Pete Buttigieg has left the building. So has Amy Klobuchar. The former South Bend mayor who bested Beto O’Rourke in the new Obama sweepstakes finally ran out of gas on the back roads of South Carolina. A day later, the Minnesota miracle also took her bow.
With Super Tuesday poised to pounce, the question becomes: Who has the most to gain from Buttigieg and Klobuchar’s exits from the race? The answer is probably everyone else, but owing to the new nature of the Democratic primary, a couple of points to be gained from these developments mean much different things for those left standing.
By far the most important number in the race is 15. Under the current primary rules, in most states 15 percent is the threshold for receiving a proportional amount of delegates. The result that will matter on Tuesday night is who gets the delegates. And the candidate who is hovering closest to that threshold in Super Tuesday states is Mike Bloomberg.
According to RealClearPolitics, in California Bloomberg is at 13 percent, in Texas he is at 17 percent, and in North Carolina he is at 16 percent. Warren is in similar territory. The beat goes on, state after state.
Warren also stands to gain a tick or two from Buttigieg’s evaporation. On a Tuesday night in which Sanders and Biden seem ready to come in at a solid one two, especially with Klobuchar reported to endorse Biden, the 15 percent threshold for Bloomberg and Warren feels like it will be telling regarding the future of the race.
For Warren and Bloomberg, a delegate haul is the biggest deal. There are basically two ways Tuesday can go down now. Either Sanders and Biden swoop in with big wins and turn this whole thing into a two-man race between old guys, or another old guy and an old lady get to stick around for the fun. The bowing out of Pete and Amy may extend Warren and Bloomberg’s lifelines.
The laughable irony is that it was Bernie Sanders, now the frontrunner, who wanted the changes that place this race in such turmoil. After having lost to Hillary Clinton under the old rules in 2016, which is roughly 800 years ago, maybe it was just natural that he thought they had to change. But those very changes are now the only threat to his candidacy. And they are a serious threat.
Call it the Buttigieg bump (if it happens, that is). But it is very likely that in several states the handful of voters that Pete’s exit brings into play can be absolute game changers. One or two percentage points can swing things in a way we have never really experienced before in American politics. This is not a game we have ever watched play out before.
If nature hates a vacuum, politics hates a muddle. And what the Democrats have right now is the muddliest muddle in the history of political muddles. Many in the Democratic Party seem terrified by the prospect of Sanders atop the ticket, not so much because they don’t think he can beat Trump but because downballot candidates like Max Rose in New York City don’t want to be tattooed as socialist Democrats.
Democrats are driving without a GPS. Where things land Tuesday night could scarcely be more up in the air. Sanders likely wants to get one on one with Biden, but we are far from clarity that this will happen, and the end of the Mayor Pete phenomenon only creates more uncertainty.
As dawn breaks on Wednesday, we could have anywhere from two to four serious candidates. The political unicorn of a brokered convention then starts to be very much in play. Buckle up, kids. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.