance Tuesday, it’s too little, too late.
A couple days ago, we argued math wasn’t legitimacy by itself. That assumes Bernie wins a couple Midwestern states on Tuesday. Add those to Michigan, and it’s clear that section of the country is feeling the Bern.
If Hillary sweeps Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio, along with completing her old Confederacy collection by winning North Carolina and Florida, she’s both added to her delegate edge and shown Bernie can only win in the northern most states and in caucuses.
Technically, that’s not true. Oklahoma was a primary and definitely isn’t northern, but it’s the one exception. All other Sanders victories were caucuses, in states bordering Canada, or both.
Conversely, if Bernie were to take the three Midwestern states, he could argue that with one exception (Massachusetts), Hillary is only winning in the old Confederacy plus two early narrow caucus victories.
It’s a big difference. The next round of states are mostly Western. Should Bernie have gone all-in on Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, risking a delegate wipeout in North Carolina and Florida, or spread himself wider/thinner, trying to minimize the math deficit, while perhaps missing the chance to show Hillary as a regional creation?
His decision was to attack all five states. Bernie arrived in Florida a full 24 hours ahead of the debate event there. He was still there the day after. Given the choice between parachuting in and leaving immediately, and spending all or part of three crucial days there, he opted for more Sunshine State time.
Polls do not indicate he has any chance of winning Florida. While surveys in Michigan and other Midwestern states have proven unreliable, that isn’t true elsewhere. In Southern states, Bernie has underperformed his polls.
Of course, part of Florida votes like a Northeastern state, but those polls have proven dead on accurate so far. With perhaps the highest percentage of early and absentee voting in the country, it’s not a great place for a last minute surge.
So why invest the time? Delegates. It’s the most populous state voting on Tuesday. If he can get enough younger voters out and keep the margin respectable, it limits the ditch he needs to climb out of.
It’s also a chance to show he’s relatively competitive with Latino voters. Bernie was very strong on preventing deportations in the debate. While I’m still not convinced that’s a be all, end all for the majority of Hispanic voters, it can’t hurt.
Bernie did relatively well among Latinos in Nevada, poorly in Texas. Part of his success in Nevada was a focus on how the housing/foreclosure crisis impacted Hispanic homeowners. Florida was hit very hard as well.
While Florida has one of the highest percentages of seniors, something that virtually guarantees a Clinton win, there are also plenty of young voters. The big gap is in between. We’ve seen that Bernie does well with younger voters of color outside the Deep South.
If you assume the average 27-year-old isn’t an early/absentee voting participant, perhaps he can still shove an adequate percentage of his favored demographic to the polls. In some respects, this might serve as a dry run to see what he can do a week later in Arizona.
A high percentage of Arizona Democrats are Latino, and it was another state hammered in the housing crisis. Looking even further down the road, California fits in to this theme. If Bernie is going to win the nomination, or even keep this interesting for the remainder of the race, he needs to do very well with Latinos under 40.
Given that chief strategist Tad Devine was a key figure in the creation of current Democratic Party nomination rules, from proportional allocation to super delegates, the impact of these decisions is not lost on the campaign.
We don’t know what their calculus is, but the risk/reward of their focus this past week was carefully measured. However, at least part of the plan was put in place before the Michigan victory. When the contest was called for him, Bernie was already done with a rally in Florida.
That makes the decision to stop in North Carolina after Florida even more interesting. We just managed to explain the logic behind spending more hours and days in the Sunshine State. It’s more predictive going forward, more delegates are at stake, and they didn’t know how Michigan would turn out when they began planning it.
None of those things apply in North Carolina. There are plenty of delegates, but no more than Ohio or Illinois. Actually less. It’s surrounded by states Hillary easily won. Nobody will think twice if he loses by 30 or 40 points. It’s an old story.
So why go? Why risk missing out on another day in Missouri, where the one poll has him in striking distance. Why sacrifice time in Ohio, where the polls stink, but the voters are quite a bit like Michigan.
They’re making a big push in Illinois, using Rahm Emanuel as a piñata and reminder of inconvenient Clinton ties. Wouldn’t Bernie want the maximum amount of time in and around Chicago, holding large rallies, having Rahm’s mayoral opponent Chuy Garcia introducing him?
At least a couple of possibilities. Perhaps the campaign thinks Bernie can only win Missouri, that the polls are more accurate this time, and that he needs to play for delegates everywhere because he can’t get victories anywhere.
Or, maybe Hillary has an impending disaster on her hands. By going to Florida and North Carolina, Bernie sacrificed the equivalent of a full day in each of the three more winnable states. If only worried about Missouri and Ohio, closer to two days in each.
We saw in Michigan that targeted attention can make a difference. But attention and constant campaign time are two different things. He will make multiple appearances in each of the three states, even with the time spent further south.
Team Sanders has plenty of money, more than Hillary to spend on ads. Not only is he raising it faster, but virtually all of his fundraising is for his campaign. Much of Hillary’s resources are tied up in super PACs.
Never mind the politics or optics of that. Campaigns get far cheaper advertising rates than PACs. It’s one of the things that plagued Jeb Bush. His dollars didn’t go as far as some of his competitors with a different campaign/PAC balance.
Also as Jeb learned, a PAC can’t produce the same quality of ad. Marco Rubio has suffered from this as well. Bernie is starting to do quite a bit more targeting. Michigan was all about trade policy. He’s concentrating there in Ohio too.
Illinois is turning into a constant focus on Chicago and Mayor Emanuel. It’s the perfect target. He’s moved back and forth between Democratic politics and Wall Street for the past 25 years. He was a prominent part of the Bill Clinton team.
Chicagoans are currently ready to get rid of him, and the burying of footage of Chicago P.D. shooting and killing unarmed Laquan McDonald until after the mayoral election was over looks terrible. The city gave McDonald’s family a several million dollar settlement, so it’s not like there was much question about whether the shooting was justified.
If Sanders can successfully target different issues in different places, all of which tie back to Wall Street and Clinton involvement in policies which hurt many of the people voting in Democratic primaries and caucuses, he’s really got something.
It sets up a fight to the death in the ethnic neighborhoods of New York City a month from now. The question is whether Bernie has the time to have this work enough for him on March 15th to remain anywhere near mathematically viable on April 19th.
We can’t be certain if the campaign strategy is based on a belief that they will win at least two states on Tuesday while keeping the delegate gap close elsewhere, or if they think it’s an uphill battle and they just want to survive the day without taking too big of a math hit.
You would follow a similar approach either way. The Michigan outcome suggests Bernie’s team doesn’t have any better idea what will happen on a given primary day than we do. Though they thought the result would wind up closer than public polling showed (Clinton’s team thought so too), the win was a surprise.
Bernie always says the result will depend on turnout. But it’s not just how many people turn out, but who. It’s hard to know what to expect there until it’s actually time to vote. They may have no idea whether they’ll win one state or three and figure they should play their cards and hope for the best. I think that’s what’s going on here.