The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out

The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out
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Last week, a spokesman for Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBannon: Clinton waiting to enter 2020 race and 'save the Democratic Party from Michael Bloomberg' Bloomberg reporting policy not pretty or perfect, but right Booker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race MORE announced that the former mayor of New York City will run in Democratic Party presidential primaries. “Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well positioned” to defeat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE, Howard Wolfson said. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickBooker campaign rakes in million after Harris exits 2020 race Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats Steve Bullock exits: Will conservative Democrats follow? MORE, the former governor of Massachusetts, announced his entry into the race as well. Their candidacies increase the possibility that the primaries will not produce a nominee.

During the last few months, the vulnerabilities of the current crop of front runners have become painfully apparent. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Biden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE is a low-energy gaffe-machine who seems, well, so yesterday, with little appeal to young voters. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden: 'I'd add' Warren to my list of potential VP picks Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades How can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? MORE’s trillion dollar “Medicare for All” plan, which gets rid of private health insurance and is funded by a tax on the super-rich, may well eliminate the Democrats’ advantage on the issue that helped them win back a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and turn off Independents. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHow can top Democrats run the economy with no business skill? Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states Buttigieg campaign says 2000 people attended Iowa rally MORE (I-Vt.) is a 78-year-old democratic-socialist, who suffered a heart attack this summer and who seems unable to reach beyond his base of fervent supporters. Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden: Buttigieg 'doesn't have significant black support even in his own city' Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades Biden rallies with John Kerry in early primary states MORE, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has not gotten any traction with African-Americans, a core constituency of the Democratic Party.

The elimination of winner-take-all primaries by the Democratic National Committee in 2006, the provision that candidates who get 15 percent or more of the vote in each primary will be awarded delegates to the nominating convention, and the rule that unelected “superdelegates” — members of Congress, governors, former presidents and vice presidents, and other party professionals, who comprise about 15 percent of the delegates at the Convention — cannot vote on the first ballot (and put the candidate most likely to win a general election over the top), make it more likely that several candidates will stay in the race, to increase the leverage and perhaps emerge as a compromise choice.

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The latest polls in the states that host the first four campaign contests suggest how this might play out. In Iowa, a Monmouth University poll of likely caucus goers puts Buttigieg at 22 percent, Biden at 19 percent, Warren at 18 percent, and Sanders at 13 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll for New Hampshire has Biden at 20 percent, Warren at 16 percent, Buttigieg at 15 percent, and Sanders at 14 percent. Emerson College pollsters report that in Nevada Biden is supported by 30 percent of caucus voters, Warren 22 percent, and Sanders 19 percent. In South Carolina, Monmouth allocates 33 percent to Biden, 16 percent to Warren, and 12 percent to Sanders. In all these states, substantial numbers of voters indicate they might well change their minds. When and if other candidates (Bennet, Booker, Bullock, Castro, Delaney, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Steyer, Williamson, and Yang) drop out, each of the front runners may move solidly above the 15 percent threshold.

The Democratic front-runners, moreover, have raised enough money to keep hope alive for quite a while. According to the Federal Election Commission, Sanders has more than $33 million on hand, Warren $25 million, Buttigieg $23 million, Biden $9 million, slightly less than Sen. Kamala Harris, who may try to see how she fares in the California primary. Mayor Bloomberg, whom Forbes ranks as the eighth richest American, is also looking to pick up delegates on Super Tuesday and beyond.

We must remind ourselves, of course, that it is early.

In the past, even in crowded fields (think Republicans in 2016), front runners do emerge, gain momentum as they rack up wins in primaries, and reach or exceed the magic 51 percent threshold well before the convention gavel comes down. And in 2019, to put it mildly, Democrats have an incentive — President Donald J. Trump — to unite as early as possible behind a candidate.

Nonetheless, one can only hope that Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE, chair of the Democratic National Committee, party elders (including Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump keeps Obama immigration program, and Democrats blast him The House Judiciary Committee's fundamental choice Teaching black children to read is an act of social justice MORE), and the candidates themselves understand the danger of a “brokered” convention and even now are beginning to consider ways in which they might avoid one.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of Rude Republic:  Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.