Even for an era of unrelenting political drama, the events of the past few weeks will earn a special place in the history books. Some combination of Bloomberg’s debate fiasco, Biden’s improved public performances and strong showing in Nevada, fear of Bernie and grave Bernie missteps, Clyburn and South Carolina rallying for Biden, and the incredible sight of Pete/Amy/Beto with the VP in Texas produced one of the more extraordinary electoral nights in our storied history.
It is important to note that the movement towards Biden began before South Carolina. Polls taken midweek last week in FL and NC showed significant movement, as did some late polls in South Carolina. Polls taken on Sunday and Monday showed continued movement, leading us to write on Monday morning that “Biden has a real shot at keeping it close on delegates tomorrow night and then opening up a permanent electoral/polling lead by later in the week — one that if maintained should be enough over time to outpace Bernie on delegates and win the nomination.”
That the movement or surge as some are calling it began before South Carolina and didn’t have one cause of course makes it more durable and sustainable in the weeks ahead. It wasn’t a blip, or an accident, but something deep and profound, as we saw last night. And to us what that means is that we don’t know if this is a two person race for the Democratic nomination any more. Morning Consult had the race at 36 Biden, 28 Bernie yesterday morning. If Biden opens up a 10–15 point national lead against Bernie this week we think the race is functionally over (far more likely now that Bloomberg has withdrawn) and Bernie will not be able to catch the VP in the coming March states. Bernie showed last night that rather than expanding his coalition it has contracted, and he is running far below his 2016 numbers, even losing states he won last time. As of this writing, he only definitely broke 30% in CO, UT, and VT. He is below 30 in Texas and may very well be under 30 in CA as well when all the votes are counted.
We assume that the race will continue through at least the end of March, and we believe the Biden campaign should welcome the fight. It is critical that the campaign takes the money it raises and starts to build out a more serious national operation, including beginning the process of creating more paid and organic state specific media and a rapid upgrade of the digital operation. Going head to head with Bernie these next few weeks and beating him will also create a clear end to the campaign, preventing the “rigged” narrative which was so debilitating in 2016 from returning.
When the dust begins to settle on the Democratic side, opinion makers are going to find Trump and the GOP looking at really bad general election numbers. Biden leads most national polls by 7–9 points; the Congressional generic is plus 7 Democrats; 538’s Trump job approval tacker among likely/registered voters is minus 8.9, slightly worse than Election Day 2018 when Trump/GOP lost the national House vote by 8.6 pts. This 7–9 point spread, a spread which opened up in the 2018 cycle, has been constant and steady for the past few years. An incumbent being down 7–9 points, in the low to mid 40s, is often a place impossible to come back from. It perhaps explains why Trump was willing to commit a series of felony level crimes to try to knock Biden from the race — he and his team know that beating Biden is going to be very very hard.
The battleground state picture is no better for Trump. Using Real Clear Politics, Trump trails Biden in AZ, FL, GA, MI, NC, PA, and WI and only leads in Texas, and there by just a few points. While we still have a long way to go in this race, if the general election were held today Biden would beat Trump, badly.
The Senate picture is also bad for the GOP. Assuming Dems lose Alabama, they need four pick ups to wrest control from Mitch McConnell if they win the Presidency. Most analysts believe Colorado is gone for the GOP though there are no recent polls. In Arizona, Democrat Mark Kelly had led Senator McSally in every poll taken this cycle, and one had her at 39% (!) last week. A new poll in Maine has Democrat Sara Gideon ahead of Senator Susan Collins 43–42. A poll last week had Senator Tillis’s job approval at 38% (!) and Trump’s at 45/52 (-7 pts); a new NBC Marist poll has Tillis trailing Democrat Cal Cunningham 48–43. In these recent polls the incumbent Senate GOPers are all in the low 40s, even high 30s — again a place few incumbents ever come back from.
As for the Biden campaign now, some thoughts:
Develop A Clear Under 45 Year Old Strategy — The most important way the VP can expand his coalition in the days ahead is by developing and executing a clear strategy to reach and persuade younger Americans. This age cohort went Democratic by 28 pts in 2018, and are essential to the Party’s prospects in 2020. Engaging them will also be critical to Biden developing a truly modern digital campaign, one which can not only raise the money he needs but also begin to create the on-line army of amplifiers he needs to counter the daily barrage of disinformation surely to come from Trumpworld.
Re-Imagine The War Room — The DNC has a very competent rapid response team in place, but our networked world allows us to re-imagine it; rather than being a few dozen staff fighting it out each day, we should view the War Room as 3–4 million people in the day to day information war, wired into the HQ, taking their stuff and amplifying it through their networks, on and off line. As someone who helped design and run the original War Room in 1992, I can say it is time to update this concept for a new day.
Re-Design How A Presidential Campaign Is Run — To create the maximum amount of intensity and excitement this fall, the Biden campaign should learn from its historic Pete/Amy/Beto day and think of the campaign as 15–20 top Democrats (not just the candidate and VP) all working together to win the election. This allows the campaign to reach more voters every day and more states/media markets, and creates more agile and targeted rapid response and offensive messaging opportunities. I also think it will send a power signal that the Democratic Party is united, mature, and ready to lead and govern on Day 1. The contrast of this with Trump’s band of misfits, extremists, and criminals will be very very stark and powerful.
So while there were many contributors to the great Biden comeback last night, the most important in our mind was the improved performance of the candidate himself. There have been times in this primary where Biden had seemed lost — this is not uncommon in the long grueling primary fights we have here in America. But what is important is that when candidates get lost, to win, they have to get found; and Biden did get found. He righted his own ship, he raised his game, he became far more forceful and aggressive, more compelling, more Presidential. He made the sale. He has been really good these past few weeks, showing above everything else that he will be ready to hit the ground running in January if he wins.
And unlike our current President, who won only with aid from without — Russia, Comey letter, Jill Stein — and bending the rules, Joe Biden and his campaign are doing it on their own, against extraordinary odds and unprecedented opposition (Trump/Ukraine and Bloomberg), in their own way. Campaigns which have overcome adversity as Biden’s has are often the most powerful and successful as we predict this one will be.