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With Super Tuesday right around the corner, improbable as it might have seemed even a year ago, socialist Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is running strong in the Democratic primary. After solid showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, there’s a significant risk that he could ultimately triumph, either outright or at a contested convention at which he holds a plurality of delegates.
As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver wrote last week, the model used by the data and polling analysis site is now “quite bullish on Sanders.” While it still shows as the most likely outcome that no candidate wins a majority of delegates before the convention, the model also indicates that Sanders is ultimately the “most likely Democrat to win a majority of pledged delegates.” A few factors have come into play here. About 40% of pledged delegates come from Super Tuesday states and those preceding them, where Sanders has (so far) done a pretty good job of running up his numbers. Sanders tends to clear 15% in each state vote, the minimum percent to be eligible to win delegates, so he can always bank at least a delegate here or there. And Sanders is not, in fact, as disliked as one might suspect. He currently holds roughly a 5-point advantage in a head-to-head matchup against President Trump, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
But a big factor weighing in Sanders’s favor is that a glut of centrists remains in the contest, fighting it out among themselves. Technically, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has the outright lead, based on pure delegate math. But others in the “moderate” lane see plenty of reason to continue. In addition to the Indianan there’s former Vice President Joe Biden, whose campaign rests on the assumption that his delegate count should improve sharply after South Carolina. There’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is gaining traction and in New Hampshire proved appealing to late-deciding voters. And, of course, there’s the elephant — or rather former elephant — in the room, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
As we saw with the Republican field in 2016, there’s a risk that these “moderate” candidates could split the non-Bernie vote and thereby, ironically, lock down a Bernie win. In New Hampshire, Silver notes, “50 percent of voters said Sanders’s positions were too liberal. Meanwhile, the combined vote shares for Buttigeig (sic), Klobuchar and Biden (52.6 percent) considerably exceeded that for Sanders and [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren (34.9 percent).”
In autumn 2015, I was getting laughed out of the room by fellow Republicans for arguing that Trump could wind up as president fairly easily. And we all know how that turned out. Bernie-skeptical Democrats who wish to avoid a 2016 redux on their side of the aisle should take note of the road they are going down. In several vital areas, they’re repeating the same mistakes of the Never Trump coalition.
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