A lot of Bernie-phobic political commentators and Democratic opinion-leaders are probably happy with the close second- and third-place finishes of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar in the New Hampshire primary. As the talking heads on TV kept noting, if you combined Pete ’n’ Amy’s votes, they would have beaten Sanders handily in the Granite State. And with Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden arguably out of the way, these moderates could essentially form and resolve a competition in which the survivor would have a clear path to a mano a mano with Bernie, and then the nomination.
After all, moderates have usually won the presidential nomination, dating back to at least 1972, right? But there are three bigger obstacles on the road to victory that Buttigieg and Klobuchar face that their centrist antecedents didn’t encounter.
The first is a lack of post-New Hampshire campaign infrastructure. Buttigieg poured all his resources into the first two states, and Klobuchar, having no other options, did as well. Thus, her campaign in Nevada and South Carolina is going to have to start at square one. Neither of these moderates has the kind of union or elected officials endorsements to give them a leg up.
The second problem is that both Buttigieg and Klobuchar have serious diversity problems in their electoral bases. According to a recent Quinnipiac survey of the presidential field in South Carolina, which votes on February 29, Mayor Pete had a booming 4 percent support level while Klobuchar rounded down to zero. Among the significant population of Latinos in Iowa, one estimate showed Buttigieg with 4.6 percent and Klobuchar with 2.9 percent of the vote. Historically, moderate Democrats have only won presidential nominations with strong minority support — namely, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
And the third problem is that even if Joe Biden eases out of the race, a battle to keep Sanders and Bloomberg from snatching the nomination would be extremely difficult for Pete or Amy. Fundraising alone is a problem, given Sanders’s small-dollar donations machine and Bloomberg’s multibillion-dollar self-funding capacity.
The odds are high that Buttigieg and Klobuchar will hit a wall in Nevada and in South Carolina, and will give way to Sanders and Bloomberg on, or shortly after, Super Tuesday. The excitement now is genuine, but Democratic candidates with little or no minority support and without Fort Knox behind them are more likely to become fond primary campaign-trail memories than presidential nominees.