California's Presidential Primary Will Finally Matter
Two national news headlines defined the state of play in the first weeks of the 2020 presidential campaign:
“After Chaos of Iowa, Democratic Unity Threatened by Circular Firing Squad in New Hampshire” (CNN).
“Trump’s ‘Dream Scenario’ Unfolds: Dem Disarray Ahead of 2020” (Politico).
In a perfect storm of awfulness for Team Blue, President Trump launched his re-election campaign with an audacious State of the Union address pitched to his rabid political base, then promptly won acquittal in a show trial run by Senate Republicans, as a new set of propitious polls invigorated him, his strategists and supporters.
Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats inflicted vast damage to their party’s national brand by bungling the basic arithmetical process of counting votes, before finally coughing up results of their silly caucuses that allowed two candidates, neither viewed as viable in a general election by vast swatches of the electorate, as the winner.
Thank heavens for California.
Our story to date. With a disappointing overall turnout, Sen. Bernie Sanders got the most people to caucus for him in Iowa (45,842) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in second, with 43,274 caucus goers. Then came Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (34,934) and former Vice President Joe Biden (23,630).
But given the bizarre allocation of the all-important state delegate equivalents in Iowa, Mayor Pete got 13 delegates, Bernie got 13, Liz got 8, Biden 6 and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar got 1.
So, the top two finishers in puny white bread Iowa – with a total of 172,669 caucus goers — were a self-described democratic socialist who’s actually not, you know, a Democrat, and the ex-mayor of a town only slightly larger than Santa Barbara (“Ladies and gentleman, President Cathy Murillo").
Then came the Live-Free-Or-Die State, where Sanders and Buttigieg again demonstrated their ability to garner small numbers of votes in a tiny, overwhelmingly white state, unrepresentative of the rest of the nation.
For the record, a total of 296,622 voters participated in the New Hampshire primary, with Sanders winning 76,324 (9 delegates), Buttigieg getting 72,457 (9 delegates), Klobuchar with 58,796 (6 delegates) and then Warren 27,397 and Biden 24,921.
And so, after two largely-white focus groups, the leaders are Bernie and Pete (with a lot of heavy breathing about Amy from the DC media Establishment).
“If you had asked me at the beginning of all of this which Democrats would be the weakest to run against from the moderate and the progressive lanes, the answers would have been Buttigieg and Bernie,” one Trump operative gleefully told political reporter Gabby Orr.
Front-line fail. Traditionally Iowa and New Hampshire winnow a party’s presidential field, but the two front-of-the-line states failed even this function.
And with former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s unlimited spending (think in the hundreds of millions) driving up his numbers in national polls – even among black voters, despite his obvious stop-and-frisk problems — anyone who tells you he or she can predict what happens next is probably on psilocibin.
So the unpredictable race now moves on to this month’s Nevada caucuses on the 22nd, where the powerful Culinary Workers have taken a tough shot a Sanders because his Medicare for All plan would wipe out their union health care benefits.
Then, on to the South Carolina primary on the 29th – with erstwhile front-runner Biden, ex-flavor of the week Warren, undaunted Klobuchar and self-regarding billionaire Tom Steyer all in the contest.
Which puts a premium on the wannabes’ performance in California’s primary on March 3. It’s a coup for Golden State pols who, hungry for political relevance, repeatedly moved the date of our primary around the calendar in recent decades.
The Bloomie factor. California by far is the biggest prize among the 16 elections to be held on March 3′s Super Tuesday, with one-fifth of the 1990+ convention delegates needed to win the nomination at stake.
Sanders, by most accounts, has built the strongest field organization in the state while Buttigieg has raised the most money; Steyer is the only Californian left while Biden has the backing of much of the political establishment, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
But the biggest surprise could be Bloomberg, who refused to play the Iowa-New Hampshire game, in favor of putting his vast fortune behind strategic placement of TV advertising in California ($14 million to date) and other Super Tuesday states.
Now Bloomberg’s operation has pivoted into an organizational phase, opening 20 state offices with 300 staffers, according to Politico’s Carla Marinucci, while assembling meetings in many cities between campaign strategists and local political influencers.
Quietly, Bloomberg nationally has crept into fourth place in the Real Clear Politics index of poll averages – passing Buttigieg among others; it speaks volumes that RCP’s index of betting markets now puts him in second place, behind Sanders, as the favorite for the nomination.
The only thing (besides Bernie) that stands in Bloomberg’s way is a possible Biden resurgence – on the strength of black votes – in South Carolina. Should Steyer’s TV spending there or Biden’s own inability to rally his Obama base keep Joe from getting a Palmetto state bounce, moderate voices among the Democrats will have to look for some other horse to trample Trump.
Which calls to mind another national news organization headline, adorning an op-ed in the Washington Post:
“Mike Bloomberg will soon be the Democrats’ dream candidate.”
Images: California Bear snatches a fish (Monterey County Weekly); Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg (Metro Weekly); Carson Mansion, Eureka Ca. (brittanica.com); Michael Bloomberg with former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in L.A. on Feb. 1 (LA Times).
Versions of this piece are cross-posted at Calbuzz.com and Independent.com.