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Democratic Primary update

November 2, 2019

It’s November, election day 2019 is coming up in the US (go vote). We are a year from the 2020 general election, and 3 months before the first primary in Iowa! So I’ll try to do a little more blogging, at least a monthly post.

First some schedule and geography. Below is the primary schedule for the first month (per NY times) and number of DNC delegates. Note the enormous weight of Super Tuesday on the 3rd of March.

Feb 3: IA (41 delegates)

Feb 11: NH (24)

Feb 22: NV (36)

Feb 29: SC (54)

Mar 3: CA (416), TX (228), NC (110), VA (99), MA (91), MN (75), CO (67), TN (64), AL (52),  OK (37), AR (31), UT (29), ME (24), VT (16)

Next, the very important “15% threshold” rule (from This will be VERY significant this year. Note that delegates correspond to electoral votes, some per-state, some per-congressional-district. Thus the 15% rule is applied at one of these the state granularity.

Pledged delegates are allocated in a proportional manner based on the vote share received by each candidate.  This is at both the statewide and congressional district level.

There is a 15% minimum threshold to receive any delegates. Those not receiving the minimum are excluded, with the delegate pool divided proportionately among those candidates receiving 15% or more.

Got it? Now let’s look at how this impacts the strategy.

First of all, all the “mid-tier” candidates polling at 5-10%? They will have little impact if they don’t get any delegates. But remember the state-level polls still have 20% or more undecided voters, so when analyzing current polls, we should translate them into expected results that are a little higher.

Of note:

Kamala Harris has been at or below 10% in the half dozen polls done in CA in the  past month, not to mention nationally. She will be lucky to get a single delegate outside her home state and she may fail to place even there. In terms of media coverage, it looks like they “pulled the plug” on her after she attacked Biden. Result: Good news for Biden.

Beto, who dropped out, had over 15% in TX in the most recent polls (Sept), and would’ve had a good chunk of delegates just from there. But he just dropped out of the race! This is not what I would’ve expected – he would’ve been “useful” in terms of keeping TX delegates away from Warren or Sanders. However, maybe he was annoyed that they had earlier “pulled the plug” on him also, probably after he made off-script remarks sympathetic to Palestine in March 2019. Result: Good news for Bernie and perhaps Buttigieg.

Klobuchar, I expect her to clear 15% in MN, but few other states if any. She seems funded well enough, and is actually a pretty likable candidate as far as the “moderates” go (i.e. lack of exposure, blank slate, no negatives thus far). For whatever reason she never got a chance.

Buttigieg, I think, is the only candidate outside the top-3 who has a shot at breaking 15%. He is already above 15% in recent polls in Iowa, since it is a more “moderate” electorate and close to his home state. As of now, I expect him to pick up more support, and I expect the media to help him a lot – More on that later. Also note that Buttigieg is generally close to the DNC and was seriously considered for the DNC chairman position in 2017.

Biden – the most recent polls have him below 20% in IA and NH. If he slides more, it is possible he may fail to place in one or more of the first four states! (ah that would make me happy, but not holding my breath). His “firewall” is SC, of course – it will be do or die for him. If he does not make up ground in SC, his “electability” argument will be critically wounded.

Sanders – I think he will have a very strong start, top-2 in each of the first 4 states. Looking at Super Tuesday, TX and CA which dominate it have a significant Hispanic population, which is a very strong demographic for Sanders. Net result, per current polls I expect Bernie will be roughly tied for 2nd place after the first month, close behind the leader.

Warren – She looks set to win at least 2 of the first 4 states. Super Tuesday, we shall see. All depends on whether they manage to keep Biden away from the cameras. I expect her to be roughly tied for 2nd place, but she and Biden may well change places.

This state of events should make the Biden quite nervous. Extremely nervous, in fact, if the number of candidates clearing 15% is 3 rather than 4.

If it is a 3-way race, and I understand the DNC rules correctly, The Sanders candidates can endorse Warren (or vice versa), and together their delegates will have a convincing numerical advantage over Biden’s delegates. Biden doesn’t get the benefit of superdelegates (who are about 15% of total delegates) in the first round.

Note: I haven’t read the fine print (DNC rules per ballotpedia) on that… It wouldn’t surprise me if there are other obscure rules that apply when no single candidate has 50%, as will likely be the case. For example I’m 100% not totally sure that the rules are actually set up for candidates to “join forces” when the superdelegate-free first-ballot is a 3-way situation. Although I think they are, since for example candidates who drop out of the race can “release” their pledged delegates, etc). We may be revisiting this in painful detail 9 months or so.

UPDATE: Here (The Week 9/17/2019) is an additional article on DNC strategy in a 3-way race that explains it better than I did.

In a 4-way race, however, Biden + Buttigieg (or whoever is 4th) could hold out into more rounds, bring the superdelegates into play, and then we know what they will do.

Thus the DNC / Biden will want to do one of 3 things:

(1) get Biden’s numbers back up, high enough to beat Sanders+Warren together. (unlikely)

(2) get Bernie below 15% (very unlikely, committed Bernie supporters are I think 20%+ of Democrats and 30% or more of the most enthusiastic primary voters).

(3) get a fourth candidate (Buttigieg?), above 15%. Then offer that candidate whatever they need to have their delegates vote for Biden at the convention. This is possible, and the DNC-allied TV/press could push for it by giving him lots of exposure. If they are going out of their way to put him on the air, we know this is what is happening.

Oh yeah, the Impeachment. As it would be politically suicidal for elected Republicans to support it, the number of Senate Republican votes will be at most the number of Senators who are about to retire.

Also state level polling tentatively suggests that it will push FL and AZ into Republican hands in the general election. If that happens, it would give Trump a second option on the electoral map besides having to win PA. Namely, winning NC + WI + all the toss-up individual electoral votes awarded proportionally per-congressional-district in ME and NE).

Thus, impeachment is either a waste of time or worse, unfortunately.

All in all though, I think this is pretty decent news for the primary. Better than I expected at this point.

Happy fall!



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One Comment
  1. Good analysis. Thanks.

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