Political News

Why the odds are so stacked against Joe Biden now

Posted February 12, 2020 9:50 a.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2020 10:24 a.m. EST

— "It ain't over man," Joe Biden told a crowd of supporters in South Carolina on Tuesday night. "We're just getting started."

That appears to be wishful thinking on the part of the former vice president of the United States -- particularly after finishing 4th in the Iowa caucuses on February 3 and following that up with a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Or, put another way: No one in Biden's current situation has won the Democratic nomination -- or even come close to winning it -- over the past four decades.

I went through every contested nomination fight over those 40 years -- there have been eight -- and found this: The eventual nominee finished either first or second in one (or both) of Iowa and New Hampshire. Every. Single. Time.

The closest analog to Biden's current position is 1992 when Bill Clinton finished 4th in Iowa then second in New Hampshire and went on to win the nomination. But that comparison breaks down for a number of reasons, most importantly: 1) Iowa wasn't seriously contested by any candidates in 1992 because of the presence of homestate Sen. Tom Harkin on the ballot and 2) Clinton's 2nd place finish in New Hampshire came after a series of allegations of marital infidelity that many people predicted would doom his campaign. Clinton's surprise runner-up showing allowed him to declare himself the "Comeback Kid" and use New Hampshire as a momentum springboard to the nomination.

And that's it. In each of the other seven races, the eventual nominee won either Iowa or New Hampshire. Check this out:

2016: Hillary Clinton first in Iowa, second in New Hampshire

2008: Barack Obama first in Iowa, second in New Hampshire

2004: John Kerry first in Iowa, first in New Hampshire

2000: Al Gore first in Iowa, first in New Hampshire

1992: See above

1988: Michael Dukakis third in Iowa, first in New Hampshire

1984: Walter Mondale first in Iowa, second in New Hampshire

1980: Jimmy Carter first in Iowa, first in New Hampshire

To be even more clear about all of this: We aren't talking about Biden finishing third in Iowa and New Hampshire. He finished fourth in Iowa, winning 23,630 votes -- roughly half as many as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won. In New Hampshire, Biden took fifth, winning 23,813 votes with 97% of precincts reporting. Put another way: Biden got far less votes in Iowa and New Hamphire combined to date (47,443) that either Sanders (73,470) or former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (69,216) got in New Hampshire alone.

Now, Biden is absolutely correct when he says that 99.9% of African American and 99.8% of Latinos nationwide have yet to vote. And that the next two contests -- the Nevada caucuses on February 22 and the South Carolina primary on February 29 -- have a much more diverse electorate than either Iowa and New Hampshire, which are overwhelmingly white. And that polling to date has shown Biden running very strong with black voters in particular.

So, there's a rational to Biden staging a comeback. But, the weight of history is pretty close to crushing for Biden's hopes. No one in his situation -- or even close to his situation -- over the past 40 years has ever come back to win the party nomination or even come close. Maybe Biden will be the first! But count me as verrrryyyyyy skeptical.

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