Biden's firewall is his Super Tuesday Southern strategy

Biden's firewall is his Super Tuesday Southern strategy
© Getty Images

Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Joe Biden should enact critical government reforms if he wins MORE has been shaky on the stump and in the debates, but he is still first in national polls. Despite the former vice president’s national edge, polls show he is struggling in the first two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, that select delegates to the Democratic National Convention.  

Biden’s struggles in the early states raise two questions about his fortunes. Why does he lead nationally but not in Iowa and New Hampshire? Can Joe Biden win the Democratic presidential nomination if he loses in Iowa and New Hampshire? Inquiring minds want to know.

Biden’s lead in national polls of potential Democratic primary voters is based on his strength with two types of voters, African Americans and people who do not consider themselves liberals. A CNN analysis of the 2016 Democratic primary indicated that a quarter of the voters nationally (24 percent) were African American, and two out of every five (39 percent) considered themselves moderates or conservatives.


It’s easy to understand Biden’s strength with the many moderate or conservative Democratic primary voters. The defining ideological issue in the Democratic campaign is support or opposition to “Medicare for All,” and Biden has been clear in his opposition to the universal health insurance proposal championed by the two major liberal candidates, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Sanders tells Maher 'there will be a number of plans' to remove Trump if he loses Sirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds MORE (D-Mass.).

But it's Biden's strength with African American voters that fuels his race to win the nomination.

There were as many black voters in the 2016 primaries as there were voters who described themselves as very liberal. While very liberal voters are split between Sanders and Warren, Biden has much more black support than any of his Democratic rivals.

Black voters are liberal, but they don’t always vote for the most liberal Democratic primary candidates. Sanders won as many white votes in 2016 as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close MORE, but the former secretary of state won an overwhelming majority of black voters on her way to the Democratic presidential nomination.  

The connection between Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and African American voters is obvious — both presidential candidates served under Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election In a season of bad ideas, one stands out MORE.


Obama has not endorsed Biden, but the former president is the gift that keeps on giving to his former vice president. Biden even maintained his support from black voters in the midst of a withering attack on his commitment to civil rights by Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisPelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act What Kamala Harris' VP nomination means to us Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (D-Calif.) in the first Democratic presidential debate.

Biden’s support from black voters seriously handicapped the presidential candidacies of the two black presidential candidates, Sens. Harris and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election The movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump MORE (D-N.J.). Any candidate needs to start with a base to succeed in politics, and Biden’s black support choked off the candidacies of the two African American candidates. Harris recently dropped out of the race, and Booker did not even have enough support to qualify for the sixth Democratic debate.

Unfortunately for the former vice president, there are relatively few black, moderate or conservative Democrats in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Every four years, there is a new round of criticism about the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire in the nomination process. Some of that criticism comes from the small minority population in the two states. The media consortium participation polls prove the point. In 2016, very few Democratic voters in Iowa (3 percent) or New Hampshire (2 percent) were African American.

The number of moderate or conservative voters in the two early states was lower than the national average in 2016.  Only a third of the Democratic voters in Iowa (32 percent) and New Hampshire (31 percent) didn’t identify themselves as liberal.

Do defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire spell doom for Biden’s presidential aspirations?

Barack Obama’s former vice president could recover from the two early loses with victories in South Carolina on February 29th and the many Southern states that hold primaries March 3rd on Super Tuesday. These states in Dixie have large numbers of the black, moderate and conservative Democrats who are Biden’s base.

South Carolina, which is the fourth state to select convention delegates after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada is made to order for Biden. Six of every ten (61 percent) 2016 Democratic primary voters in South Carolina were black and almost half (46 percent) of the voters identified themselves as moderates or conservatives.

Texas is the second largest state with a Super Tuesday primary, and it will send 228 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. A new CNN survey had Biden up by 20 percent over his newest competitor in the presidential primary there. The Lone Star State has large numbers of the kinds of voters that support Biden. In 2016, a fifth (19 percent) of the voters were black and four in ten (41 percent) voters considered themselves moderates or conservatives.  

Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma all hold their primaries on Super Tuesday and have large numbers of African American, moderate and conservative Democratic primary voters. Wins in these states and in South Carolina and Texas would help Biden recoup after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire and help the former veep live to fight another day.

The risk for Biden is if Super Tuesday voters in the South desert him if he loses badly in the two early states. But if he maintains his support in Dixie and goes on to win the Democratic presidential nomination, the secret to his success will be a Southern strategy built on an odd couple coalition of African Americans and moderate and conservative white voters.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.