Washington Wednesday – Dividing Democratic delegates

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 4th of March, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: Washington Wednesday.

EICHER: Well, Democrats took a big step toward picking their presidential nominee yesterday. What started as a very wide field has narrowed considerably in recent weeks. But it may not have narrowed enough to avoid a showdown in July, when the party gathers in Milwaukee to name its nominee.

BASHAM: And a showdown is what at least one candidate needs. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg got into the race late and appeared on the ballot for the first time last night. 

Ahead of yesterday’s voting, Bloomberg downplayed expectations that he could win at the ballot box. He told reporters his expectation is to win the nomination through a contested convention.

EICHER: A word about that. Contested conventions happen when no single candidate is able to muster a majority of delegates. And Democrats haven’t faced that prospect since 1968. Four years before that, Republicans had a similar delegate split between the liberal wing represented by Nelson Rockefeller and the true-believer conservatives led by Barry Goldwater.

Nothing new under the sun, perhaps? 

Joining us now to talk about this year’s ideological tug-of-war is Jamie Dean. She is WORLD’s national editor and chief political correspondent. Jamie, good bleary-eyed morning.


EICHER: Long-awaited Super Tuesday’s come and gone. To your eye, what is the lay of the land?

DEAN: This time last week, we were looking at a seven-person race. I think the headline this morning is that we’re now much closer to a two-man race. And those two men are Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.

EICHER: That happened quickly, didn’t it?

DEAN: It did. Joe Biden performed pretty poorly in the first three nominating contests of the year. Some people were ready to put the nail in the coffin of his campaign. But he really came roaring back in South Carolina on Saturday.

Once Biden won that primary, two other candidates—Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar—quickly dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. Some other prominent Democrats endorsed him. So that set him up nicely going into Super Tuesday, and paved the way for wins in key states like North Carolina and Virginia.

EICHER: Sometimes I think the “big-mo” is overstated in politics, but Joe Biden really earned some momentum. Why do you think the primary in South Carolina had such a dramatic impact for the former VP?

DEAN: I think it wasn’t just Biden’s victory, but the size of it. He won in a landslide. Biden won nearly half the vote in South Carolina, and Sanders won less than 20 percent of it. So that was a rather emphatic moment for Biden, and it’s worth noting: Biden has run for president three times, and that was the first time he’s won a primary. So it was a big night for him.

EICHER: Big night, big margin, with voters who seem turned off by the Bernie revolution. What does that tell us about Biden’s ability to appeal to that same voter base elsewhere?

DEAN: One thing it tells us is that Biden has proven he can appeal to African American voters. About 60 percent of the voters in South Carolina’s Democratic primary were African American, and Biden won about 60 percent of those votes. He also won over African American voters in other Southeastern states on Super Tuesday.

We know that black voters often lean toward the more moderate or conservative end of the Democratic spectrum—and especially in South Carolina, with a large population of churchgoers. So I think it also tells us that moderate voters prefer Biden.

I know that’s not a huge newsflash, but I do think it’s going to be a huge part of the storyline going forward: This race is shaping up to be a fight for the identity of the Democratic Party. Will it ally with a democratic socialist or with a Democrat who says he’s not ready to go quite that far?

EICHER: You were in South Carolina last week, and you saw both Biden and Sanders. Tell me about that.

DEAN: I attended a rally for Bernie Sanders in a park in downtown Columbia the afternoon before the Democratic primary. A few hours later, I went to a Joe Biden rally at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. 

At the Biden rally, I’d say many people in the audience were in their 50s or well above. At the Sanders rally, most of the supporters appeared in their 40s or well below. So there was a visible difference in the ages of the two crowds.

The crowd at the Biden rally seemed excited to see him, but when the event got going, it was pretty low-key. Voters asked questions, and Biden gave answers that were quite long and sometimes a little hard to stick with. It got very quiet in the room. At one point, Biden said: “Look, I know this is boring, but it’s important.”

The Sanders rally was not quiet. He usually comes out rhetorical guns blazing, and delivers these succinct talking points in an aggressive and engaging way. This crowd was booming for Bernie.

It all kind of reminded me of the difference between a PTA meeting and a pep rally. And I don’t mean that in a trivializing way for either group or candidate. But on the PTA side, the Biden crowd was full of local citizens who had put on their coats and gone out on a cold night to file into a school gym and listen to someone talk about how to address problems. 

On the pep rally side, the Sanders crowd were eating up everything the candidate said, they were responding with visceral energy, and some were even wiping away tears during the event. 

You could even sense the difference listening to the two soundtracks at the events. One of the songs playing after the Biden event was the easy-listening tune from the 1980s: “Bring Me a Higher Love.” One of the songs at the Sanders rally was a 2009 rock anthem called “Uprising.” That song talks about: “Interchanging mind control. Come let the revolution take its toll.”  Slightly different styles there.

So there were two different crowds, two different styles, and also two different messages.

EICHER: Define those two messages for me…

DEAN: Joe Biden seems to be saying: “We’ve gotten off track and we need to fix the systems that are giving us trouble.” We could talk more about the merits of his policies and whether his solutions would work, but overall, I think that’s the core of his message.

Sanders seems to be saying: We’re using the wrong systems altogether. Things can’t be fixed without dismantling some of those underlying systems, fundamental and starting all over again.

EICHER: A clash between political worldviews—how are the Democrats responding to this?

DEAN: Very nervously. I think we’ll see more Democrats consolidate behind Joe Biden to try to block Bernie Sanders. They worry Sanders can’t win a general election because of his proposals. Others worry Joe Biden may not be able to take on President Trump because of his style. But both of them seem to have a lot of supporters, and they may both be able to keep going in these Democratic contests.

Remember, the Democratic primaries award delegates proportionally. There are no winner-take-all states. So it’s possible that Biden and Sanders could both keep racking up delegates, without reaching the number that either candidate needs to secure the nomination ahead of the Democratic National Convention. That could make things very interesting this summer.

EICHER: Jamie Dean is WORLD’s national editor. You can keep up with her coverage of the 2020 election at wng.org. Thanks, Jamie!

DEAN: You’re welcome.

(AP Photo/Michael Wyke) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally Thursday, March 2, 2020, at Texas Southern University in Houston. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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