Just when it seemed things could not get crazier than they are on the Republican side, it now appears Hillary Clinton is losing her lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. No, update: has lost. What once must have seemed like a brilliant idea to limit the number of debates now seems more like lost opportunities. Ah, hindsight.
What would happen if the Donald won on the Republican side and you had Bernie Sanders as the Democratic opponent? Bloomberg. Not the television network but the billionaire trans-party former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who would run with his own money (the only way to do it quickly enough) and his own lawyers and most of the operatives in both parties.
But wait, forget about whether the Donald could win; everyone has been talking about that.
Could Sanders, a 73-year-old independent senator from New York, a dead-on impersonator of the brilliant Larry David (check it out on “Saturday Night Live”) actually win?
Yes, if you’re asking about Iowa and New Hampshire. Not just that he could win; it looks like he very well might.
But no so fast to the nomination. After Iowa come Nevada and South Carolina. Then comes the onslaught: 14 states on one day, Super-Duper Tuesday, often thought to be one of the worst or best ideas in politics.
Iowa voters rarely predict winners. (President Huckabee, anyone?) In general, on the Democratic side, the most liberal candidate wins, because caucus-goers have to be enthusiasts and ideologues, and frankly, Clinton is not the most liberal candidate in this race. She’s the most electable, but caucus voters, particularly at this stage of the game, tend not to vote strategically.
As for New Hampshire, let me share one lesson I learned during the course of a few decades in politics. If you’re running in New Hampshire, it is good to be from the next state over. To cite a few examples: Mike Dukakis (of Massachusetts); Paul Tsongas (of Massachusetts); and John Kerry (of Massachusetts). Back in 2004, Howard Dean (of Vermont) was running strong in New Hampshire until he collapsed in Iowa. Once he did, he was toast in New Hampshire. New Hampshire voters deserted him; they don’t like throwing their votes away. In 2008, they swung to Clinton’s side against Barack Obama, after the press tanked her for getting teary eyed in a diner. This is not stuff you can easily predict.
But you very well can predict what will happen if Clinton loses both New Hampshire and Iowa. The chattering class will be chattering like crazy; they’ve already started. Word will leak that Joe Biden is considering jumping in to save the party. Ditto for Andrew Cuomo. Whispers will circulate about a “draft Elizabeth Warren” movement.
This is not 1968, when Gene McCarthy’s strong showing in the race caused Lyndon B. Johnson to drop out and Bobby Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey to jump in, ultimately tearing the party apart. In 1968, every state did not have a primary or caucus to select delegates who are effectively bound by the outcome. In 1968, you didn’t have the brilliant/insane invention of Super Tuesday, with 13 states hosting primaries and caucuses March 1, including Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Arkansas, and yes, Vermont. Four more come during the next weekend, and then Michigan and Mississippi the next Tuesday, followed by Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio on March 15.
You get the picture. Joe Biden, looking at this schedule months ago, concluded it was too late to get in, even though Clinton was tripping over emails at the time. Would it be easier now? Would it even be possible, given how many filing deadlines have passed and how many organizers Clinton has in almost every one of those states?
There are two ways to win a nomination. One, the way you always dream of, is winning Iowa and New Hampshire and everyone else effectively is dead. That is what the Clinton campaign actually thought they could do last time. The other, the one I have to believe the Clinton campaign is prepared for, is by grinding it out. You win the states no one else can afford to really contest. You score big among minority voters (not many in Iowa and New Hampshire), push your numbers among women and call in decades of chits (and good judgment) to win the support of all those super delegates who count in a grind. And by June 7, at least, you have a majority. That is what we might be looking at.
Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.