Momentum shifts happen in presidential campaigns. What they mean, especially this far out from the first nominating contests, is anybody’s guess.
There are 112 days left until the Iowa caucuses take place, and a week after that will be the first primary race, in New Hampshire. Traditionally speaking, a viable candidate for office hoping to make a successful run for their party’s nomination needs to win one of these two states to gain momentum for the rest of the primary races.
But according to Washington Times reporter Joe Simonson, that might not be the case this time around. As former Vice President Joe Biden has ceded some ground to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it’s possible that those first two races — and possibly one other — will be won by her or someone else. Biden could get second- or even third-place standings in those two races, and possibly even end up in third place in Nevada after that.
That could produce a peculiar strategy for Team Biden, Simonson wrote in a tweet.
Biden’s team has all but conceded it won’t win Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada but expects to win South Carolina by a huge margin. There’s not much historical precedent for a candidate to write off early states like this.
— Joe Gabriel Simonson (@SaysSimonson) October 10, 2019
“Biden’s team has all but conceded it won’t win Iowa, New Hampshire, or Nevada but expects to win South Carolina by a huge margin,” the journalist noted. “There’s not much historical precedent for a candidate to write off early states like this. ”
In an article he wrote on the subject for the Washington Times, Simonson pointed out that the last candidate to make this happen — to lose the first two nominating contests but win the party’s nomination in the end — was Bill Clinton in 1992. But those were different circumstances: in Iowa, there was a popular candidate from that state running for president, and in New Hampshire, one candidate poured all of his resources into that state alone, making it difficult for any other viable person to win.
Clinton picked up wins after that, moving on to win the nomination (and the presidency afterward).
A veteran political expert in Iowa explained to Simonson that it would be very difficult for something like that to happen again.
“If Biden gets a third in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, at that point donors are going to abandon you,” that individual said.
That is, indeed, one likely possibility. But in a strategic sense, it might work out for Biden.
The former vice president has lost ground to Warren in Iowa, as she presently has a Real Clear Politics average lead of 3.4 points over him. In New Hampshire, FiveThirtyEight shows Warren with significant leads over Biden in a number of polls. And while there aren’t a lot of polls from Nevada just yet, one of the most recent ones — a CNN poll from September — shows Biden struggling against both Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
And that’s where things get interesting. After that, Biden has a huge lead, mainly by double-digit margins, against Warren and Sanders in South Carolina. A big win there could propel him into wins the following week — when Super Tuesday occurs, on March 3.
What will really matter is how significant of losses Biden may rack up in Iowa in New Hampshire — and whether voters in other states respond to those losses or not. Then again, there’s plenty of time between then and now, and Biden could outperform what others are expecting him to do in those two states. A big win in either Iowa or New Hampshire (or even a tie) could allow him to still lose in Nevada and gain significantly more momentum back in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday.
One shouldn’t expect Biden to not make the usual rounds to these states — they’re still too important to give up without a fight. But if it seems like he’s not giving his all in Iowa or New Hampshire, and possibly “phoning it in” to Nevada after that, it might be strategy at work rather than lousy campaigning.