Here’s what’s happening:
Biden, after taking a hit from Hunter’s escapades, has recovered a solid national lead. But it doesn’t mean anything. The Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg ground games in Iowa and New Hampshire have closed in on him and he’s losing badly in both places.
As the first primaries approach, it is transition time when national polls mean less and state surveys more. Nationally, Biden is in first place in all seven most recent polls, averaging 31 percent to Warren’s 21 percent, Sanders’ 18 percent and Buttigieg’s 7 percent.
His national numbers dropped after the scandals about his son began to surface but have recovered somewhat in the last week.
But in Iowa, Biden is in fourth place at 15 percent and in New Hampshire, he’s in third at 21 percent. And you have to make it through the gauntlet of the early primaries — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to get to play in Super Tuesday on March 3.
Biden shows moderate strength in Nevada and great strength in South Carolina, but after devastating losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, he probably won’t live that long.
Warren has cooled off after a meteoric rise in the polls. From June through October she shot up from 9 percent to 27 percent. But as the attack dogs began to tear her Medicare for All plan to pieces and hammer at her lack of a viable explanation for how she would pay for it, she slipped by to 21 percent in early November.
Nevertheless, she has a firm hold on the left. Harris is stuck at 5 percent and Beto is out. Booker and Castro have not moved the needle. Neither Biden nor Buttigieg, Gabbard, or Klobuchar are able or willing to compete on the left. So it is hard to see Warren losing her lead. She will remain the probable nominee, although not yet the front-runner.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, her ground game among the intensely mobilized left is good for first place in both states. In Iowa, she leads with 22 percent over second-place Buttigieg (17 percent), third place Sanders (15 percent), and Biden at 15 percent. In New Hampshire, she is in first at 26 percent, followed by Sanders and Biden at 21 percent and Buttigieg at 8 percent.
Sanders dropped badly after his heart attack but has come back in the wake of the fire Warren has drawn over her version of Medicare for All. (Nobody takes Sanders seriously enough to challenge his version of the same plan. He’s now third nationally at 18 percent, third in Iowa at 15 percent, and third in next-door New Hampshire at 21 percent.
Sanders’ big problem is that he cannot get any higher. His socialist affiliation, a unique selling point in fashionable Vermont, is very near disqualifying elsewhere. Warren may have the same programs and proposals, but not the same “socialist” label.
Even when Sanders had Biden one-on-one, he was stuck in the mid-twenties and that’s where he’ll end up.
Buttigieg is the media favorite and the headlines announce his surge. But he’s not surging. He’s gone from 5 percent in early September to 6 percent later in the month to 8 percent in late October and 7 percent now. Some surge. He has distinguished himself from those mired at the bottom but is nowhere near a front tier candidate. His sole claim to fame is a current place finish in Iowa, five points behind Warren and two ahead of both Biden and Sanders.
But he does have the most potential for growth. As Biden sinks, particularly after losing Iowa and New Hampshire, Buttigieg is the natural harbor for wayward centrist Democrats. But he won’t win. The ceiling on a moderate in the Democratic primary is about 40 percent, way below the 57 percent ceiling for an ultra-liberal.
So — look for Biden to set the pace until he gets a rude shock in Iowa and New Hampshire. Then look for Warren to take the lead and Bernie to stall. Panic at a Warren candidacy will then set in — too late — and Buttigieg will mount a futile last-minute charge to stave off disaster. And Warren will be the nominee.
Only to get crushed by Trump.
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