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Wanna beat Sanders? Hope he wins South Carolina

If you are former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, or former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete Buttigieg'Biff is president': Michael J. Fox says Trump has played on 'every worst instinct in mankind' Buttigieg: Denying Biden intelligence briefings is about protecting Trump's 'ego' Biden's win is not a policy mandate — he should govern accordingly MORE, or Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn), you should be quietly rooting for a one-time-never-to-be-repeated-again event: a Bernie SandersBernie SandersClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift In defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism MORE win in South Carolina Saturday. It is arguably, and soon mathematically, their only chance to win elsewhere.

Prevail here, and Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) will turn former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE’s political “firewall” into a five-alarm conflagration incinerating any prospect he has left to win. Lose in South Carolina, and this very likable but always gaffe-able public servant will be left with little money, even less credibility and the clear message that voters tired of his message that a return to yesterday is somehow a bold move into tomorrow.

Fail here, and Biden will be remembered as one of the all-time losers for the nation’s top job.

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It’s sad to see, really, for one who’s given his all to others, and whose modest wealth didn’t come from public service but from a book he wrote about the son he loved.

Conversely, if Biden wins, all bets are off. He’s the “comeback kid,” the underdog who wouldn’t quit, effectively throwing a wrench in the plans of every other Democrat in the middle who’d find themselves muddling down the road to nearly certain elimination.

Yet win or lose, it’s complicated.

A resurgent Biden means Bloomberg would have to pivot, and quickly. To soldier forward, Bloomberg would then have to train his sights on Biden as well as Bernie as the field heads into 14 Super Tuesday contests, and the 10 states that follow before the end of March.

It also raises the chatter, if not the likelihood, that one of the fading muddlers will likely send smoke signals to Biden and/or Bloomberg that they want to talk, that together they could collapse the center into a “unity” ticket. Of course, while rational, this remains highly unlikely given there’s little primary calendar left to successfully navigate such a move and that the normal inclination of politicians is to put selfish advance before selfless retreat.

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However, a defeated Biden, one who loses his fourth state out of four, one he (and everyone else) once took for granted, opens up the floodgates to his fellow moderates who will feign support while hiding their glee. Yes, the Biden name would remain on the ballot in the Super Tuesday states and beyond, but his once full flock of fans would likely scatter to the political winds looking for a new guardian angel.

This is especially true for African-Americans, where there’s already a “race within the race” to be anointed as the second choice to Biden, to become the heir apparent to a fallen champion. What makes this fascinating is that no remaining contender has a natural claim to African-Americans’ support, which means their vote will likely be more dispersed than monolithic.

So, get ready for more than dinner and drinks this Saturday, but rather a full menu of new possibilities from the good people of South Carolina.

A Biden defeat would mean the competitive field is whittled to five — including the indefatigable Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenInequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE (D-Mass.). Overnight, you won’t need a slide rule to calculate the odds of stopping a surging Bernie Sanders. They’re better.

If not, Democrats will feel the Bern.

Like it or not.

Adam Goodman is an award-winning national Republican media strategist who has advised Rudy GiulianiJohn McCain and Jeb Bush. He is the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University's Fletcher School. Follow him on Twitter @adamgoodman3