Does Bernie have a shout?
WHEN HILLARY Clinton first contemplated the debates against her rivals for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, she could have been forgiven for envisaging a somewhat cosy affair. To one side of her, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, eager to avoid offending the former first lady and thus nixing his chances of becoming her running mate next summer; on the other, cranky old Bernie Sanders, spouting those left-wing bromides that may play well in Vermont, but few places beyond its state lines.
As the Democrat candidates took to the stage in Las Vegas for their first debate this week, however, Mr Sanders has proved to be the joker in the pack.
Close to 60 points behind Mrs Clinton when he launched his campaign in May, the Jewish senator has cut her lead in national polls to just 14 points. In the first states to vote — New Hampshire and Iowa — Mr Sanders is doing even better: he’s ahead by 10 points in the former and fought her to a draw in the latter.
Mr Sanders’s rallies have drawn huge crowds throughout the summer, and the latest fundraising figures showed that he received 1.3 million donations in the last quarter. The senator’s $26 million haul was within reach of the $28 million raised by Mrs Clinton.
Mr Sanders is, moreover, currently defying every rule in the US political playbook: as yet, the 74-year-old selfdescribed socialist has not spent a dime on TV advertising or polling.
Mrs Clinton, however, does have one formidable card up her sleeve. While Mr Sanders is expending his energies in Iowa and New Hampshire, her campaign is erecting a “Super Tuesday” firewall. Mrs Clinton has already spent a great deal of time and money on the 13 states that go to the polls on March 1: building grassroots campaign organisations and locking up endorsements.
The great unknown is whether vice president Joe Biden decides to join the game: polls suggest that, if he does, he will draw away more supporters from Mrs Clinton than Mr Sanders.
Buoyed by their fundraising success, Mr Sanders’s campaign team boasts that, in any case, it can raise the resources to compete on Super Tuesday and is eyeing victories in Massachusetts, Colorado and Minnesota.
The Vermont senator, however, faces an uphill struggle. His support is heavily concentrated among middle-class white liberals who dominate his home state and figure disproportionately in Iowa and New Hampshire. But the territory on which the primary battle is fought becomes much less hospitable after those early states have voted. In southern states like Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, which vote on Super Tuesday, the Democratic electorate is heavily African-American or Hispanic.
Mr Sanders may have proved to be the joker in the pack thus far, but bet on Hillary Clinton having the last laugh.