by Albert Hunt
If you care about the presidential race, don’t blink. In a month the chaotic Democratic contest will be clarified — or muddied even further.
The next two Saturdays are the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary, which probably will winnow out two or three of the seven remaining real contenders for the huge March 3 “Super Tuesday.” More than one-third of the delegates will be chosen that day in 16 venues, including the largest: California and Texas.
However, there will be no time then for contenders to catch their breath. In the following two weeks another 11 states — including Florida, Ohio, Michigan and Illinois — are on the boards. After the March 17 primaries, more than 60 percent of the delegates will have been elected.
“By March 18 we will likely know if anyone has a pathway to a majority of the delegates or if it has to be settled in Milwaukee,” says Jeff Berman, the Obama delegate guru in 2008 who’s now working with billionaire businessman Tom Steyer.
It’s probable that no more than four, or conceivably five, candidates will be competitive in those big March contests. It takes massive resources, money and manpower.
They will include: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with grass roots support in most states; former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the ultra-rich billionaire who already is spending at a stunning pace; and perhaps mini-billionaire Steyer who barely registered in Iowa and New Hampshire but is contesting Nevada and South Carolina.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, with dismal showings in the first two tests, has to win in South Carolina; he is cash-strapped for the expensive March primaries. The others, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have to win, place or show in the remaining February elections to get the resources to be credible in March.
The candidate best positioned, detached analysts believe, may be Buttigieg, who — with Sanders — finished 1-2 in Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s raising money at a good clip and is building grassroots support.
The Democrats’ delegate selection rules will make it difficult for any candidate to get an overall majority if multiple contenders remain in the field.
In the primaries about a third of the delegates are awarded based on the statewide vote, and roughly two-thirds are awarded based on the tallies in congressional districts. (In Texas it’s state senate districts.)
There is no winner-take-all. A candidate must meet a 15 percent threshold to get a delegate, on the statewide contest and in districts. If four candidates are competing seriously, they will meet that threshold in most places, splintering the outcome.
Take California, with 416 delegates or more than 10 percent of the total. Most of its 53 congressional districts will elect five or six delegates. Even if, say, a Bernie Sanders or Mike Bloomberg finish first statewide and in most congressional districts, they might not come away with more than 40 percent of the of the delegates.
A handful of those California districts have a large African-American population, but almost every one is at least 10 percent Latino, and Latinos dominate some districts.
Overall, 3,979 delegates will be elected to the Milwaukee convention. If no one achieves a majority, it goes to a second ballot when so-called “super delegates” get to vote. These are elected officials like members of Congress, Governors and leading party officials, the men and women who enable — or impede — a president’s ability to govern. If they decide the outcome, it will infuriate left wing activists who irrationally object to giving a vote to officials, including those who have been elected by the voters.
Requiem: If New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary is a casualty of demands that status should be shared with other states, those engaged Granite State voters won’t be the only losers.
With multiple candidates spending most of their time in a small, populated radius, it’s a hub for out-of-state activists and young students.
At a Warren event I met Allison Ford and Paul Green, who drove up that morning from Massachusetts; they became friends canvassing voters here, though not quite sure which campaign. They caught the bug. This weekend they’re off to Maine to canvas voters against Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
College students from all over come to watch and learn. At a Michael Bennet event, a dozen students from Philadelphia’s Temple University told me how amazing it was to see and even meet presidential candidates.
My former colleague, David Shribman, brought 25 students down from McGill University in Montreal. Before meeting them, I brushed up on Canada — but as well as from up North, they were from Pakistan, Jordan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina and Mongolia. Several noted there’s nothing like this in their home country.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.