Joe Biden Comeback: the Narrow But Real Window

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Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, February 1, 2020. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

Considering how Joe Biden collapsed from front-runner status to a disappointing fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, he does not appear to be a safe bet for a comeback. But here and there, you can see signs that Biden might be an undervalued stock.

The most recent poll in Nevada puts Biden in second place at 18 percent — but more significantly, everybody except Bernie Sanders and Biden is below 15 percent. Like the other contests, if you’re not above 15 percent, you get nothing. Biden could come out of Nevada with a decent amount of delegates just because he’s above 15 percent and the others aren’t.

And the most recent South Carolina poll puts Biden ahead with 28 percent, Sanders at 20 percent, and everyone else below 15 percent. Nevada has 36 delegates that are pledged based upon the caucus results, while South Carolina has 54 delegates that are pledged based upon the primary results. Which one would you rather win?

If these two states shake out the way the most recent polling indicates, Biden would be the only candidate who has beaten Sanders in a state, and he might even be leading in the delegate count. The hopes of candidates such as Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar would be waning, and the lesser-known candidates would be facing the tough task of making a strong showing in the Super Tuesday states. (You have to wonder if some candidates would be better off focusing on Super Tuesday targets instead of South Carolina.) Meanwhile, Mike Bloomberg’s explosive spending has indeed gotten him into contention in a bunch of states — right around that 15 percent threshold.

Now move on to Super Tuesday, just three days after South Carolina. Sanders is way ahead in California; the most recent poll has Warren at 16 percent and Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden just below that 15 percent threshold. (The nightmare scenario for Sanders rivals is that all of them finish below 15 percent and Sanders walks away with almost all of the state’s 415 pledged delegates.)

Very few pollsters have conducted surveys in the Super Tuesday states –nothing since New Year’s in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Virginia. Warren is leading in her home state of Massachusetts, but Biden is above the 15 percent threshold there. Sanders and Biden look pretty close to each other in Texas.

That 15 percent threshold is just going to be a killer for those candidates trying to come from behind, such as Klobuchar. A finish of 14 percent or less is basically worthless, even though it represents a significant accomplishment for lesser-known, lesser-funded candidates.

If Biden finishes second in Nevada, and if Biden wins South Carolina solidly, and if most of the other non-Sanders options finish below 15 percent, and if Biden finishes above the 15 percent threshold in most of the Super Tuesday states, then by the first week of March, the Democratic primary could again look like a two-man race, with the establishment and non-openly-socialist Democrats having no choice but to bet all their chips on the former vice president. That’s a lot of “ifs.” But right now, the most recent polling available suggests all of those outcomes are within the realm of possibility.

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