The Corner

Elections

How Strong Is Bernie? A Weak Biden May Be the Only Democrat Who Can Stop Him

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appears at a campaign rally on the night of the New Hampshire primary in Columbia, S.C., February 11, 2020. (Randall Hill/Reuters)

After finishing about one percentage point behind Bernie Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., appears dead in the water.

Following his third-place finish in Nevada, Buttigieg is on track to take fourth (or possibly fifth) place in South Carolina, and appears unlikely to take first in any state three days later on Super Tuesday. Indeed, it looks likely he will not clear the 15 percent threshold to win delegates in several of the Super Tuesday contests. Buttigieg has just a 0.8 percent chance of winning a plurality of pledged delegates, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model.

Although the senators from Minnesota and Massachusetts have a decent shot at taking first place in their home states on Super Tuesday, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren are in about as bad of a position as Buttigieg. According to FiveThirtyEight, Warren has a 2 percent chance of winning a plurality of delegates, and Klobuchar has a 0.1 percent chance.

Just how strong is frontrunner Bernie Sanders? FiveThirtyEight estimates that he has a 70 percent chance of winning a plurality of delegates, and that the man most likely to stop him from winning the nomination is a weak Joe Biden.

The former vice president has an 18 percent chance of winning a plurality of delegates. And while Bloomberg has a 9 percent chance, that probably overstates the billionaire’s ability to edge out Sanders in a head-to-head competition. A YouGov poll conducted after the New Hampshire primary — but before Bloomberg’s disastrous debate performance — showed Sanders running 15 points ahead of Bloomberg (53 percent to 38 percent) in a national head-to-head matchup. The same poll showed Biden running four points behind Sanders (44 percent to 48 percent).

Biden has a very narrow but conceivable path: A solid win in South Carolina on Saturday that leads to Bloomberg’s supporters breaking toward the former vice president on Super Tuesday, and that translates into Biden victories across the South — Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Texas — while Sanders still wins California, Colorado, Maine, Utah, and Vermont.

Anti-Sanders Democrats can’t be too optimistic about Biden’s pulling it off, given his poor debate performances and record of underperforming the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire this year. But Biden’s chances of stopping Sanders seem much better than Bloomberg’s, or those of any other Democratic candidate left in the race.

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