Tuesday, March 31, 2020

BTRTN: State of the “Race” (The Political One, not the Race to Contain Covid-19)

Tom steps back to assess where we are in the nearly-forgotten Democratic presidential campaign.

The coronavirus essentially has accomplished the impossible, shutting down the world as we know it.  Our global community has shrunk to fit within our four walls; whole swaths of our lives have been eliminated, while routine tasks (such as acquiring food) have become outsized events, requiring meticulous planning.  Massive entities such as United Airlines and Carnival Cruise Lines suddenly find no demand for their products, while others that cater to the shut-in life, like Instacart and Zoom, are soaring.

And what of the presidential race, that quadrennial spectacle?  Yes, it is still underway, in near-subterranean fashion.  Our purpose here is to give you an update, because it is pretty hard to tell what is going on if you don’t search carefully.  Campaign coverage, if not non-existent, has been relegated to the final minutes of any news or commentary show at best, the middle pages of the newspaper, and  "below the fold" of any website.

So let us provide an update covering five subjects:  how the campaigns are being run; the delegate count; the primary schedule, such as it is right now; the head-to-head polls; and, finally, for sport, the state of the Democratic veepstakes.  Plus, a brief section on Andrew Cuomo.


Joe Biden is running for President!  He may as well be running for mayor of a town smaller than South Bend for all the airtime he is receiving.  Unable to hold rallies in swing states, generate any particular news, or command any podium in these times of crisis, Biden is grappling with attention-deficit disorder of a different kind. 

Biden did give a widely praised speech on the coronavirus on March 12, the day after Trump’s disastrous, wooden, error-filled speech to the nation.  He was clear, reassuring, motivating, specific, empathetic – everything Trump was not.  It was his best performance, perhaps, of his entire campaign.  A few nights later, on March 15, he held Sanders to a draw in their first head-to-head debate, a necessary step in solidifying the clobbering he gave Sanders in the three March 17 primaries.

And then he more or less disappeared.  Biden has been doing TV interviews, virtual Town Halls, and even tweeting to try to capture the attention of the electorate.  It is an uphill battle.  Trump commands a podium nearly every night, mouthing reassuring words written for him while riffing to the base and dissing reporters and other perceived enemies (countries, corporations, Democratic governors, etc.).  The incumbent always has a platform like no other, but, in these times, Biden has been utterly marginalized, struggling to find his own niche in the crisis.

Worse for Biden, there is a new face of the Democratic Party.  Andrew Cuomo ,the Governor of New York State, is adroitly managing the current epicenter of the crisis.  Every morning at roughly 11 AM EST, Cuomo gives a clinic on inspirational leadership in desperate times.  He does it without a teleprompter, loosely following PowerPoint slides that he displays.  But frequently he simply talks, not just to his constituents, but to an increasing segment of the country.  Day after day he offers a comforting diet of factual updates, folksy charm, New York gumption, clear direction, empathy and hope -- in short, the strength, wisdom and humanity that people crave from their leaders in such times.  And this has hardly gone unnoticed.

Cuomo’s performance is accentuated by the contrast of his morning press conferences with Trump’s late afternoon ones.  The two are locked in a kind of public conversation, and debate, about the nature of the virus and its required response, Cuomo’s determined urgency volleying with Trump’s erratic “fiddling” (as Nancy Pelosi memorably termed it). 

Thus Cuomo offers a contrast to both Trump and Biden.  He simply has been masterful in ways one can compare directly with Trump, and readily imagine versus the Biden we have seen on the campaign trail.  While Biden has already demonstrated the chops to manage the crisis far more effectively than Trump, it is hard to envision him coming close to Cuomo’s level.

Biden may be a bystander, though through no fault of his own.  But what can be said of Bernie Sanders, the guest who stayed too long?  The day after the March 17 trouncing, Sanders announced that he was “assessing” his campaign, which is often a precursor to pulling out, said to soften the blow and allow the candidate, his staff and supporters to brace themselves for the final reality. 

