Michael Bloomberg’s audacious strategy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating contest was to ignore the four early states and spend insane, unprecedented amounts of money in states holding primaries on and immediately after Super Tuesday (March 3) on the theory that his rivals would exhaust themselves politically and financially by then. After Bernie Sanders’s very good start in February, Team Bloomberg had particular reason to think that supporters of the field’s struggling moderates would stampede in his direction, making it a two-candidate race.
Well, ten days have now changed everything. Michael Bloomberg’s horrendous February 19 debate performance in Las Vegas (followed up by a less disastrous but still unsuccessful Bloomberg debate appearance in Charleston on February 25), combined with a second-place Biden finish in Nevada and two positive debates for Uncle Joe, cast a shadow on the former mayor’s strategy. Biden’s big win in South Carolina puts a bullet next to his name on the political charts. There’s not much time for fundraising before Super Tuesday, but Biden’s political treasury seems to be filling back up. Between centrists looking for a champion against Bernie and regular Democrats wanting a viable alternative to either career non-Democrat, the former veep has a strong potential coalition and — if he can strongly outperform Bloomberg on Super Tuesday — a good shot at his own two-candidate race against Bernie.
Biden’s chances on Super Tuesday could largely depend on how big a “bounce” from South Carolina he gets. Earlier this week, Nate Silver projected candidate delegate hauls from Super Tuesday based on three scenarios: a Sanders win, a narrow single-digit Biden win, or a large Biden win (ten points or more). As it happens, Biden’s win in the Palmetto State was supersized at over 20 percent. So Silver’s estimate that Biden would likely more than double Bloomberg’s March 3 delegates totals (specifically, winning 430 delegates compared to 200 for Bloomberg and 578 for Sanders) with a big South Carolina win could be prophetic.
Bloomberg, of course, has the money to keep campaigning no matter what happens on March 3 and could still try to make a comeback even if Biden does “bounce” past him on Super Tuesday. But you do have to wonder how much longer the pundits and Establishment types who have publicly and privately boosted the billionaire as the one candidate who can beat Sanders and Trump will continue to encourage him if Biden has demonstrated yet again that he’s simply unbreakable.
At present Biden narrowly leads Bloomberg in polling of the crucial Super Tuesday states of California, Texas, and North Carolina. Beating his centrist rival in those states is crucial to Biden, but it’s obviously even better if he beats Bernie in the latter two and denies him another evening of big headlines. Then the dollars probably would roll in for Biden, and Bloomberg would have to decide whether to throw good money after bad.