Mike Bloomberg’s risky and wildly expensive run for the White House skidded badly off the rails with Tuesday’s election results. The night started badly for him in Virginia, where he had spent lots of time and upwards of $100 million, then came in at less than 10 percent of the vote.
The night turned a little better for Bloomberg as it wore on. He reached the 15 percent viability mark to obtain delegates in Colorado, Arkansas, and Tennessee, and is hovering right at that mark in delegate-rich California. But failure to reach viability in Texas and North Carolina is big problem for his prospects going forward.
I became bullish about Bloomberg’s run just after the Iowa debates. Nobody other than Bernie Sanders seemed to have much energy and Joe Biden, the big winner on Super Tuesday, seemed like a dead man walking. Biden’s poor showing in Nevada convinced me that Bloomberg had a good chance to wind up as the non-socialist one-on-one with Sanders. That will almost certainly now be Biden.
So what happened? The most important development was really just Biden getting his legs back under him. In the South Carolina debate he looked solid, and the polls quickly began to shift in his direction. It didn’t help Bloomberg that he was awful in the debates and his votes sank as Biden’s rose.
Bloomberg’s rise in the February polls was fairly remarkable, and things looked pretty good. It was obvious he was siphoning votes from Biden at a pretty decent clip, which had always been the plan. But at the end of the day, good old-fashioned politics beat out novelty and hundreds of millions of dollars, which is probably a good thing.
After South Carolina there was also a relatively unexpected coalescence of Democratic establishment support behind Biden. Most importantly, that was represented by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropping out and endorsing Biden. If Biden’s weakness was plank one of the Bloomberg strategy, plank two was a big, fractured field offering no clear winner. When those two planks collapsed, so did the raison d’etre of his candidacy.
But that isn’t to say Bloomberg didn’t have a big effect on the race. His impressive polling in February took steam away from Buttigieg and Klobuchar’s impressive performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. Instead of either receiving big bumps in the wake of those early contests, they stayed in a muddle with Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Bloomberg can still have an impact. Should he drop out, he is almost certain to throw his support and considerable resources behind Biden, who will need to continue winning convincingly against Sanders to avoid a contested Democratic National Convention. Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday stumble makes that path a lot easier.
In the end the pundits were right — most of then not named Dave Marcus, anyway — about Bloomberg’s crazy, mixed-up run for president. But in fairness, he does seem likely to come away with the third-most delegates and a third- or fourth-place finish in the popular vote when all is said and done. That’s not a small feat for a race that once boasted about 387 candidates.
Ultimately it looks like Bloomberg’s challenge woke Biden up. Now Biden’s job, whether he enters the convention with the delegates required to win or not, will be to soothe the Bernie Sanders voters who always seem to have something or other to cry foul about.
That won’t be easier, but Biden may well have an easier time seducing them than Hillary Clinton did. Thus far, at least, both Biden and Bernie have stayed in their lanes, and kind of passed each other in the night. That has to change now, and the gloves will come off, but Biden will have to be careful in how he approaches his criticism.
That disposition of Sanders voters will be the most important thing for Democrats if they want a Biden victory over President Trump in November. That wrangling between the former vice president and the current senator is now the dynamic to watch.