Bloomentum: Bloomberg now tied with Bernie for the lead in Virginia

I wonder if Bloomberg’s done the math yet on how much it would cost to start buying off actual voters instead of just Democratic staffers and party influencers. Figure $100 in cash per vote. All he’d need to do is identify, say, five million undecideds across the remaining primary states and that’s five million extra votes for him at a cost of half a bil. Pocket change for Bloomy.

In the general election? Identify five million swing voters in the handful of battleground states that’ll decide the presidency and up the payout to $1,000 each. Is $5 billion too much to pay for the presidency for a man who’s worth $60 billion?

Meh, I think Bernie’s going to beat him regardless. But maybe not in Virginia:

Among Virginia voters who are likely to participate in the Democratic primary on March 3, support currently stands at 22% for Bloomberg, 22% for Sanders, and 18% for Biden. They are trailed by Pete Buttigieg (11%), Amy Klobuchar (9%), and Elizabeth Warren (5%). Another 11% of likely primary voters remain undecided and do not lean toward any candidate at this time.

The poll asked voters how they would vote in a hypothetical two-person race pitting Sanders against one of the more moderate candidates. In these scenarios, Sanders edges past both Klobuchar (45% to 42%) and Buttigieg (44% to 42%) but comes out on the losing end against Bloomberg (41% to 47%) and by an even wider margin against Biden (38% to 51%)

Virginia voters are looking for electability – 62% say beating Trump is more important to their vote than lining up with a candidate on any policy issue. Another 22% say electability is as important as their top policy concern while just 14% say it is less important than issue alignment. Among those who say beating Trump is their top priority, 23% support Biden, 23% support Bloomberg, and 17% support Sanders. Among those who say it is not a top priority, 31% support Sanders and 21% back Bloomberg.

The topline numbers show clearly how much Bernie is benefiting from the muddle in the middle, which has been made even worse by Bloomberg’s entry into the race. Four years ago he was stomped in Virginia by Hillary, 64/35, an unsurprising result given what a poor match the state was demographically for him at the time. Virginia has a large black population (26 percent of the electorate in the 2016 primary) and a very large well-heeled suburban population (41 percent of the electorate in that contest made $100,000 or more). He’s made inroads with black voters this year but the upper-middle-class is still a tough get for him given the sticker price for his agenda. And yet he’s tied for the lead in today’s Monmouth poll even though the four “moderate” candidates — Biden, Bloomy, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar — combine for 60 percent(!) of the vote. They also draw a collective 52 percent of the vote as voters’ second choice.

If Warren drops out before Super Tuesday, which is highly likely, and the four moderates dig in their heels and compete vigorously, it’s possible Sanders wins this state with 25 percent after losing it by nearly 30 points four years ago. Even if he doesn’t win, the winner is likely to receive a relatively small share of delegates from Virginia due to the moderate muddle, making it that much harder to close any delegate gap nationally with Sanders.

Peek into the crosstabs of Monmouth’s poll and you’ll see how Bloomberg is killing Biden among the constituencies he needs to win — and vice versa. Bloomy actually leads among self-described “moderate” and “conservative” Democrats at 25 percent (and is a surprising tie for second with Biden at 16 percent among self-identified “liberals”). Among Joe’s base of senior citizens, it’s Bloomberg who leads, 32/20, with Bernie far back at 10 percent. On the other hand, in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups with Sanders, Biden crushes Bernie among black voters, 63/27, whereas Bloomberg *trails* Sanders narrowly, 49/43. And among the $100,000+ cohort that you’d assume would lean Bloomberg, it’s actually Biden who’s ahead, 19/18, with Bernie close behind at 16 percent.

However you slice and dice that data, the takeaway is clear: Either Biden or Bloomberg would be leading the state comfortably if not for the other’s presence and would be on their way to a blowout if Buttigieg and Klobuchar had already quit. Which leaves me to wonder how many establishment Dems are quietly rooting for a Biden meltdown in his South Carolina “firewall” next week. As risky as it would be to them to have Sanders sweep the four early states, the only way to resolve their collective action problem is to have the field clear ASAP behind Bloomberg. Bloomy’s not leaving before Super Tuesday; Biden might, and Mayor Pete and Amy might do poorly enough in Nevada and South Carolina to be nonfactors by March 3 even if they’re still in the race.

But maybe tomorrow night’s debate will rescue the Dems. Sean Trende makes a good point here:

Maybe Democratic voters have been flirting with Bloomberg, seduced by his ad campaign, but once they get a snoutful of attacks on him tomorrow the infatuation will begin to dim. That’ll be good news for Biden — unless, as I say, he flames out in South Carolina and suddenly moderate Dems are in the worst of all worlds, with Joe damaged beyond repair and Bloomberg *also* damaged by his poor debate performance. On top of that, as Trende notes elsewhere, some Super Tuesday states are already in the midst of early voting. Which means that even if disaster befalls Biden or Bloomberg over the next 10 days and suddenly clarifies the moderate lane in the race, many votes for each will already be banked in key states. Imagine Bloomberg losing Virginia narrowly to Sanders even after Biden has dropped out because a lot of Joe voters turned out to vote early in Virginia this year. Hoo boy.

Exit question: Is Obama going to jump in sometime soon with an endorsement? Doesn’t sound like it, per this New York magazine piece. Reportedly his team has assured Bernie’s that he won’t get involved in the primary. Quote: “Obama and those around him ‘have a very clear understanding that if they put their finger on the scale right now, all of a sudden half of the Democratic Party hates him,’ an influential Democrat who keeps in touch with Obama explained.”