Rest assured, tomorrow night’s debate live thread will contain plenty of blather by yours truly hyping it as very important indeed to the outcome of the race. It’s the first Bloomberg debate, right? And it’s coming at a moment when Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren all need to make magic happen to keep their slim chances at the nomination alive. Should be explosive!
But let’s not kid ourselves. To all appearances, Sanders is going to be the nominee.
Even if you could cut the Gordian knot in which the centrist candidates all find themselves tangled and hand one of them a one-on-one race with Bernie, there’s no strong evidence that Bernie would lose that race. To the contrary, a YouGov poll last week claimed that he’d win handily against any opponent. A new NBC/WSJ poll corroborates that finding, specifically with respect to Mike Bloomberg (and Buttigieg):
“There is one clear and inescapable set of results: Bernie Sanders is the definitive [Democratic] front-runner, and the current numbers do not represent his ceiling, but instead his base with room to grow,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies…
When the Democratic field is reduced is just Sanders and Bloomberg, the Vermont senator holds a 20-point national lead over the former New York City mayor, 57 percent to 37 percent.
And Sanders also holds a double-digit lead over Buttigieg in a hypothetical two-person race, 54 percent to 38 percent.
Overall it’s Sanders 27, Biden 15, Bloomberg 14, Warren 14, Buttigieg 13, Klobuchar 7. A month ago Biden stood at 26 percent, just a point behind Bernie; he’s crumbled thanks to Bloomberg and Buttigieg eating away at his centrist support, gaining five and six points over the same period, respectively. Benjy Sarlin’s conclusion seems inescapable:
The universe where Bloomberg spends $500 million to stop Sanders and accidentally divides the field and enables him to win the nomination even faster sure looks like the universe in this poll https://t.co/T7n4rLcpEQ
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) February 18, 2020
Not just in this poll. I wrote at length this morning about how the new numbers from Virginia show centrist Democrats murdering each other’s chances in a state that would otherwise be a walkover win for any of them against Bernie. He lost Virginia to Hillary Clinton in a landslide in 2016 but he’s tied for the lead there with Bloomberg right now thanks to the 40-car pile-up at the top of the moderate lane. It’s the same story in North Carolina per this new poll:
WRAL/ Survery USA poll of 2020 D primary:
Mike Bloomberg- 22
Bernie Sanders- 22
Joe Biden- 20
Pete Buttigieg- 11
Elizabeth Warren- 8
Amy Klobuchar- 5
— Joe Bruno (@JoeBrunoWSOC9) February 18, 2020
Bloomy, Biden, and Buttigieg have 53 percent of the vote between them but right now Sanders, who lost North Carolina to Clinton by 14 points four years ago, is right in the thick of it. Even if one of those centrists drops out before NC votes on March 15, odds are decent that the centrist frontrunner will continue to bleed some delegates to lower-polling rivals, making it that much harder to catch up to Sanders in the race to the convention.
Just to make this even more painful for establishment Democrats, both Biden and Bloomberg do better head-to-head nationally against Trump in NBC’s new poll than Sanders does. Buttigieg does basically just as well as Bernie, with each leading Trump by four points. Democratic voters also have lots of misgivings about a candidate like Bernie even though they seem pretty comfortable with the actual Bernie given his healthy favorable rating across various surveys:
A combined 67 percent say they have reservations or are “very uncomfortable” with a candidate being a socialist.
Fifty-seven percent have reservations/are very uncomfortable with someone who had a heart attack in the last year.
Fifty-three percent have reservations/are very uncomfortable with someone who’s older than 75 years of age.
By comparison, just 41 percent say they’re very uncomfortable with a candidate who spends hundreds of millions of dollars to fund his campaign. This shouldn’t be as easy for Sanders as it’s shaping up to be, but the perfect storm seems inbound — two early-state wins with a third on the way on Saturday, Biden underperforming, Warren fading and ceding the progressive vote, and a battle royal in the middle between Joe, Pete, Amy, and Mike. Change any one of those variables and we’re probably chatting right now about whether Sanders will try to damage the frontrunner by going all the way to the convention or whether he’ll drop out early. As it is, probably only Bloomberg has the financial wherewithal to hang with him in state after state, and as you can see in NBC’s results, there’s every reason to think Bloomy will be finishing second if he does.
Especially as the oppo on him keeps dropping. BuzzFeed is out with a piece tonight noting something Bloomberg said last year about the Democrats’ lurch to the left on identity issues like transgenderism: “If your conversation during a presidential election is about some guy wearing a dress and whether he, she, or it can go to the locker room with their daughter, that’s not a winning formula for most people.” That’s true, but the reference to “it” will be noted and further encourage lefty opposition. In lieu of an exit question, here’s Meghan McCain fighting with her co-hosts today over the lack of enticing options in the Democratic field, very much including Bloomberg. “You guys have done a piss-poor job of convincing me that I should vote for a Democrat.”