Joe Biden takes center stage as Buttigieg drops out of presidential race
By Steve Peoples
AP National Political Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidential politics move fast. What we’re watching heading into a new week on the 2020 campaign:
Days to Super Tuesday: 1
Days to general election: 256
The Democrats’ 2020 nomination fight is at a crossroads. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains the front-runner. And with former Vice President Joe Biden’s resounding victory in South Carolina, Biden can now make a credible case that he is the strongest Sanders alternative — especially now that Pete Buttigieg is out. But will the party’s moderate wing unite behind him? The moderate lane is still somewhat crowded even after Buttigieg’s departure given billionaire and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s looming presence. On the eve of Super Tuesday, we’re about to learn whether this truly is a two- or three-person race or if Sanders will build an insurmountable delegate lead. Either way, this could be headed to the convention.
THE BIG QUESTIONS
How long will Biden’s moment last?
Biden probably had the best night of his political career Saturday in South Carolina. He scored his first win of 2020, which actually marked his first primary victory over three presidential runs. Now comes the hard part. Biden has little organization, paid advertising or time to help turn the South Carolina landslide into an equally strong showing on Tuesday, when 14 states, one U.S. territory and Democrats abroad weigh in on the race. Also standing in his way: Bloomberg, who draws from a similar pool of voters and will be on the Super Tuesday ballot as well.
How will Bloomberg’s billions stand up?
At last count, Bloomberg had spent more than half a billion dollars on his 2020 campaign before appearing on a ballot. That investment will finally be tested on Tuesday, when a series of states representing one third of 2020’s presidential delegates have the option of picking Bloomberg’s name. That’s even as some establishment Democrats are quietly calling for him to quit the race to allow for the anti-Sanders vote to consolidate behind Biden.
Where do Buttigieg’s votes go?
Buttigieg surprised everyone by suspending his campaign Sunday evening in the wake of Biden’s South Carolina victory and his own dismal showing among voters of color. Buttigieg earned just 3% of the non-white vote, according to AP VoteCast. Conventional wisdom suggests that much of the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s vote share would go to Biden, an ideological ally. But these things are never quite so simple. Buttigieg had definite overlap with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who drew from the same collection of educated, suburban white voters. And of course, fellow Midwesterner Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota who barely registered in South Carolina on Saturday, could pick up some votes. It’s also fair to wonder how much support Buttigieg was poised to win as the race becomes nationalized. Polls suggested he may have struggled to hit the 15% threshold in several Super Tuesday states, so there may not be as much to go around as his rivals hoped.
Who gets out next?
Even after billionaire Tom Steyer and Buttigieg’s weekend departure, there are still six Democrats in the race. And four of the six have yet to finish better than third place in any of the first four primary contests. For the record, that’s Bloomberg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Klobuchar and Warren. History suggests most of these candidates would be out of the race by now. If the trend holds on Super Tuesday, we could see the field down to two or three by this time next week.
Will Sanders’ Latino support put him over the top?
California and Texas offer by far the largest trove of delegates. It just so happens that both states also feature large Latino populations. That’s good news for Sanders. The question is how good. Tio Bernie (Uncle Bernie in Spanish) dominated the Nevada caucuses last week on the backs of the Hispanic vote. If Hispanic voters stick by Sanders on Tuesday in the two states that matter most, he could build an insurmountable delegate lead.
Will coronavirus hurt Trump?
President Donald Trump insists that there’s no reason to panic about the coronavirus, yet the public health threat — and the related Wall Street slump — creates a high-stakes leadership test just eight months before his reelection test. Few issues will matter more to voters this year than their health and the economy. That creates incredible pressure on Trump to get this situation right.
THE FINAL THOUGHT
Buttigieg’s abrupt departure was a surprise. And it marks a big step forward in Biden’s fight to emerge as the leading Sanders alternative. But as long as Bloomberg stays in, Biden’s comeback is far from certain.
2020 Watch runs every Monday and provides a look at the week ahead in the 2020 election.