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'Temperature is rising': Race wide open as Democrats search for a candidate to beat Trump

Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will be hoping for comebacks as attention turns to Nevada and South Carolina.

DEMOCRATS IN Nevada and South Carolina will this month vote for the candidate they want to take on Trump in November’s presidential election – states that former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren will be hoping to make gains in after losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

The race for the Democrat nomination has been underway for over a year now and, once a crowded field of over 20 candidates, it has been whittled down to just 8 contenders, with more expected to drop out in the coming weeks. 

Those in contention at the minute are Biden and Warren, along with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, South Bend, Indiana mayor, Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar. 

Until a surprise result in the Iowa caucus on 3 February, most national polls suggested Biden was the favourite to take the title but when Buttigieg came out on top, by a slim margin of less than 1% to runner-up Bernie Sanders, it threw the contest wide open. 

While polls varied as to how much support Biden had among Iowa voters – the Monmouth poll but Biden in first place, the Emerson College poll had him in second place -  no one could have predicted he might land in fourth place behind Warren. 

Then in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary contest, Sanders took the lead but again it was a slim margin – less than 1% – ahead of second-placed Buttigieg.

Sanders v. Buttigieg 

The first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire point to unprecedented support for Buttigieg while Sander, as expected, commanded a large share of support.

The neck-and-neck outcome for the two candidates followed support from very different demographs as Buttigieg gathered support among moderate democrats, while Sanders appealed to a younger or more progressive cohort. 

Thirty-eight-year-old Buttigieg is the first openly gay and married man to run for president in America and grew up in Indiana, a politically conservative state. He served in the military and has built his message around “bringing a new kind of politics to Washington”. 

election-2020-pete-buttigieg Mayor Pete Buttigieg with his husband, Chasten, at a campaign rally in New Hampshire. Source: Mary Altaffer

Seventy-eight-year-old Sanders, on the other hand, failed to take down Hilary Clinton in the 2016 primaries but still harbours a large support base from that campaign – he is running on a platform of social justice at the centre and the slogan, an ‘America for all’. 

The next two primaries could bring Biden back to the fore, however, boosted by Nevada’s large latino vote and South Carolina’s African-American vote – both of which helped secure Obama’s success in 2008.

And recent polls hint at a similar outcome. A Suffolk University/USA Today Nevada poll in January put Biden on 19%, while Sanders came in close behind at 18%. Warren was in third on 11% and Buttigieg tied with 8% along with billionaire businessman Tom Steyer. 

A Fox News South Carolina poll in January also put Biden in an even greater lead than that projected in Nevada, coming in on 36%, ahead of Steyer and Sanders who are on 15% and 14% respectively. 

“It looked like Biden for a long time but he is hemorrhaging votes and now they have to figure out who is going to com forward and be the stand out against Trump,” Professor Liam Kennedy, of UCD’s Clinton Institute said. 

“You have a younger base in the Democrats who want to go with Bernie Sanders or at least a progressive, and on the other side you have a large moderate grouping. Biden set himself up for that but he has had a nasty bite from Mayor Pete.

“Pete Buttigieg has come out of the last two, New Hampshire’s primary and the Iowa caucus in a strong position. Now look ahead at the next two and you have two large states with large diversities in the populations.

“You have a large population, around 24% to 29% African-American in South Carolina and then you have Latinos in Nevada. Mayor Pete has little or no support in either of those communities.”

election-2020-debate Bernie Sanders (L), Joe Biden (centre), and Elizabeth Warren (R) on stage during a Democrat debate. Source: Charles Krupa

Speaking moments after the New Hampshire result emerged on Tuesday, Biden suggested the poor result for his campaign in the first two primaries was not a reflection of the wider Democrat voters across the US. 

“I want to tell you, the people of Nevada are watching and I want to make it clear we praise their diversity as a state and I’m going to be out there seeing them very soon.

“Tonight though, we just heard of two of 50 states – two of them. not all the nation, not half the nation, not a quarter of the nation, not 10% – two. 

“Where I come from that’s the opening bell, not the closing bell and the fight to end Donald Trump’s presidency is just beginning.” 

Super Tuesday

But Biden’s ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day” approach to his recent losses might get him through this weekend but when Super Tuesday rolls around on 3 March, that is when the contest will begin to take shape. 

Some 14 of the 50 states will vote on that day, indicating who is most electable of all the candidates, and ultimately deciding who would be best placed to take on Trump. 

And it is also on Super Tuesday when another candidate could bounce to the top – billionaire and former New York City mayor, Mike Bloomberg. 

The businessman behind the Bloomberg media empire was a late entry to the Democrats’ campaign and from the outset said he would specifically target voters in the Super Tuesday states. 

election-2020-bloomberg Mike Bloomberg is eyeing up the Super Tuesday states. Source: David J. Phillip

“Mike Bloomberg is becoming a bigger story by the minute,” Kennedy explained. “I think he has what they call the pathway to do it. There is no clear moderate and Bloomberg is holding his hands up to do that.

“The Democrats also see him as a self-made billionaire who can take on another one and beat him, and he’s spending hundreds of millions to do that.”

In the Quinnipiac national survey, published two days ago, Bloomberg is coming in third place behind Biden in second, and Sanders in first. Warren is in fourth place and Buttigieg is in fifth. 

“This is unchartered territory. They want Trump pushed out and a lot is at stake, that’s why the temperature is rising.”

Democrats will cast their vote in Nevada next Saturday, 22 February with South Carolina primary taking place on 29 February.

If Buttigieg can capture the level of support that emerged from the first two primaries when voters go to the polls in the next two states, it will send a nervous shiver through the campaigns of Sanders, Biden and Bloomberg. 

At the same time, the outcome in polls from just four of the 50 states can’t be taken as representative of the wider Democrat base nationally and it is all still to play for. 

Regardless, the Democrat electorate has yet to point to one single candidate who it thinks could beat Trump – but the reality remains that the candidate who triumphs in the primaries will only have won the battle.

They need to be confident they can win the war – and that’s the biggest challenge of all. 

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