Except Sanders has not pulled out at all.  He has simply fallen deeper in the void, even more invisible than Biden.  The very first day of the “assessment,” he did emerge to perform his Senate duties as Congress negotiated what became a $2 trillion stimulus package.  Reporters asked him to clarify the state of his campaign, and he brushed off the question by gruffly declaring that he was “dealing with a fucking global crisis.”  (Frankly, it’s not as if he was in the room for the negotiations; one of Biden’s debate points was, essentially, that Sanders, a Senate gadfly who belonged to neither party, was never in that room.) Then, a few days later, he missed crucial Senate votes on the aid package, choosing instead to hold a virtual campaign event.

Many Democrats are asking, why does Sanders not pull out?  What is he thinking?  And the answer is, he has little incentive to drop out.  The primary schedule (see below) is largely in abeyance; he has ample funds to pay for staff; not much else to spend it on; and there is no position Biden can offer him.  All Sanders wants to do is push Biden leftward, in exchange, presumably, for his help in the general election.  Biden does need to unite the party, and Sanders can help.  And the best leverage Sanders has is to stay in the race for the platform his active candidate status provides.  He is already pushing to continue the debates, something Biden is averse to, for a very obvious reason.

And the obvious reason is, the race is over.  Sanders cannot possibly catch him.


Let’s catch up on the numbers.  Joe Biden currently leads the delegate count by 1,217 to 914, a +303 delegate margin after the aforementioned trio of triumphs on March 17.  Biden beat Sanders handily on that date for the third consecutive “Super Tuesday.”  Over those three weeks, Biden won 22 states, while Sanders won five – California, Colorado and then three tiny ones, North Dakota, Utah and Vermont.

Biden’s 22 winning states covered the gamut geographically – the northeast (Maine, Massachusetts), the Midwest (Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota), the West (Arizona, Idaho, Washington) and a sweep of the south (all nine contests including Texas).  And he won by convincing margins in most of these contests, which is how he ended up with a 303 delegate lead despite losing California.  You will recall Churchill’s determination to fight the Germans everywhere (“…we shall fight on the beacheswe shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…”); Biden not only fought Sanders everywhere but he actually beat Sanders everywhere.

Sanders’ view of the outcomes was one of those lines that sounds compelling until you realize it makes no logical sense:  “While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability.”  How does one measure ideological victory in a democracy except by winning elections?  And one thing Joe Biden has been doing very well over the crucial stretch of primaries in March was winning elections.  And it is fair to say it is not simply because he is viewed as a nice guy – large swaths of the party clearly prefer the “return to normalcy” Biden represents, coupled with policy progress on health care, the environment, the Supreme Court, income inequality, immigration, gun control and the like -- rather than the high-stress revolution that Sanders has pitched.  A clear choice with an extremely clear outcome.

Just as an exclamation point, Biden currently leads Sanders in the national polls by roughly a +20-point margin. 

Sanders risks looking foolish by staying in and worse, setting himself up for being accused of torpedoing Biden’s prospects as he was so accused in 2016.  Who can forget the massive booing at the 2016 Democratic convention when Sanders implored his supporters to back Clinton?  Not allowing Biden a few months to change that outcome could indeed be fatal to his chances in November..

Because even if we were in business as usual mode, the outcome is clear.


There remain 1,668 delegates to be won in upcoming Democratic primaries (including three caucuses).  The simple math is that Biden has to win only 39% of them to get to 1,991 and clinch a first-ballot nomination.  He has won 53% of the delegates awarded thus far, even despite his disastrous opening act in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.  The only large states left, with more than 100 delegates to offer for Sanders to “catch up” are Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York.  These would all appear to be clear Biden strongholds given his Delaware home and strong showings in southern, mid-Atlantic and northeastern states thus far: 

The primary schedule has, of course, been upended by the coronavirus, and it is hardly clear that the shifting has finished.  The current schedule calls for a series of onesies and twosies between now and the next “Super Tuesday,” June 2.  Here is the current schedule, according to The New York Times.  Note that more than a dozen of these contests have been postponed from their original date.

