The questions ahead for Democrats all start with Joe Biden

After last week’s Iowa caucuses and Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, there are at least five questions that must be answered as the Democratic Party’s presidential primary campaign moves forward. They are: 

What does the future hold for Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MOREThis involves whether the former vice president can rally, following anticipated but embarrassing losses in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and win South Carolina’s primary on Saturday, February 29, based on significant support from that state’s African American community. It also involves whether he can raise the money to compete on Super Tuesday, which remains a serious concern for his campaign. Both are tough questions for him and, ultimately, will decide whether he can stay in the race until the convention.

Where does the national African American vote go if Biden falls by the wayside? There is no clear answer to this question at the moment. It is plausible that a significant share of Biden’s African American support would go to former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBiden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say Sanders takes lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll Bloomberg campaign warns of 'insurmountable' Sanders lead if moderates split votes MORE, if he looks very strong to potential voters on Super Tuesday. But Bloomberg has his own reported drawbacks for at least some African American voters, based on policing policies during his time as mayor.

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Can Bloomberg win a big bloc of votes on Super Tuesday? He will need to do just that in order to leapfrog both of the party’s current frontrunners – Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE (I-Vt.) and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll 2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day What to watch in the debate tonight MORE – in terms of delegates after Super Tuesday. But whether he can do so is unclear, since he is running an unconventional campaign based on skipping the first four primary contests and relying on almost unlimited-dollar television advertising buys.

Can relatively fresh new candidates appeal to enough voters? This would require Mayor Pete, who has never run for office beyond his city of 102,000 people, and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe What to watch in the debate tonight MORE (D-Minn.), who previously has run only in her home state, to catch lightning in a bottle in unfamiliar states and attract a true national following.

What happens if Bernie Sanders remains out in front? For the Vermont senator the issue is whether he can continue to pile up delegates and enter the Democratic National Convention this summer with a plurality – but perhaps not a majority – of committed delegates. If so, the question for his rivals and for the party’s more moderate wing is: Can he be denied the nomination?

I have been involved in presidential politics as a Democrat for more than 50 years, and this is the murkiest situation I have ever seen. 

We have a truly attractive set of candidates, and the party should have a strong challenger to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE when the dust settles. But it all starts with Joe Biden: His future must be resolved before there is any clarity in this race. 

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Buttigieg could emerge as a modern-day version of John F. Kennedy, as his supporters and some observers think. But we won’t know that for a while, not until much deeper into the primary schedule, when his appeal to a far broader and more national segment of the party has been tested.

So, for right now, the questions that must be answered are what happens to Joe Biden and where the African American vote goes if he drops out of the presidential race. Those, more than any other factors at the moment, will determine the fortunes of all the party’s candidates — making the next few months most interesting indeed.

Martin Frost represented the 24th congressional district of Texas from 1979 to 2005 and was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 1996 and 1998 cycles.