So much for Pa.’s chance to play Democratic kingmaker in 2020 | Fletcher McClellan

March 12, 2020 6:30 am

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA – FEBRUARY 25: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (L) looks on during the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. Seven candidates qualified for the debate, hosted by CBS News and Congressional Black Caucus Institute, ahead of South Carolina’s primary in four days. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Until Tuesday’s results in the March 10 primaries, Pennsylvania had a decent chance of being a major player in Democratic presidential politics.

Not now.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s victories in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, and Idaho completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in American electoral history.

Michigan was the make-or-break state for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

It was the site of his most significant victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries. It was there that white, blue-collar workers responded positively to Sanders’ hard critique of American capitalism.

On Tuesday, white, non-college educated Michiganders went for Biden.

It is clear that the dominant question on 2020 primary voters’ minds was which candidate was best positioned to defeat President Trump in November.

One by one, every candidate had their moment: U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

For different and sometimes contradictory reasons, all came up short. Some lacked substance, others had too much substance. They were too rich, too young, too female, too white, or not white enough.

When it was Sanders’ turn to be scrutinized, voters did not necessarily think he was too radical.

In fact, numerous polls of Democrats showed that majorities favored Bernie’s signature issues – Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and wiping out college student debt.

Nevertheless, Super Tuesday voters saw Biden as more electable than a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, and that was more important than issues. Biden won 10 of 14 states, including Texas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Massachusetts, Warren’s home state.

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Biden strongly carried women, older voters, moderates, and conservatives. African-American voters drew a straight line from Barack Obama to his faithful lieutenant.

Whether the two septuagenarians continue the fight in Pennsylvania, which votes on April 28, is uncertain.

There will be enormous pressure on Sanders to drop out of the presidential race. The Democratic Party, including nearly all of the major presidential contenders, has closed ranks behind Biden.

The primary calendar does not look very promising for Sanders, who is at least 150 Democratic National Convention delegates behind Biden.

Next week, 500 delegates are at stake in Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona. They were all Clinton states four years ago.

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After that, Biden will likely rack up large wins in Georgia and Louisiana, continuing his dominance of the South.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania does not appear to be Bernie country.

Though Biden represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate, he never fails to plug his Scranton roots.

Democrats are concentrated in Philadelphia and surrounding suburban counties, where the Biden base of African-Americans and middle-class whites resides.

Many of Sanders’ blue-collar supporters, living in the western part of the state, have become Trumpublicans.

And, Pennsylvania’s closed primary rules negate any benefit Sanders might receive from independents and mischievous Republicans.

That said, Sanders may stay in the race for the time being, if only to continue to push the Democratic Party platform to the left. He still has strong support from young people, Latinos, and wage earners, groups Biden will need to put together a winning coalition this fall.

Besides, to paraphrase the pundits in Dumb and Dumber, there’s always a chance.

Biden is more than capable of committing gaffes and turning in bewildering debate performances.

There is still plenty in the Biden record to scrutinize, including his chumminess with Fortune 500 companies, 60% of which incorporate in Delaware.

President Trump and the Republicans, aided no doubt by Russian bots, began their disinformation campaign against the former Vice President.

Let’s not forget how quickly events can turn political fortunes around.

Prior to the February 29 South Carolina primary, Sanders was the favorite and Biden a zombie candidate.

Now, it’s a safe bet that Biden will end up the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Six weeks ago, the coronavirus was China’s problem and the American economy was going strong.

Now, fear of catching the virus has disrupted everyday life and canceled planned gatherings.

Financial markets have gone haywire, anti-recession measures are hastily being assembled, and Trump’s behavior during this crisis couldn’t be more bizarre.

Six weeks from now is an eternity in politics.

Regardless, it appears that, once again, the traditional late date of Pennsylvania’s primary elections has cost the Keystone State influence in presidential politics.

There will be greater attention paid to a bill, passed by the state Senate, which would move future primaries to the third Tuesday in March.

Given the speed with which Democrats are coalescing behind Biden, even that earlier date would have been too late this year.

Capital-Star Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @McCleleF. His work appears biweekly. 

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Fletcher McClellan
Fletcher McClellan

Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @mcclelef.