Let's begin with a few caveats: Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the Democratic Party's national 2020 frontrunner, according to the polls, and he's exhibited unmatched strength (this cycle, thus far) among black voters -- an absolutely crucial demographic bloc. We're also only one contest into the 2020 nominating race, and it was marred by ineptitude and dysfunction, and seems to somehow be getting worse. Biden performed poorly, which we'll address in a moment, but the Iowa caucuses were almost tailor-made to be a struggle for his candidacy, and the aforementioned incompetence papered over the extent of his failure. There's a long way to go, and fortunes can shift rapidly -- especially if acute fears of another frontrunner emerging forces a realignment among primary voters. All that being said, Joe Biden is in serious -- but not insurmountable, yet -- trouble.
(1) Although Iowa did not play to his strengths, a true national frontrunner should be able to transcend certain disadvantages and put in a strong showing anyway. Biden did not. On both delegates and raw votes, he will finish fourth in the Hawkeye State, winning roughly half of Bernie Sanders' popular vote total. Underwhelming turnout was supposed to redound to his benefit. It did not. The fact that several of his closest competitors were stuck in a DC impeachment trial for weeks was supposed to give him a major edge as he criss-crossed the state, with rivals sidelined. It did not. His primary argument, electability, didn't play. His inferior organization was exposed. A terrible result. The fact that the caucus meltdown handed him something of a mulligan doesn't change his actual performance.
(2) New Hampshire may not be any better. Bernie Sanders holds a substantial polling lead in the Granite State, with some indications that Pete Buttigieg is on the rise. Biden is technically still in second position on average, but will that endure? The last two statewide polls show Grandpa Joe in third place and sinking:
Two new New Hampshire polls find @PeteButtigieg gaining from pre-IA caucus levels https://t.co/XjkSIhmyNe— Brandon (@Brand_Allen) February 6, 2020
Sanders: 31% (-1 since Feb. 3)
Buttigieg: 21% (+9)
Biden: 12% (-1)
Warren: 12% (-1)
Sander: 25% (+1)
Buttigieg: 19% (+8)
Biden: 12% (-6)
Warren: 11% (-2)
(3) Biden already faces fundraising struggles. Back-to-back 'also ran' finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire could damage or even cripple his ability to bring in the resources he'll need for a protracted battle. Nevada might be slightly friendlier terrain for Biden, given the higher percentage of minorities in the electorate, but it's a caucus. Organization is key. Maybe Harry Reid's machine will help bail Joe out. Maybe not. And as for Biden's South Carolina firewall, are cracks emerging?
Poll: Biden leads Sanders by just 5 points in...South Carolina? https://t.co/lzxYpu2FUi— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) February 3, 2020
Joe Biden’s hold atop South Carolina Democratic presidential primary polls has never wavered over nearly a year. But the former vice president’s lead continues to slide with the South’s first primary just under a month away. Biden, who once led by as much as 31 percentage points in South Carolina, holds a 5-point edge over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the latest Post and Courier-Change Research poll released Sunday. Biden sits at 25 percent to Sanders’ 20 percent.
A number of sharp polling experts and data folks have questioned the methodology of this poll, pointing to a number of questionable factors. So take this lone survey with a large grain of salt. But it's entirely conceivable that Biden is waning even in his 'strongholds.' At what point to loyalties and perceptions change? Especially if the erstwhile frontrunner limps into the Palmetto State with an (0-3) record? As I've been saying for months, the 'electability' pitch is risky because it can evaporate as soon as people start to question its fundamental reality.
(4) Bernie Sanders may not be the frontrunner at this point, but things are shaping up nicely for him. He's likely to finish with the most votes in Iowa when that bedeviled process is finally complete -- and may actually be on track to eek out a delegate win, too. If he then carries New Hampshire and either wins or comes close in Nevada, he'll have a full head of steam. Unlike Biden, he's bringing in cash hand-over-fist:
NEW: @BernieSanders raised $25m in January, according to his campaign— Adam Kelsey (@adamkelsey) February 6, 2020
That *1-month* total is more than any of Biden/Buttigieg/Warren's '19 *quarters*
1.3m contributions from 648k donors -- 219k of which are new
Sanders is now making a $5.5m ad buy across 10 Super Tues. states
He's going to have the money and resources to fight all the way to the finish. And this dynamic could be very important, indeed:
It’s hard to imagine a better situation for Sanders than this, minus IA count disaster. No guarantee of winning, but path to the nomination looks really simple right now and everyone else’s looks more complicated and requires them to knock off other candidates very quickly. https://t.co/EoNd8xLDgK— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) February 6, 2020
If Warren continues to fade (her numbers are down, key components of her would-be base are migrating to Bernie and Pete, and she lacks a plausible springboard/firewall), the race could start to look like Bernie vs. the center-left triumvirate of Biden, Buttigieg and (a doubling down) Bloomberg. Each of those three would have strengths that could convince them that they'd be the last man standing against the Vermont Socialist. None will be eager to drop out any time soon. Sound familiar? Just look at this national tracking poll. One of these top four is not like the others:
National @MorningConsult Poll— Political Polls (@PpollingNumbers) February 6, 2020
(Change in 3 days):
Sanders 25% (+3)
Biden 24% (-5)
Bloomberg 15% (-1)
Buttigieg 12% (+5)
Warren 11% (-2)
Yang 5% (-)
Klobuchar 3% (-)
Steyer 3% (+1)
Perhaps the best news I've seen for Biden over the last 48 hours is that he seems to have dispensed with his campaign's painful spin about Iowa ("thrilled!"), and decided to take real shots at Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. He's in a very tough fight now, and it's about time he acted like it. Meanwhile, Republicans are going for the political kill. Does Biden have what it takes to survive? Tomorrow's debate could be a barnburner.