April 7
April 10
April 17
 Wyoming (caucus)
April 26
 Puerto Rico
April 28
May 2
 Kansas (39), Guam (caucus) (7)
May 12
 Nebraska (29), West Virginia (28)
May 19
 Georgia (105), Oregon (61 )
May 22
June 2
Connecticut (60), Delaware (21), DC (20), Indiana (82), Maryland (96), Montana (19), New Jersey (126), New Mexico (34), Pennsylvania (186), Rhode Island (26), South Dakota (16)
June 6
 Virgin Islands (caucus)
June 20
June 23
 New York (274), Kentucky (54)

The Wisconsin primary, up next on April 7, is indicative of the fluidity of the situation.  The Republican legislature and Democratic Governor Tony Evers have been insisting that the polls will be open for in-person voting.  But several days ago, Evers changed his mind and decided to push for an all-mail-in vote.  But to print and mail over 3 million registered voter ballots, and expect some of them to return those ballots, in this two-week timeframe seems daunting, if not downright unrealistic.  So we shall see.

The bottom line is, it is likely that the ballot season will likely move forward in some form, even if most or all elections are done via the mail.  And thus it is almost a given that Joe Biden will reach the 1,991 mark and be the presumptive nominee (though many think he already can lay claim to that mantel).

But can he win?


With so much uncertainty ahead of us,it is pointless to conjecture how Biden will fare against Trump..  The coronavirus has vaulted to the top of the issue list (“who do you want in the Oval Office in a crisis”); Trump’s economic ace-in-the-hole has been torpedoed; and the Dems’ strongest issue, healthcare, will obviously continue to be a prominent part of this new world, with heightened urgency.  We offer two data tidbits as we stand roughly seven months from Election Day.

The first is the Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.  In early March, he was being given marks in line with his approval rating, when he was in his “totally skeptical” phase.  On March 17 he suddenly did an about face and began to take the coronavirus threat seriously.  And his numbers began to rise as Americans showed very modest signs of rallying around him, as is typical of such crises (Bush 41 and 43 both zoomed up to near-90% approval with the Gulf War and post-9/11, respectively). 

But who knows what will be the impact of Trump’s March 24 pronouncement of a “beautiful timeline” leading to the U.S. economy being “opened up and rarin’ to go by Easter,” or the abrupt March 29 pullback off that ridiculously optimistic goal.  Neither of those zig-zags are accounted for in the most recent polls.

Week ending:

With respect to head-to-head polling, Biden’s lead over Trump has been relatively constant through it all – through Biden’s disastrous January, his February renaissance, and into March with Trump’s coronavirus management issues.  Biden steadily beats Trump in the +5 to +7 point range in an average of all national polls.  The swing state polls have varied month to month, in a narrow range, with Biden showing a +2-point margin now.

A rough standard for the national polls is that Biden really needs a +3-point lead to be considered ahead, given the imbalance of the Electoral College that enabled Trump to beat Hillary Clinton despite losing the national popular vote to her by three million votes and two percentage points.









* Swing states: AZ,FL,GA, IA, ME, MI, MN, NC, NV, OH, PA, TX, WI


With Democrats swooning over Andrew Cuomo’s bravura performance in managing the crisis, the natural question has been floated across the country: is there a way to get Cuomo to the top of the ticket?  Democrats have long bemoaned the quality of their field.  They have fantasized about saviors, some of whom emerged and found to be lacking (Mike Bloomberg), others drifting out of the headlines (Adam Schiff).  Cuomo is the latest.

Essentially, he has no path.  He could never, ever enter the race with New York in the throes the crisis.  And, as stated, Biden appears poised to clean up the remaining delegates necessary for the 1,991 threshold.  Presuming he wins those delegates, they are obligated to vote for him on the first ballot.

Technically there are only two possible scenarios that lead to a Cuomo candidacy, both at the convention itself.  One is that Sanders re-emerges with enough strength to deny Biden the 1,991 first ballot count.  In that scenario, you have to imagine superdelegates choosing not to back Biden in the second round, instead pivoting to Cuomo.  This is incredibly unlikely.  Biden die-hards, and there are plenty of them, would be set aflame. And the Sanders forces would, of course, react even beyond that.

The second scenario is even more remote – that the primary season is somehow completely cancelled, and Biden falls short of the 1,991 in that manner.  Even though more delegates would come into the convention uncommitted – and presumably some of them free to vote for Cuomo -- it plays out the same way, with superdelegates forced to abandon Biden in the second round.  Having clearly been on the way to victory before the primary season was suspended, it is hard to see them abandoning Biden.


Perhaps the only routine part of this election cycle, the one thing that has not been disrupted, is the traditional guessing game on who might be the presumptive nominee’s vice-presidential choice – a.k.a., the “veepstakes.”  And that is indeed in full swing.

