First things first: The theme song of the week is Jeopardy.
Poll of the week: A new Monmouth University poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters finds a close race with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 20%, former Vice President Joe Biden at 19%, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 18% and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 15%.
This is the second New Hampshire poll meeting CNN standards published this month that has Sanders in the top tier.
What’s the point: The idea of Sanders winning the nomination is inconceivable to some, but it really shouldn’t be. While few objective analysts would think of him as the frontrunner, it’s pretty clear he has a clear path to the nomination.
The first step is to win the Iowa caucuses. This seems quite doable. He was at 20% in our latest CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll. Sanders was joined in the top tier by Biden, Buttigieg and Warren.
The next step is to win in New Hampshire. Again, Sanders is in a position to do so. He’s at or near the top of the polls now, and a win in Iowa would probably result in a bounce in the Granite State.
A lot of Sanders’ pessimists would use this as an opportunity to point out that Iowa and New Hampshire aren’t representative of the nation racially. That is, they’re really white.
Sanders, though, seems to be holding his own in the third contest of the primary season: the Nevada caucuses. Nevada has a lot of nonwhite voters in it, and Sanders was trailing Biden by a mere 6 points in a Fox News poll released earlier this week. If Sanders were to win Iowa and New Hampshire, it isn’t hard at all to imagine that momentum carries him through to a Nevada victory.
Winning the first three contests would make Sanders the clear favorite to win the nomination. The list of non-incumbents who won the first three contests in a presidential primary season is really short. The last one to clearly do it was Democrat Al Gore in 2000, and he went on to sweep every primary.
Sanders would almost certainly be leading nationally if he wins the first three contests. He’s only down by about 10 nationally right now.
The question is what could stop Sanders?
There would probably be a stop Sanders movement among Democratic elites, but I’m not sure how successful that would be. We saw Republicans try to stop then candidate Donald Trump in 2016. It didn’t work.
The best chance for a last stand against Sanders could be in South Carolina. Sanders lost big there in 2016 and is trailing there again by over 20 points. His current deficit, however, is much smaller than it was at this point in 2016. He trails Biden by a lot less among black voters (a majority of the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate) than he did Hillary Clinton.
It’s not clear Sanders would lose in South Carolina, or certainly not by enough to derail him before Super Tuesday when the campaign goes national.
Now the point I was trying to make here wasn’t to argue that Sanders is the favorite. Rather, it’s to point out that the next few weeks are very important to his campaign. If Sanders can win in Iowa, for instance, then the table is set for him to maybe pull off a shocker.