The likely Demo­cratic nom­i­nee is … any­one’s guess

Boston Herald - - Opinion - Jeff ROB­BINS Jeff Rob­bins is a Bos­ton lawyer and for­mer U.S. del­e­gate to the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

Pete But­tigieg’s emer­gence as a fron­trun­ner in the race for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion has turned it into a free-for-all, in which it has be­come im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict the Democrats’ even­tual nom­i­nee, and with a real pos­si­bil­ity that no can­di­date will ar­rive at next sum­mer’s na­tional con­ven­tion with any­where close to enough del­e­gates to win the party’s nod. A year of fevered fundrais­ing, Twit­ter-war­fare and tele­vised de­bates has re­sulted in an unin­spired stale­mate, with the ma­jor can­di­dates seem­ing un­likely to de­feat Pres­i­dent Trump, or te­dious, or both. The up­shot: Just weeks be­fore the early nom­i­nat­ing con­tests oc­cur, there is no telling which way the foot­ball is go­ing to bounce.

But­tigieg’s rise in Iowa and New Hamp­shire has si­mul­ta­ne­ously clipped the wings of for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth Warren. It has dropped Bi­den down as low as fourth place in polls taken in both states, leav­ing him scram­bling to stop the bleed­ing while fac­ing yearend fundrais­ing num­bers likely to in­flict an­other blow to his once-daunt­ing can­di­dacy. Bi­den’s choice of the dis­tinc­tively out­dated word “malarkey” for his “No Malarkey Tour” of Iowa this week seems un­likely to im­prove his woe­ful stand­ing among the Hawk­eye State’s younger vot­ers, but it at least beats the word “geezer.” A fourth-place fin­ish in Iowa and then in New Hamp­shire would leave Bi­den limp­ing to Ne­vada, where he will also prob­a­bly lose. By that point, his much-vaunted South Carolina “fire­wall” may look more like the Maginot Line — the his­tor­i­cally ephemeral line of sup­pos­edly in­vin­ci­ble for­ti­fi­ca­tions touted by France’s mil­i­tary in the 1930s as the ul­ti­mate de­fense against Ger­man in­va­sion. Bi­den’s South Carolina fire­wall runs the risk of melt­ing away if for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. De­val Pa­trick has ad­e­quate re­sources to chal­lenge him there.

Warren’s game plan has been similarly up­ended by the But­tigieg Phe­nom­e­non. That plan had been to win in Iowa, ride that win to vic­tory in New Hamp­shire and then rocket out as the pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee. Warren’s rise, which looked un­stop­pable only re­cently, has been frozen by But­tigieg’s Iowa magic, as well as by Bernie San­ders’ post-heart at­tack resur­gence and blow­back from her Medi­care for All pro­posal.

That leaves a real prospect of But­tigieg win­ning Iowa and New Hamp­shire, Warren or San­ders win­ning Ne­vada, and at­ten­tion turn­ing to South Carolina. Bi­den’s sup­port there is thin, based sub­stan­tially on his as­so­ci­a­tion among older black vot­ers with Barack Obama. But a de­pleted Bi­den may be vul­ner­a­ble to Pa­trick, who has his own long-stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with Obama and strong ties to im­por­tant or­ga­niz­ers in the state, and who is spend­ing time there. Last week a photo cir­cu­lated on Twit­ter of Pa­trick at a pri­vate din­ner with the ven­er­ated dean of South Carolina’s Con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, Jim Cly­burn, who rep­re­sents heav­ily black precincts in Charleston and Columbia. Cly­burn en­dorsed Bi­den last spring, but de­scribes his decades-long friend­ship with Pa­trick as “close and per­sonal.” If he has the funds, Pa­trick would be poised to com­bine sup­port from South Carolina’s black vot­ers with sup­port from its white mod­er­ates into a strong show­ing which, should it ma­te­ri­al­ize, could re­shape the race yet again.

The Democrats’ new nom­i­nat­ing rules re­in­force the pos­si­bil­ity that their nom­i­na­tion fight will re­main up for grabs for a long while, and per­haps into the con­ven­tion. Del­e­gates se­lected in pri­maries and cau­cuses are al­lo­cated pro­por­tion­ately to the vote share at­tained by each can­di­date — with those re­ceiv­ing less than 15 per­cent of the vote in­el­i­gi­ble to win del­e­gates in that con­test. With the present top four can­di­dates av­er­ag­ing 11, 16, 18 and 27 per­cent in the polls, it is easy to imag­ine that we are look­ing at a nom­i­na­tion bat­tle re­sem­bling the Wild West. The bot­tom line is that there are more than a few po­lit­i­cal life­times be­tween now and the time a Demo­cratic nom­i­nee is se­lected.

AP

UP­START: Mayor Pete But­tigieg’s cam­paign is com­ing on strong in both Iowa and New Hamp­shire.

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