Biden made a clever calculation at the March 15 debate.  Realizing that Sanders’ only hope was to savage him, and well aware that Sanders might actually do a good job of it, Biden had a back-up plan.  He would – and did -- promise, during the debate, to name a woman as his running mate.  This ensured that the headline coming out of the debate would be “Biden Commits to Woman Veep” as opposed to “Sanders Clobbers Biden.”  And it did.

As it happened, Biden did play Sanders to at least a draw, setting up the March 17 trouncing, and allowing the veepstakes to begin in earnest.

For some time, since the brief period when the race effectively winnowed down to Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg, the BTRTN position has been that the VP nominee would be either Kamila Harris or Stacey Abrams, and more likely Harris. 

What led to that thinking?  More importantly, what is Biden probably thinking?

Gender balance is certainly a must among Democrats.  Women comprise the majority of the party, do much of the inspiring volunteer work (a la Indivisible), and are not terribly pleased that three aging white men were the finalists while the six women were also-rans.  Biden’s announcement was a no-brainer.

Inspiring the African-American vote is a must for the Dems.  This major segment of the Democratic coalition can rightly say they saved Biden’s bid in South Carolina, and payback might certainly be expected to come in the form of the veepstakes. 

The third factor is experience; the age of those men clearly triggers the need for someone who can step in on “day one” and not need much of a learning curve. 

Another potential factor that can come into play with the VP selection is the state the potential VP is from.  The typical thought is geographical balance: a Tim Kaine was thought to be helpful to Hillary Clinton in his home state, battleground Virginia.  But another factor, which relates solely to sitting U.S. senators, is whether they could be replaced with near certainty by a fellow Democrat.  No presidential contender in these times would risk putting a secure Senate seat in play.  States with Republican governors are out, as are swing states (see:  Ohio, Sherrod Brown).

When you run a wide pool of candidates through this solution set, one name emerges:  Kamala Harris.  She is the only African American woman with stature and experience – a U.S. senator and former presidential candidate – and, being from California, her seat would remain safely blue.  Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia state representative who was minority leader of the state assembly and came within a few votes of being the first African-American female governor in 2018, would be second, though she is light on national and global experience.  But two Senate seats are on the line in Georgia, and Abrams on the ticket might help the Democratic challengers trying to flip those seats.

Biden has said his own list is down to 11 names, and one can be pretty certain that these two are among them.  The others fall a little short of the sweet spot.  Biden also owes Amy Klobuchar, but Minnesota gets purpler every day; her Senate seat, if she vacated, would be at risk.  Elizabeth Warren is surely on the list, but her profile, her policies and the fact that Massachusetts has a Republican governor all mitigate against her.

From there we move to lower profile names.  Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto would probably round out the top five.  From there, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan is gaining a higher profile as a Trump uber-enemy in the coronavirus crisis.  And the two Tammy senators, Duckworth of Illinois (an Asian-American war hero who lost both legs in Iraq and thus has a heroic backstory) and Baldwin of Wisconsin (the only openly gay senator) could be on the list as well. 

But the thinking here still leads to Harris.

To end, it should be noted that both parties are considering the possibility of virtual conventions.  And, of course, should the virus continue, at some point the feasibility of an all mail-in election in November would have to be on the table.


  1. Of the two, Stacey Abrams would be my choice. She is a brilliant strategist, a persuasive speaker and has great judgment.

  2. Thanks guys for putting together a great site. My wish is that all democrats would unite and "Vote Blue No Matter Who". An answer to Chris the comment above this one - most people I know we don't care. Just like all Repugs don't care Trump does. Not important Vote Blue. Good luck with with the website.

  3. I have yet to see ANY interest from Gov. Cuomo to move to a national stage. After almost a generation of waiting for Mario Cuomo (eventually labeled Hamlet on the Hudson) and ultimately being disappointed, I would want to see SOME affirmative nod of interest from Andrew before thinking of him as a potential candidate. Not everyone who handles a series of press conferences well ought to be considered Presidential timber.

    Any indication of how the initial "Here's the Deal" podcast from Biden went? Statistics on # getting it? Any notion whether most listened through to the end?

    I'm looking forward to your monthly update of the Trumpometer ...


Leave a comment