Mellman: Dems’ presidential pick will be chosen in a flash

Knowing the 2020 nomination is well worth having, some two dozen Democrats are contemplating entering the primary process.

They may want to hurry.

While candidates always stay in the primaries beyond the point they’ve lost, the race will likely be effectively over after March 3, 2020.

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It will all go by in a flash — with just a month of voting — starting in Iowa on Feb. 3, heading to New Hampshire eight days later, then to Nevada and South Carolina on Feb. 22 and 29 respectively, capped off on March 3 with primaries in California, Texas, North Carolina and six other states.

“Why so quick?” you ask. Only a third of the delegates will be selected by March 3.

It all goes back to what the late President George H.W. Bush, whose life we celebrate this week, labeled the
“Big Mo’.”

Since 1976, when proliferating primaries and caucuses became the basis for selecting convention delegates, every single nominee but one, in both parties, won either Iowa or New Hampshire.

(The singular exception occurred in 1992 when Iowa’s favorite son, Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinNew Hampshire parochialism, not whiteness, bedevils Democrats Democrats must question possible political surveillance Wisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed MORE, rendered the Democratic caucuses moot, while Paul Tsongas’s victory in his neighboring New Hampshire, along with Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached Impeachment can't wait Turley: Democrats offering passion over proof in Trump impeachment MORE’s powerful second-place comeback, gave the contest a unique structure.)

Victories in these early contests move votes elsewhere.

Averaging the polls, John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKrystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage Krystal Ball: Biden's new ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats MORE picked up some 20 points nationally from his Iowa win and another 13 as a result of his New Hampshire victory.

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTeaching black children to read is an act of social justice Buttigieg draws fresh scrutiny, attacks in sprint to Iowa The shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley MORE added 16 points on average in the national polls after his Iowa victory in 2008.

That same year, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE’s national support jumped by over 20 points following his New Hampshire win.

Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocratic strategist: 'Medicare for All' exposes generational gap within party Yang expands campaign with senior hires for digital operations Biden: All-white debate not representative of party, but 'you can't dictate' nominee MORE’s national support rose 20 points after mere polls showed him leading in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Bush’s “Big Mo’ ” rests fundamentally on the two V’s — visibility and viability — and the crucial cash that comes with both.

Historically, Iowa and New Hampshire account for about half the press coverage of the entire primary season, with the winners absorbing the lion’s share. Moreover, the winner’s coverage is mostly positive.

That intense burst of positive publicity is sufficient to fuel the rise of any candidate, while those who fail to partake in the victor’s spoils never catch up.

By contrast, when reporters thrust microphones into the faces of losers, the questions are always the same: “What went wrong?” “When are you getting out of the race?” Not much opportunity there to present your compelling vision for America.

That kind of coverage also colors perceptions of viability. Most people want to support a candidate whom they believe has some chance of winning. Having won provides incontrovertible evidence that a candidate can win. Losses cast at least some doubt on viability, doubts exacerbated by the press’ questions.

All of which is to say, if the same candidate wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, they’re quite likely to capture the nomination. If those states produce a split decision, we’ll face what is effectively a two-person race.

As the process moves through the other early states and to a climax on March 3, the contest between those two is likely to be decided.

This cycle does present some new wrinkles though. At least three billionaires are seriously considering the race — people who don’t have to rely on others’ cash and can purchase visibility.

Could one or more of them create a more protracted battle?

It’s certainly possible, but I wouldn’t bet too much on it.

This is not merely an idle analytic speculation. It has real world implications.

If you’re one of the many candidates considering a run, and you don’t have a strategy to win Iowa and/or New Hampshire, you don’t have a strategy to win the nomination.

Think about it this way: California’s ballots go out to voters the day after Iowa’s caucuses.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.