C: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 https://bit.ly/3CvFnmg)

Biden back in it as Buttigieg bails out

As we noted on Friday, former Vice President Joe Biden was expected to triumph in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, and sure enough, triumph he did. His victory was not a surprise – but the margin of it certainly was:

Former Vice President Joe Biden had a big night in South Carolina, showing his promised strength with black voters.

If he had lost, Biden’s campaign would likely have been dead. But he far exceeded expectations, with a nearly 30-point win in the state’s Democratic presidential primary.

“And we are very much alive,” Biden said during his victory speech Saturday night.

Biden finished with more than twice as many votes as his closest rival, the previously ascendant Bernie Sanders. The consequences of his victory have yet to fully play out, with a huge and critical round of primary contests coming in the so-called “Super Tuesday” states tomorrow. But there was one immediate casualty:

Pete Buttigieg, the former small-city Indiana mayor and first openly gay major presidential candidate, said Sunday night he was dropping out of the Democratic race, following a crushing loss in the South Carolina primary where his poor performance with black Democrats signaled an inability to build a broad coalition of voters.

The decision comes just 48 hours before the biggest voting day of the primary, Super Tuesday, when 15 states and territories will allot about one-third of the delegates over all. The results were widely expected to show him far behind Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Buttigieg (his name is pronounced “boot-edge-edge”, not that we have to worry about that any more) may well have done Biden a huge favour by exiting the contest at this stage. Both men were pulling support from the same pool of so-called “centrist” Democratic voters – the voters who prioritise choosing a moderate candidate who can beat Donald Trump rather than a true-believing liberal who’ll be easier for Trump to attack, like Mr. Sanders.

But the benefits might not come immediately. Many of the “Super Tuesday” States have had early voting going on for weeks – over 2 million votes have been cast in California, for example – meaning that millions of votes have already probably been cast for Mr. Buttigieg that might otherwise have gone to Mr. Biden.

Adding to Biden’s woes is the fact that the Coronavirus outbreak is drowning out coverage of the primaries, meaning that fewer voters than usual will hear about his big win on Saturday.

The long and the short of it, then, is that Mr. Sanders is likely to have a very big day tomorrow, winning in California, and Texas, and other delegate-rich states which will give him a commanding early lead in the race for the nomination.

But Mr. Biden, having achieved a big win in South Carolina, can expect to do well in other southern states like Alabama, and Georgia, setting up a long, two-man fight for the nomination all the way to the Democratic Convention in July.

It also raises the prospect that neither Biden or Sanders will win enough delegates to claim the nomination outright, risking the prospect of a bitter battle on the floor of the Democratic convention for the right to challenge Trump.

Trump, meanwhile, while remaining behind in the polls, is amassing a considerable financial and organisational advantage over the Democrats. The prospect of a long, drawn out, Democratic primary will only enhance this, as Biden and Sanders spend money attacking each other instead of Trump.

Had Mr. Sanders won on Saturday, the Democratic fight would have been as good as over. As it is, the party faces into months of uncertainty. Trump, on the other hand, probably knows that the Coronavirus, and how it impacts the economy, will have more of a bearing on whether he is re-elected than what the Democrats do.

He will also have an unusual advantage – at the ripe old age of 73, Trump is now almost certain to be the younger of the two candidates vying for the Presidency this November. Whoever wins will be the oldest person ever inaugurated as US President.

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