Joe Biden likes to say voters are in a battle for the soul of America. But first, there’s the battle for the soul of his party.
With voting finally underway in the 2020 president election, the leftist, socialistic wing of the Democratic Party led by Sen. Bernie Sanders is jamming the moderates who say they have the best chance to beat President Trump in November.
With votes from the flubbed Iowa caucus more or less counted, Sanders is essentially tied with former mayor Pete Buttigieg, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren third and Joe Biden fourth. If you add the votes of the top four candidates, the leftists Sanders and Warren got about 44.3% of the vote, while the moderates Buttigieg and Biden got 42%. If you include Amy Klobuchar, who came in fifth, with Biden and Buttigieg, the moderate portion rises to 54.2%.
In terms of what Iowa voters want, 57% said they favor the huge government health care program, Medicare for all, that would eliminate private insurance, according to Edison Research. Only 38% said they oppose that. Medicare for all is probably the touchiest leftist idea, thoroughly opposed by nearly all Republicans, many Independents and some Democrats. If any single issue could sink a Democrat against Trump in the general election, it’s probably “socialized health care,” as Trump likens the Sanders program.
The Iowa election was so shambolic and indecisive that it didn’t carry the normal weight the first primary vote does. Yet the Democratic candidates are rapidly realigning anyway, with Biden’s campaign suddenly reeling. Biden had been the on-and-off leader in Iowa, and a fourth-place finish looks like a collapse. In Morning Consult’s first national poll of Democratic voters since the Iowa caucus, Sanders replaced Biden as the top choice, 25% to 24%. Mike Bloomberg surged into third place, with 15%, followed by Buttigieg and Warren.
Sander’s fund-raising continues to lead the pack, as well. He pulled in $25 million in January, more than any candidate has raised in any month in the whole election so far. The other campaigns haven’t yet released their fundraising tallies for January, but Biden took a day off from campaigning in New Hampshire, just days before the Feb. 11 primary there, to meet with donors—an obvious sign of concern.
Financial markets unfazed by Sanders
The race can still take many turns, but Sanders is peaking at precisely the right moment, and he has the funds to last till the end, no matter what. Biden could recover, especially since he’s expected to win the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary. But establishment Democrats have worried about Biden’s staying power all along, and their worst-case scenario—a Biden fade combined with a Sanders surge—may be playing out.
Financial markets seem unfazed, but a reckoning may be coming. “There seems to have been little reaction in the U.S. stock market to the recent surge in support for Bernie Sanders, despite the major shift in policy that his presidency could represent,” forecasting firm Capital Economics wrote in a Feb. 4 research note. “That might be too complacent.”
Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is a moderate similar to Biden on policy, favoring, for instance, a limited new public health care option rather than Medicare for all. He’s well-funded, too. But Buttigieg has weaknesses: virtually no built-in support among minorities, the way Biden does, thanks to his association with Barack Obama, and no experience at all in national government. And as a gay man, he could struggle to get even a few conservative votes. Many analysts expect Buttigieg to underperform outside his home turf in the Midwest.
The strongest Democratic candidate, for now, is Sanders, with a 49% chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, according to fivethirtyeight. This is the scenario Bloomberg seems to have foreseen when he entered the race last November. Despite his many billions, however, it remains mathematically improbable that the former New York City mayor could win enough delegates in the primaries to clinch the nomination. “There is a better path for Bloomberg after the Iowa caucus than before it,” Beacon Research advised clients recently. “But his odds of winning increased from ‘non-existent’ to ‘remote.’” With so many other candidates, Bloomberg could still miss the 15% vote threshold required to win the delegates who determine the nominee. He doesn’t even crack 1% odds on fivethirtyeight.
What Bloomberg can do is stay in the race till the end, thanks to his bottomless funding. If other candidates drop out, Bloomberg could be in a position to become the nominee in a complicated “brokered convention” that would make the blown Iowa caucus look like a bake sale. Sanders supporters could revolt if their man isn’t the nominee, threatening to withhold support from whoever does win. The Democrats’ problems may only be starting.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.