- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2020

Not so fast, Bernie.

Despite the strong showing by avowed socialist Sen. Bernard Sanders in the first two nominating contests in the Democratic presidential race, the party’s moderate wing turned out in larger numbers than liberal voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Democratic strategists and pollsters see a wide lane available for one of the candidates to unite the moderate wing and snatch the nomination from Mr. Sanders like Hillary Clinton did in 2016.

Mr. Sanders, of Vermont, finished at the top of the field in neighboring New Hampshire and a whisker behind former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in Iowa, but now he is likely to face an uphill climb. His far-left vision for the party becomes a tougher sell as the race heads to Southern states. In South Carolina, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden holds a lead.

A poll out last week in Nevada showed Mr. Sanders with a 7-point edge heading into the state’s caucuses Saturday. Early voting already has started.

“He is a front-runner, but he is a weak front-runner,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. “This looks like it is going to go on for a while. It doesn’t look like somebody is a runaway.”

The moderate vote has been divided among three of the party’s top five candidates in the first two contests: Mr. Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mr. Biden. The liberal wing split its votes primarily between Mr. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“Once a moderate lead emerges, the weakness of the Sanders support in the party will be the story,” said Matthew Schmidt, a professor at the University of New Haven. “That’s why he’s a danger to the party’s chances. More [Democrats] know they don’t want Bernie, but they don’t know yet who they want.”

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren won a combined 44.1% of the vote in Iowa and 34.9% in New Hampshire.

Their share of the electorate pales in comparison with the three moderates, who together captured 54.3% in Iowa and 52.6% in New Hampshire.

Democratic Party strategist Brad Bannon said he expects the race to eventually narrow to Mr. Sanders and one of the moderates, likely Mr. Buttigieg or Ms. Klobuchar.

But former New York Mayor and billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg’s presidential bid could throw a wrench into the race’s moderate lane.

He is sitting out the first four states and instead has been focusing on Super Tuesday on March 3, when voters in 14 states head to the polls.

With Mr. Biden failing to give the party establishment a strong showing in either of the two early states, some have been eyeing the self-funded bid by the billionaire Mr. Bloomberg as the next best option.

Mr. Madonna said Mr. Bloomberg’s appearance for the first time on the debate stage will help determine how he will fare on Super Tuesday.

“If he is in the top three, I think it’s a strong showing and it makes him a real viable candidate,” he said.

The one issue that motivates Democratic primary voters from both wings is their opposition to President Trump.

An NBC News exit poll out of New Hampshire revealed that 81% of Democratic voters were “angry” with the president and his administration.

“There’s a lot more that unites the two wings of the party than divides them. The party is more united than it was in 2016 because the reality of Trump’s presidency now is scarier than the threat of one was four years ago,” Mr. Bannon said.

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