Less than two weeks ago, when South Carolina Democrats went to the polls, it was “win or go home” time for Joe Biden. Failure to win that primary would surely have been curtains for Biden’s faltering campaign.
Biden won big. However, he still faced something close to “win or go home” just a few days later, on Super Tuesday. Biden needed a few more wins to stay afloat, and he needed wins outside of the South to become a strong contender again.
Biden did so well on Super Tuesday that, a week later, it is Bernie Sanders who arguably needs to win or go home.
It seems clear that Biden will win tomorrow in Michigan, Missouri, and Mississippi. He’s also looking good in North Dakota.
Sanders can probably survive defeats in these states if he wins in Washington and Idaho. In fact, a victory in only Washington might be enough to keep hope alive. But if Biden runs the table, it will seem like a knockout blow.
The good news for Sanders is that he has performed well in the West. The bad news is that Biden seems to running even with Sanders, if not slightly ahead, in Washington and Idaho. Moreover, Biden, in marked contrast to earlier in the year, is now consistently outperforming his poll numbers.
The polls I’ve seen were taken before Elizabeth Warren quit. In Washington, Warren’s support was between 5 and 10 percent. If Sanders picks up most of Warren’s vote, maybe he can scrape out a win in Washington. If not, I think Biden will prevail.
Some polls suggest that Warren’s supporters are only slightly more inclined to favor Sanders over Biden. Thus, there’s a decent chance that Sanders will not win any state on Tuesday.
Will he then go home? Maybe he should. After Tuesday, the calendar gets even worse for Sanders. He’s behind in all of the major states holding primaries in the second half of March — Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Georgia.
However, Sanders will have another opportunity to debate Biden before these primaries are held. As I understand it, only Biden and Sanders will participate. Sanders probably believes he can take down Biden in a one-on-one debate, and thereby seize back the momentum.
Is this belief justified? Biden should be good for several gaffes and senior moments. However, Biden’s liberal message apparently has more appeal to Democrats than Sanders’s socialist one (although not by the kind of margin for which one would hope).
In sum, Tuesday may not be a “win or go home” affair in Sanders’s view. However, it’s not unreasonable for the rest of us to perceive it that way.