On Politics: The Moderates Finish Merging

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  • Bernie Sanders just can’t have nice things. For a few weeks, he sat happily at the top of the polls, holding a steady lead over Joe Biden while the moderate Democratic candidates fought among themselves. But after Biden’s win in South Carolina, the party establishment rapidly circled around him — and moderate voters followed suit. The result was a series of Super Tuesday victories that look only more commanding as you dig deeper into the data.

  • And yesterday, still reeling from the rout, Michael Bloomberg exited the race, leaving Biden with a path cleared of moderate foes as he looks ahead to another voting-heavy week.

  • Bloomberg made history without winning a single primary (though, OK, he did win the American Samoa caucuses) — by running the most expensive self-funded campaign ever, spending $558 million of his money on ads alone and eschewing charitable donations. Ultimately, despite dwarfing his opponents in terms of airtime, he was unable to resonate with voters, or to overcome a pair of debate performances in which he often failed to parry his rivals’ attacks.

  • “I am cleareyed about our overriding objective, and that is victory in November,” Bloomberg said in his campaign-ending speech. “I will not be our party’s nominee, but I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life.” Bloomberg immediately endorsed Biden, and he signaled that he’d keep using his fortune to topple President Trump.

  • The question now for Biden is whether his strength on Super Tuesday was steroid-induced — pumped up by the endorsements of Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Harry Reid, Jim Clyburn and others — or if it represented a durable base of support that he can carry through to the nomination, and on to November.

  • If it does hold together, here’s what Biden’s winning coalition looks like: It is older, moderate, suburban and heavily African-American. He may have to work harder to bring young people, liberals and Latinos into the fold.

  • Those three voting groups mostly went to Sanders on Tuesday, but not enough of them cast ballots to put him over the top in most states. “Of course I’m disappointed,” he told reporters in Vermont. He admitted that his push to drive a surge in turnout among young people and Latinos had not panned out. In fact, as Lisa Lerer pointed out in last night’s newsletter, it was in the pro-Biden areas — particularly suburbs and African-American neighborhoods, and particularly in Southern states — that turnout tended to jump far above 2016 levels.

  • Biden made note of this in his own remarks on Wednesday, at the W Hotel in West Beverly Hills, Calif. “I’m especially proud that our campaign is generating so much enthusiasm, driving up voter turnout all across the nation,” he said. “This idea that we didn’t have a movement — look at the results. Look at who’s showing up.”

  • Elizabeth Warren lost badly on Super Tuesday, finishing in a disappointing third in her home state, Massachusetts — and doing no better in any other state. But she retains support from a sizable chunk of liberal Democrats, many of whom could potentially line up behind Sanders if she departed the race. That was the elephant on the phone line when Warren and Sanders spoke Wednesday. But Sanders insisted that he had not pressured her to drop out. “She has not made any decisions as of this point,” he told supporters, “and it is important, I think, for all of us — certainly me, who has known Elizabeth Warren for many, many years — to respect the time and the space that she needs to make her decision.”

  • With Bloomberg out, reporters and editors for Bloomberg News no longer have to do the awkward tango of covering a campaign in which their boss is involved. Not since the days of William Randolph Hearst had a media mogul’s own staff been responsible for covering his campaign.

  • Iowa isn’t the only state with dysfunctional voting. Voters in Texas and California, the two biggest Super Tuesday states, sometimes had to wait in hourslong lines. In some Texas precincts, voters were still casting ballots nearly six hours after polls closed. The problem was generated partly by a surge in voter turnout, leaping to over 2.1 million in 2020 from 1.4 million in 2016. But it also had something to do with Texas’ aggressive drawdown on polling sites; it has removed 750 since 2012, according to a report by the Leadership Conference Education Fund, a civil rights group. Most closures have been in areas where the black and Latino population is growing by the largest numbers, an analysis by The Guardian found.

Joe Biden made his point at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

There were two big surprises on Tuesday. First was the degree to which Biden was able to beef up his support in a newly narrowed field. Second was the sheer number of people who showed up to vote in the states he won.

The results in key states like Virginia, North Carolina and Texas suggested that an increase in voter turnout was not correlated to Sanders’s success, as he had predicted. Instead, it was often in areas where Biden thrived that turnout rose the most.

Biden had trailed Sanders badly in polls of the nation and many Super Tuesday states just a week before. But a cascade of good news, beginning in the lead-up to his victory in South Carolina on Saturday, helped Biden win 10 of the 14 states that voted on Tuesday. In Virginia, for instance — where the race had appeared close in pre-election polls but Biden wound up beating Sanders by 20 points — half of voters said they had made up their mind within the past few days. Three in five of those late deciders voted for Biden.

In states that Biden won — concentrated in the South, though some were in the Northeast and Midwest — he took 51 percent of voters 45 and over, half of moderates and conservatives, and 62 percent of African-American voters, according to a Monmouth University analysis of exit-poll data.

Notably, most Democratic voters in state after state indicated that they agreed with some of Sanders’s key policies, like free public college tuition and a “Medicare for all”-type health care system. And in many states, voters were more likely to say they wanted a candidate who would bring about needed change than one who could unite the country — which would seem to line up more with Sanders’s insurgent campaign than with Biden’s message of unity.

But it was Biden’s commanding margins among those who wanted unity that often helped lift him to victory.

President Barack Obama’s support, Biden’s record on Social Security and the impact of “disastrous trade deals”: These are the topics of three political ads released by the Sanders campaign on Wednesday.

For Sanders to rebound, he will need to do some reinventing. Officials with his campaign now acknowledge that his original strategy of driving turnout among typically undisposed voters is not working well enough. Reports suggest that the campaign now intends to target older and more moderate voters, who have heretofore been reluctant to support Sanders — and now threaten to form the backbone of Biden’s new coalition.

The campaign sees Sanders’s longtime devotion to protecting Social Security and other entitlement programs as critical to this effort. Same for his opposition to major free-trade agreements.

Sanders’s first move after Super Tuesday was to release the three ads. In one, Obama is heard praising Sanders and saying that “people are ready for a call to action. They want honest leadership.” Obama then says, “They will find it in Bernie.”

The Biden campaign was quick to snipe back at Sanders for that ad in particular, highlighting Sanders’s occasional criticism of Obama’s policies as too centrist. “As recent history has proven, no quantity of ads can rewrite history — and there’s no substitute for genuinely having the back of the best president of our lifetimes,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden spokesman.

Asked about the ad, Sanders replied: “We have worked with President Obama. I’m not going to say he and I are best friends. We talk every now and then.”

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