Advice for fellow Democrats: Don't count out Biden, don't fear a brokered convention

My son, Jesse, went to the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Every year, his class seemed to have a pet phrase that the kids said all the time. Some of them were funny, and some had a great deal of relevance. I thought of their fifth-grade phrase the day after the New Hampshire primary: “Beats the heck out of me.” No matter what question you asked the class that year, that was the answer you got. Now, when I’m asked what’s going to happen in the battle for the Democratic nomination, it’s my answer: “Beats the heck out for me.” 

But here are a few possible scenarios for the weeks and months ahead: 

Feel the Bern: Given the party disarray, it is possible that Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWisconsin Supreme Court blocks governor's effort to delay election The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Trump discuss coronavirus response; Wisconsin postpones elections Wisconsin governor postpones Tuesday's election over coronavirus MORE (I-Vt.), who won in New Hampshire, could eke out a narrow victory in South Carolina and do well on Super Tuesday, including winning the big prizes of California and Texas. When the smoke clears after March 3, Sanders could lead in delegates accrued by 200 or 300 and have a real chance to get close to the 50 percent total needed to win a first-ballot victory at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. But the biggest problem for Sanders is the fighting senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials 'looking at' offering coronavirus bonds Overnight Energy: Trump floats oil tariffs amid Russia-Saudi dispute | Warren knocks EPA over 'highly dangerous' enforcement rollback | 2019 sees big increase in methane levels in air Ex-CFPB director urges agency to 'act immediately' to help consumers during pandemic MORE. Unless she drops out or somehow fades, he’ll have a hard time winning 50 percent of the delegates and rolling up big margins in the popular vote. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Warren has staying power because she has a loyal following of progressive women and is an excellent campaigner. But if she performs as poorly as she did in New Hampshire, where she got only 9 percent of the vote, she might not be able to raise enough money to go all the way. If she withdraws after Super Tuesday, she won’t have amassed enough delegates to really slow down Sanders. If that happens, can he be stopped? Possibly. Mike Bloomberg obviously has enough money to compete everywhere, and panicked establishment Democrats (like me) and moderate, slightly left-of-center voters might flock to the former New York mayor to stop Sanders from having a majority of delegates when the convention opens. 

But for this to happen, it requires former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession MORE and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden hosts potential VP pick Gretchen Whitmer on podcast Why Gretchen Whitmer's stock is rising with Team Biden Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats MORE (D-Minn.) to not drop out by the time the convention dawns. Although I do not think he can get the nomination, Buttigieg will get his share of delegates and make it to Milwaukee. So, the real X-factor is Klobuchar, the “Little Engine That Could.” She’s a good reminder to all of us that candidates and their campaigns do matter: She became a factor in the race in five short days and demonstrates a toughness that could drive Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report MORE crazy during a general election campaign. The question is whether she can raise enough money to remain competitive.

Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen 16 things to know today about coronavirus MORE’s trajectory: For seven months, the former vice president was the clear front-runner. The Biden forces always knew that Iowa and New Hampshire would be tough hurdles; the electorate in those states is almost entirely white and Biden’s strength comes from minority voters. The media have practically written him off, even though he intends to compete in Nevada and South Carolina and has expressed no intention of dropping out. If you think Biden is finished, think back 12 years to John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEsper faces tough questions on dismissal of aircraft carrier's commander Democratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response GOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic MORE’s fight to win the Republican nomination. The late Arizona senator got blasted in early primaries, lost nearly his entire staff, and the media wrote him off. But he won the nomination on the first ballot. Can Biden follow that path? It would be hard but not impossible. 

Consider what would happen if Biden came in first, or a close second, in Nevada and then used his strong popularity with black voters to win the South Carolina primary and the six southern states on Super Tuesday. That wouldn’t be enough to guarantee his nomination, but it certainly would make him a player who could go on to Milwaukee.

This scenario seemed unlikely when we got the New Hampshire results and then learned that Bloomberg had taken almost half of Biden’s support in Nevada and eroded it in several other states. However, it seems that this year, nothing lasts for more than a week. Bloomberg’s words about “stop and frisk” and his stance on the housing crisis might turn off African American voters and cause them to return to the Biden fold. 

ADVERTISEMENT

So, it is possible that Sanders could have the nomination wrapped up before Milwaukee, but it is also conceivable that all six candidates come to Milwaukee holding a significant number of delegates, with no one holding more than 40 percent. Yet it is also possible that Buttigieg, Warren, Klobuchar and Biden will not have the money to remain significant competitors and the race could devolve to a two-person contest: Sanders v. Bloomberg. 

That scenario would have to favor Sanders because of his extremely loyal base. But let’s not discount Bloomberg, who is more than just some billionaire running for office. He was a public servant who had a spectacular 12 years in office, improving New York City in many ways. He’s an enormously successful businessman and renowned philanthropist who has given a great deal of money to fight climate change, support gun control and revitalize America’s infrastructure. 

Disarray, division and disunity: Many experts say disarray and lack of unity will divide the Democratic Party into progressives v. moderates and make it much harder to beat Trump in the fall. I disagree. Imagine how exciting the convention would be if it went to two or three ballots before picking a nominee. The nation’s attention would be riveted and, as Trump would understand, the ratings would be sky-high. The eventual winner would get a lot of exposure. (Anybody remember the last time a convention selected a candidate on more than one ballot? If you think you know, reach out to me on Twitter and I will pick by lottery one of the right answers and give them a gift certificate for lunch for two at P.J. Clarke’s in Philadelphia or Washington.) 

Under ordinary circumstances, a progressive-moderate split would hurt the Democrats’ chances. It surely did in 2016. I am not sure what percentage of Sanders’s voters didn’t vote for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWe need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Poll shows Biden with 6-point edge on Trump in Florida Does Joe Biden really want to be president? MORE, but I am certain it was enough to have cost her Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. But this is 2020 and Trump’s performance in his first term is anything but ordinary. What will unify the Democrats, regardless of any current party divisions, is a resolute desire to remove Trump from the White House. The enthusiasm shown by Democratic voters in 2018, and the recent record turnout in New Hampshire, make it clear that no amount of infighting will keep Democrats from going to the polls to vote against Donald Trump. 

If you don’t believe me, remember that one exit poll in New Hampshire showed voters would prefer that life on earth be extinguished by an intergalactic meteor than to have Trump win a second term.

Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. He is now co-chairman of the Immigration Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center.