Sunday, April 14, 2019

How the Primaries Align With Candidates

Given the giant field of Democratic candidates, the idea of guessing which will emerge seems like a mug's game, but a lot is evident when you look at the primary calendar. Because Super Tuesday is so stacked, because Iowa and NH are so white, I suspect the effect of the first four contests will have far less predictive powers than in past years. There are 155 delegates at stake in those four, and 1237 at stake on March third’s Super Tuesday.

The second feature is that the Super Tuesday states are disproportionately high-minority states. Of the ten states up for grabs, six have nonwhite populations over 30%—and in the south, that means the Democratic electorates we overwhelmingly nonwhite. (South Carolina is the only state for which I could find demographics on Dems specifically, but it’s instructive. The Black population in S.C. is 27%, but the percentage of Black Dem primary voters is 60%.) 
The final thing to note is that the primary process allots proportionate amounts of delegates to candidates who reach a 15% threshold in each contest. That's a big detail. Because of the huge field, a lot of candidates will fail to reach the delegate threshold, and could bump along through a few states earning no delegates at all. Meanwhile, it's possible other candidates will clear the threshold in many states while winning few, positioning themselves to survive into the post-Super Tuesday scrum.

Here are some of the details. (Analysis to follow.)

Iowa (41 delegates): Borders MN. Total pop is 91% white
NH (24): Borders VT and MA. Total pop is 94% white. 
Nevada (36): Borders CA. Total pop is 29% Latino, 10% Black 
South Carolina (54): Dem electorate is 60% Black (37% Black women)

Alabama (52): Total pop 27% Black, 4% Latino
California (416): Kamala Harris’ home state.  Total pop 39% Latino, 15% Asian, 7% Black
Georgia (105): Total pop 32% Black, 10% Latino
Massachusetts (91): Elizabeth Warren’s home state. Latino 12%, Black 9%, Asian 7%
North Carolina (110): 22% Black, 10% Latino
Oklahoma (37): Elizabeth Warren’s birth state. 11% Latino, 8% Black
Tennessee (64): 17% Black, 6% Latino
Texas (228): Beto O’Rourke’s home state. 39% Latino, 13% Black, 5% Asian
Vermont (16): Bernie Sanders’ home state. 93% white
Virginia (99): 20% Black, 10% Latino, 7% Asian 

How might all this play out? Let’s look at the candidates and see where they are looking to pick up states.

Kamala. The calendar sets up extremely well for Harris. She’s going to try to win SC, make noise in neighboring state NV, and then take as much of the south as she can. She could easily win half these states, including her home state of CA and have a massive delegate lead over whomever comes in #2. She will be battling Cory Booker for these same states, and the contest could break for either one of them, might split the Black vote and allow other candidates to sweep in, or could deliver a knockout blow for one candidate. Kamala currently seems stronger.

Bernie. Now the front-runner, which should help in close races. However, the states don't set up well for him. He should make a good showing in Iowa, will likely win NH (though Warren has a shot), will win VT. His only other possible pickup I see is OK, where the Dem electorate is surprising liberal. Bernie’s path is complicated by Warren’s candidacy and vice-versa. His plan is to get wins in the first two states, play well in NV, and hope the momentum will allow him to outperform on Super Tuesday and possibly pick up states where Booker and Harris split the Black vote.

Warren. Her path looks much like Bernie’s. She’ll try to compete in Iowa, will try to win NH outright, and will carry MA. She should also carry her birth state of OK. NV might be a decent long shot reach. Warren has underperformed in polling and fundraising, but she remains the most poised and polished candidate aside from Sanders, and is building her campaign for the long haul.

Booker. Booker’s plan mirrors Harris’, and his plan is to pick off some of the South. It will probably all come down to S.C. for him, because he doesn’t have a giant home state like she does as padding. If he loses S.C. to Kamala, it will bode badly in the other southern states. If he wins there, he could complicate things for Harris and give him an opening to crack open the contest.

Beto. His candidacy rests on inning Iowa or performing well there, making noise in NV, and then trying to compete in the South among moderate Dems, grabbing Oklahoma and of course winning his home state of TX.

Biden. I’m not really taking his candidacy that seriously. He’s running as the great white hope in a calendar where the whiter states are mostly home states of other candidates. Even before the #metoo problems, his plusses seemed far outweighed by minuses. I'm not taking his polling numbers seriously, because they're as high in SC as they are nationally--but by the time we get to SC, the Obama halo will be long, long gone. He could win Iowa but I don’t even like his chances there, with Klobuchar and Buttigieg more interesting candidates to Hawkeyes. If he runs, Joe is going to flame out just as he has the two previous runs. He's just bad at this.

Buttigieg. Hard to know how seriously to take Buttigieg. He's got a lot of competition on the win-Iowa strategy, but also has one of the best chances to do so. His campaign has a Jimmy Carter feel about it, and it's possible to see him catching fire and completely scrambling the calculus--but he could also wash out almost immediately. If he demonstrates a capacity to win whites and millennials, that could be attractive in the South. His whole plan is to win Iowa and kindle a fire from there. He has real political talent, and I'm not underestimating him.

Klobuchar. Win Iowa and hope for the best. I don’t really see a path here. She’s running as a moderate in a year when no one is interested in that. Perhaps she imagines she the moderates in each state will exceed the total of the liberal votes when dispersed across many candidates—that’s really her only shot. 

Gillibrand. I don’t see a path here, either. She’s going all-in on the female vote, but I don’t see how that translates to winning states. I suppose she hopes to survive Super Tuesday with a delegate count that suggests strength even in the absence of winning states, but that seems like a fool’s errand. She was an early favorite of mine, but her campaign is crashing fast.

Castro. Win NV and TX. Do well among CA Latinos. That’s what his advisors are telling him, and it would work if he were a stronger candidate. He’s not. 
Inslee and Hickenlooper. The former is running to put an issue on the table (the environement), and needs to do some work just to get into the conversation so he can do that. The latter is another moderate like Klobuchar, but he's also a white dude. Maybe that makes him more plausible to some voters, but he seems to have no chance in the world. He'll camp out in Iowa, hope to win it, and then try to figure out what comes next. 

Events will intercede and we’ll know more after Thanksgiving—but the math isn’t going to change. Despite trailing the Bs in the polls (Biden, Bernie, Beto) Kamala Harris clearly has the pole position because of the way the states line up. She could do something to screw that up, but based on the information we have now, before serious campaigning, she's got some big advantages.

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