SPONSORED:

Democrats brace for 'bloody' primary season

Democrats are bracing for a long, drawn-out primary season.

With just six weeks until the Iowa caucuses, some Democrats say they don’t expect a likely nominee to emerge anytime soon after early-voting states hold their contests. Instead, they’re preparing for a bruising four-way match-up that could drag on for months as candidates compete for the chance to challenge President TrumpDonald TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum MORE.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Biden appoints veteran housing, banking regulator as acting FHFA chief Iran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' On The Money: Biden to fire FHFA director after Supreme Court removes restriction | Yellen pleads with Congress to raise debt ceiling MORE (I-Vt.) have consistently topped nationwide polls, but Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Overnight Health Care: CDC panel meets on vaccines and heart inflammation | Health officials emphasize vaccine is safe | Judge rules Missouri doesn't have to implement Medicaid expansion Democrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments MORE (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegHigh-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Buttigieg: Bipartisan deal on infrastructure 'strongly preferred' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE remain key contenders who show no signs of slowing down.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s going to be uglier than ugly,” one Democratic strategist said, pointing to surveys showing there is no clear winner across the first four states in the nominating process. “It’s going to be a bloody slugfest. And the thing a lot of us fear is that Trump will benefit from all of it.”

Democrats have focused their efforts on electability, making the case for rallying behind the kind of candidate who can topple Trump. Some Democrats say that while a progressive candidate can energize the party’s base and win in the primary, it would be much more difficult for that same White House hopeful to win the general election against Trump.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, argued that because the top candidates each have strong pockets of support, the primary may even lead to a brokered convention in July.

“Although people always say that, this time it could be true," Zelizer said. “Democrats are so desperate to defeat Trump they have very different visions of how to do this and won’t concede easily.” 

The party's top four candidates — two progressive candidates and two moderate candidates — are indicative of where the Democratic Party is right now, said Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It shouldn’t be a surprise you are seeing two progressives and two moderates vying for the top spot,” he said, adding that former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden's domestic and global challenges on COVID vaccinations Press: Even Jeff Bezos should pay income taxes What the Democrats should be doing to reach true bipartisanship MORE is also a wild card in the primary race. “What is the most interesting factor here is that voters are somewhat interchangeable between Biden and Sanders, as they are between Mayor Pete and Sen. Warren.”

“I’d argue it is still a jump ball in every way, and that makes the race to be the Democratic nominee extremely exciting,” Trujillo added. 

While the overall field of candidates has shrunk in recent months, it has also seen some late additions, with Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court sides with oil companies in Baltimore case| White House environmental justice advisers express opposition to nuclear, carbon capture projects | Biden administration to develop performance standards for federal buildings Approving Kristen Clarke's nomination should be a no-brainer To unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate MORE (D) entering the race, worried Democrats were ill-equipped to defeat Trump.

Voters are also divided, resulting in a race with no clear favorite when considering the early nominating states.

“There’s still a decent amount of time left that one or two people could start consolidating support and narrow it down to a two-person race,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “But given the amount of uncertainty voters have right now about being definitely settled on their first choice and different strengths these top four have in different early states, I think it’s as likely we go to a brokered convention.”

ADVERTISEMENT

One factor contributing to a longer-than-usual primary season, Zelizer said, is the “strong and organized” Sanders-Warren constituency that “won’t disappear.”

Even though Biden leads in national polls, surveys are showing other candidates performing stronger in early states.

In Iowa, for example, Buttigieg has become the top contender in some polls. The RealClearPolitics average of state polls puts him in the lead with the support of 22 percent of people polled.

Sanders ranks higher than the other candidates in New Hampshire, at 19 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics average, and Biden has strong leads in Nevada and South Carolina.

The Democratic strategist who predicted the primary would be a “bloody slugfest” said this election cycle is reminiscent of 2016, when former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCommunion vote puts spotlight on Hispanic Catholics Trump's biggest political obstacle is Trump The Memo: Some Democrats worry rising crime will cost them MORE and Sanders were locked in a bitter battle for the Democratic nomination. Clinton emerged the winner, but “she was damaged from the primary,” the strategist said.

“And anyone who says Sanders didn’t hurt her has their head in the clouds,” the strategist said. This time around, a brokered convention “could only add further division at a time when we need [unity] most. It’s a bit of a nightmare situation.”