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'Mo' Joe versus Mastermind Mike: Which dynamic will last?

'Mo' Joe versus Mastermind Mike: Which dynamic will last?
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Super Tuesday is a political scientist’s dream. It provides a virtually pure test of the comparative importance of two essential elements in politics, momentum v. logistics. 

Joe BidenJoe BidenObama, Clinton reflect on Mondale's legacy Biden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP Mondale in last message to staff: 'Joe in the White House certainly helps' MORE is pure momentum at this point. Mike Bloomberg is unadulterated logistics.

Biden is the sensation of the moment. As he himself has said repeatedly since his colossal South Carolina win on Saturday, he had been written off by all the pundits beforehand. The old gaffer had run a poor campaign, raised little money, assembled a lackluster organization, turned in poor debate performances and staged unmemorable campaign events. All of those weaknesses fed upon one another, at least from Iowa onward, with the result that money, staff and support smelled a loser and went elsewhere.

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The consequence is that Biden had no organization whatsoever going into Super Tuesday’s 14 contests, as The New York Times reported from field interviews. The political website FiveThirtyEight has reported more scientific information: Of the $650 million of political advertising so far, Biden has spent $5 million; in California, according to FiveThirtyEight, the former VP had one field office — one office in the nation’s biggest state with 416 delegates, or about 20 percent of the pledged delegates needed to win the nomination.

Bloomberg is the yin to Biden’s yang. Bloomberg has had 25 offices in the Golden State; he spent $400 million on advertising. He’s had little momentum, campaigning completely out of sight in the 14 Super Tuesday states while everyone else focused on the first four contests. You can’t build momentum and a “wow factor” if no one is there to say “Wow!”

He made his first two appearances on the debate stage only recently, the first one disastrous and the second arguably quite strong but its strength dissipated into offsetting the damage from the first. So Bloomberg is almost entirely logistics.

State-by-state polls on RealClearPolitics have shown both Biden and Bloomberg in the money — above the 15 percent required to win delegates — in most of the 14 states. Most of their poll numbers are bunched between just shy of 15 percent ranging up to 25 percent. These numbers reflect the significant numbers of poll respondents who already voted — an estimated 40 percent in California — but may be somewhat low, given that all the other centrist contenders dropped out after South Carolina. (Combined, they held only about 15 percent in the polls.) 

So what happens next? Which dynamic will prevail? 

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Logically, logistics more so than momentum.

The problem is that momentum tends to dissipate if it is not constantly refueled, and huge factors may prevent Biden’s refueling. First and foremost, if Biden notches a stunning second-place finish, he’s still not in the winner’s circle — and the polls show Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Treasury creates hub to fight climate change through finance | Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' | Don't attack Zoom for its Bernie Sanders federal tax bill Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez introduce 'Green New Deal for Public Housing' MORE (I-Vt.) heading to commanding victories in most states. So Bernie will be the one with the “Big Mo.”

Second, the post-Super Tuesday primary calendar will come rushing at Biden too fast to create the campaign infrastructure to consolidate even his second-place position. 

A third factor, of lesser but still significant importance, is that Biden the gaffe-master will be back at work. At one rally, he called supporters to action on “Super Thurs… er, Tuesday,” and sought to inspire them with a recitation from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. All men and women created by… you know, you know, the thing.”

This explains the somewhat desperate quality of the hurried-up endorsement parade after South Carolina. It was clear that mainstream Democrats wanted to anoint Biden before … yes, before  Super Tuesday, but also before his fundamental weaknesses reappear. 

Drama loves contrast. For as far as the eye can see, Bloomberg will present pure contrast with Biden. He has a nationwide organization in place; he’s not the teacher who’s just one chapter ahead of the class. He’s been advertising heavily in future primary states. And he is likely to be in a respectable third place. Logistics is more likely than momentum to build upon its position.

The question for Bloomberg — or for Biden, if this analysis is wrong — is whether he can catch Sanders, who is emerging as the clear front-runner with many hundreds of delegates likely in hand. 

Perhaps, the most important determinant of the ultimate outcome will be the fate of Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Poll: 56 percent say wealth tax is part of solution to inequality Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (D-Mass.). Will she press forward, siphoning away significant socialist/progressive votes and delegates from Sanders, slowing him enough to enable Bloomberg or Biden to stay within sight of, if not overtake, Sanders? 

Future-gazing is a useless exercise beyond a certain point. However, one thing seems clear: Logistics has a certain inexorable quality that suggests it will persist, if not prevail.

It is hard to imagine the Democratic convention in Milwaukee as anything other than a party-splintering crack-up, whether socialist Sanders prevails or the nomination is “stolen” from him, which is the only way that his fervent supporters perceive any outcome other than a Bernie win.

Red Jahncke is president of Townsend Group International, a business consultancy headquartered in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @RedJahncke.