Just in case you’ve been busy with your life, and have not spared much of a thought to the primaries beyond what wanders across any of the various screens you view on a daily basis, you might think that the Democratic primaries have only just begun, the results are mixed, and we’re in it for the long haul, and that Nevada Saturday and South Carolina next week are the be all and the end all of the story.
You could be forgiven for thinking so, because the huge lead-up and grandeur of these early caucuses and primaries gives them an outsize value. But in the grand scheme of things, they are not the whole enchilada. In two weeks, however, March 1 will be either the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, for this nominating fight.
(In order to not get too bogged down in specifics and statistics, I am going to round numbers.)
The number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination is roughly 2400. So far, we’ve seen about 70 regular delegates get allocated via the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, barely a dent in the amount needed to win. However, by this time in two weeks, one quarter of the final number, i.e. one half of the winning number, will have been doled out via primaries and caucuses.
One thousand of those delegates are being awarded on March 1, across a dozen contests. If Sanders continues to build on his early success, and fights to a win, or even roughly a draw that day, then his viability is confirmed and we are in it for the long haul.
But if Hillary is a clear winner that night, then it is all over but the shouting.
That seems like a disproportionate outcome, I know, but the disproportionality stems from the super delegate system the Democrats put in place decades ago to avoid the tsuris the Republicans are feeling from Trump. Approximately 700 party elders, elected officials and the like are also given a voice in selecting the candidate. Hillary already has about half of those committed to her. Bernie has 8.
So any clear victory by Hillary Clinton on March 1 will create a delegate hole too deep for Bernie to climb out of, given that there are no winner-take-all primaries in the Democratic contest. Even a clear victory by Bernie will only bring the contest closer to a tie, but he will still be behind, and we will settle in for a longer duration.
Another prospect working against Bernie is the SuperPAC money. The ideological simonizing gives him a stronger moral underpinning – which plays, don’t get me wrong! – but the sad fact of the matter is that the Hillary will enjoy a significant advantage in the air war, thanks to SuperPAC money doubling her total, freeing up her campaign cash-on-hand to concentrate on the ground war.
With roughly the same amount of campaign money, Bernie will have to spend proportionately more on ad buys, and expensive media markets for 3/1 include Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Boston and Suburban-DC Virginia. This will exacerbate throughout the primaries and, even if he wins, he’ll need the help of unaffiliated SuperPACs to win the general, whether he wants them or not.
Based on delegate and money math, then, the weather report for the Democratic nomination is mostly Hillary, with a chance of Bernie. I’ll cover the GOP state of play in a later post.