From Far & Near
United States: Election Watch
Democratic Primaries: Joe Biden Strides Ahead
By Shashi Malla
After just a week, the Democratic race for the nomination has changed almost beyond recognition. Former Vice President Joe Biden was down and out and his campaign was just going nowhere. The South Carolina primary (nominating contest) had the feeling of a make or break moment.
Going into this race, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the clear front-runner for the nomination, having tied in Iowa, won in New Hampshire [his neighbouring state] and won crushingly in Nevada. The fourth nominating contest in South Carolina appeared more challenging for him, but he was polling competitively with Biden, and there was always the ‘Super Tuesday coming up to push him forward again (NYT).
The endorsement of African-American Representative Jim Clyburn, 79 of South Carolina was decisive as it later turned out. It earned Biden the kind of media attention he couldn’t afford to buy. Especially black Democrats were united by a single, urgent goal: defeating Trump with any candidate, and at any cost. But they were deeply skeptical that a democratic socialist like Sanders could unseat him (NYT). Perhaps Clyburn will go down in history as the kingmaker.
Thus, South Carolina created the wonder of wonders. Biden beat Sanders by nearly 30 percentage points, and his moderate competitors dropped off. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota both not only ended their campaigns but endorsed Biden into the bargain – a mind-blowing development that caught Sanders and his team completely off-guard.
Buttigieg had failed to win over African-American voters, and the prolific spending wasn’t enough to sustain the former hedge-fund executive Tom Steyer.
Just before the Super Tuesday states, Biden was lagging behind in the polls, but the South Carolina results reshaped the race exactly as Biden could have ever hoped for.
“Aided by several competitors’ withdrawals and endorsements, Biden dominated states he was expected to win narrowly, won states he was expected to lose and topped it off with victories in places he hadn’t even visited” (NYT). He won 10 of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday, while Sanders took Colorado, Utah, Vermont and probably California (the results are trickling in).
Sanders leads in California, which awards far more delegates than any other state, but this does not change the stark reality coming out of Super Tuesday that while the race certainly is not over, Biden is now the front-runner – and to Sanders woes, the favoured champion, not only of Democratic establishment, but all those Democrats who earnestly wish to see Trump defeated. He is now the sole representative of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.
The results were devastating for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the other ‘progressive’, who finished a dismal third in her own home state and was awarded far less delegates than Biden or Sanders.
Super Tuesday was also a stinging rebuke to multi-billionaire and former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who had invested millions of dollars on the idea that he could take over Biden’s voters when he inevitably stumbled. This turned out to be fully incorrect, and also the concept that millions of dollars could ‘buy’ the elections.
The Democratic field has now shrunk drastically and very swiftly from a once diverse field that included six women and seven people of color. In the past two weeks, five candidates have ended their campaigns in this order: Steyer, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, Warren.
The pull-outs reflected, over the course of just a few days, a decisive consolidation around one standard-bearer in the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, Joe Biden. The other, on the left, is the self-proclaimed democratic socialist Sanders. The sole woman, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is surprisingly still in the race, but she is averaging less than 1 percent in the polls and has won only two delegates, both from American Samoa.
The states Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington State all vote this Tuesday.
Michigan is particularly important according to political pundits as it is one of the three states [the other two being Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that vote in April in the primaries] that Democrats almost certainly need to win back in order to beat Trump in November.As a mark of their importance, Sanders is focusing heavily on them.
- Biden’s campaign will no longer suffer shortage of campaign funds as Bloomberg has offered his considerable fortune.
- What started in South Carolina could have a Domino effect.
- Warren has still not decided whether she will make an endorsement.
- One other challenge remains for Sanders: The youth turnout surge he predicted doesn’t seem to be happening.
The writer can be reached at: [email protected]