Biden win in South Carolina could turn tide, say strategists

Democrats strategists and donors say there’s a path for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Poll: Trump, Biden in dead heat in 2020 matchup Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE to capitalize on a big win in South Carolina and become the party’s presidential nominee.

While Biden goes into the race behind Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Poll: Trump, Biden in dead heat in 2020 matchup Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on MORE (I-Vt.) in the delegate count, observers say it’s not an insurmountable lead at this time.

“A Biden win turns the tide,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York state Democratic Party.

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The sources acknowledge, however, that several things need to fall into place for Biden to truly become a strong rival to Sanders for the nomination.

The first is a big win in South Carolina, where some polls show Biden building a 20-point lead over Sanders.

The second would be for that to turn into momentum for Biden on Super Tuesday, when 14 states will be holding contests.

The third piece would be for other centrist candidates, particularly former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, to drop out of the race after weak showings on Super Tuesday.

Polls now show Bloomberg and Biden eating away at each other’s support in states such as Texas, boosting Sanders in the race for 1,991 delegates.

One Democratic donor neutral in the race laid out those three steps as being crucial to Biden. But the donor also acknowledged that “the likelihood of all three of those is slim.” 

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The more likely scenario, apart from Sanders winning the nomination, the donor said, is that Biden and other candidates win enough delegates to keep Sanders from clinching the nomination before the convention. That could allow Biden to win enough superdelegates at the convention to win on a second ballot. 

The problem for Biden, or anyone else looking to be the main rival to Sanders, is that the progressive senator is positioned to do well in a number of Super Tuesday states.

A Los Angeles Times-Berkeley IGS poll released Friday showed Sanders opening a double-digit lead in California. Sanders had 34 percent in the poll, compared to 17 percent for Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging Democratic senators call on FDA to drop restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men MORE (D-Mass.). Biden placed fourth with just 8 percent, while Bloomberg had 12 percent.

In Texas, a CNN-SSRS survey found Sanders with 29 percent, compared to Biden with 20 percent and Bloomberg with 18 percent.

Sanders is also a huge favorite to win Vermont, Colorado and Maine, and is competitive in most of the states holding contests, all but ensuring a huge delegate count.  

Strategists who see a path for Biden say other centrists candidates Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Democratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging MORE (D-Minn.) and Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegReuters poll finds Sanders cutting Biden national lead to single digits Biden says he'll adopt plans from Sanders, Warren Buttigieg guest-hosts for Jimmy Kimmel: 'I've got nothing else going on' MORE, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor, would need to suspend their campaigns. Some Democrats say that if Warren leaves the race, a portion of her support could also go to Biden.

Additional endorsements like the one Biden won from House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) this week would also help.

“That’s what’s been missing so far,” said one donor. “It’s been a clusterf--- out there. It’s one big free for all. No one is directing traffic.” 

Biden has leaned into the argument that a Sanders-led ticket would hurt Democratic House and Senate candidates. Strategists say that if party leaders underscore that message, it will benefit the former vice president.

“Can Democrats win the Senate and maintain their advantage with Bernie at the top of the ticket? Probably not,” said Mike Morey, a Democratic strategist who served as communications director for Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTexas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing COVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition MORE (D-N.Y.).

Smikle agreed with that assessment.

“I cannot overstate how critical the effect on the down ballot is and that’s the biggest argument a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee leader can make,” he said.

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Biden’s team is counting on a strong result in South Carolina to bring more money to his campaign.

Earlier this week, Biden’s campaign announced “additional investments” in Super Tuesday states including new paid media, staff and endorsements.

“Super Tuesday is critical for not letting Bernie get too big a lead,” said one ally who speaks to the campaign regularly. 

Rather than just winning states, the ally said the campaign needs to focus on targeting specific districts, blunting Sanders’s potential runaway in the primary. 

“If we’re in a strong position coming out of Super Tuesday, Bloomberg needs to weigh his options or Bernie is going to win,” the Biden ally said. “He said he got into this race because he felt like we couldn’t win. But that changes, I would think, if we’re winning.” 

Morey predicted a prolonged contest, despite some of the advantages enjoyed by Sanders.

“Do I think it is possible that after South Carolina and you get into the South where that he could catch or surpass Bernie in the delegate count?,” he said of Biden. “I do. Do I think anyone is going to run away with this? No, I don’t at all.”