Don’t Lick It! Welcome to the Coronavirus Primary
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This is the latest forecast on how Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden will fare on Tuesday.
By Nick Fouriezos
In normal times, advice for Election Day might be to bring your driver’s license, know your rights and carry snacks and water in case lines run long. But since these are not normal times, the state of Washington released an extra advisory last week: Please, don’t lick it.
“It” being the state’s vote-by-mail ballot, which was sent out in mid-February … before coronavirus panic gripped the state, particularly the Seattle area, which has seen 19 deaths from the flu-like respiratory illness. “Whether healthy or sick, please don’t lick!” the Secretary of State’s office tweeted, advising voters to use a wet cloth or sponge to seal their envelopes. But the virus likely won’t hamper turnout as much here as elsewhere, considering that Washington votes entirely by mail — meaning voters don’t have to congregate in public with fellow citizens who might be coughing.
Amid all the viral turmoil, the Evergreen State (and its 89 delegates) votes Tuesday, along with Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and North Dakota. The Democratic field is winnowed down to two clear front-runners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with Biden now the national front-runner after a stunning turnaround. It means that even states like Washington that should be Sanders country all of a sudden look dicey. If the insurgent loses here, it’s hard to see how he can mount a comeback.
Our exclusive prediction model in partnership with data firm 0ptimus and election results company Decision Desk HQ — which crunches polls, demographics, fundraising, media coverage and more to deliver some of the smartest forecasts in the business — has Biden now winning Washington state. Results will start to report at 11 p.m. EST, but like California, it could take a while to tally given how ballots only need to be postmarked by Election Day.
Four years ago, Sanders won three-fourths of the delegates in a state that sets up well for him with its highly educated, liberal electorate. But he ran up those numbers when Washington was still voting through a caucus system, a format that has favored the Democratic Socialist given his organizing prowess. Since 2016, the Democratic National Committee has encouraged states to switch to primaries: 10 states, including Washington and Idaho, made that switch. “It’s been huge. If we were still doing caucus, this would be a big Sanders state,” says Cornell Clayton, a political scientist at Washington State University.
Sanders still has major support in the Seattle-Tacoma area, which trends more liberal, but eastern Washington trends more moderate. Even Latino voters, which in other states have favored Sanders, may be less supportive here, where they make up 10 percent of the electorate. “The Hispanic population is found primarily in agricultural communities in the middle part of the state,” says Clayton. They will be more conservative, he adds, than urban Latino voters in Texas or Nevada.
Despite virus concerns, the Secretary of State’s office expects voter turnout to set records. The Sanders campaign has been organizing virtual barnstorms, rather than in-person information sessions, with an eye toward mobilizing voters without having to knock on doors. Right now, Sanders and Biden are spending much more time in Michigan than in Washington state. But with his campaign on the ropes, Sanders has to swing big. As we mentioned recently in our weekly Take on 2020 newsletter (sign up here), perhaps it’s time to organize a coronavirus tour to tout “Medicare for All,” starting by visiting families of the victims in Seattle?
MICHIGAN (125 DELEGATES, POLLS CLOSE AT 9 P.M. EST)
Michigan delivered a shocking upset for Sanders in 2016, who reversed a double-digit poll deficit. But Biden competes much better with non-college educated white voters than Hillary Clinton ever did. “The ‘elitist’ image of Hillary versus ‘working-class Joe,’” says 0ptimus data scientist Alex Alduncin.
Plus, President Barack Obama’s former VP enjoys an advantage with African American voters, who made up a fifth of the Democratic electorate in Michigan last time around … and who sided with Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin over Sanders. Both campaigns have deployed about $1 million in ads here and have a number of surrogates on the ground, from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Michigan governor candidate Abdul El-Sayed for Sanders, to Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker for Biden.
However, the real advantage may be in earned (also known as “free”) media, Alduncin says, which has helped propel Biden to front-runner status since his South Carolina blowout and Super Tuesday surge. While Sanders has a better ground game, Biden has had “a nonstop stream of news about him and his resurgence.” As Trump proved in 2016, the competition over “what is being said about you, and how often,” as Alduncin puts it, is critical — and Biden is winning that battle.
MISSOURI (68 DELEGATES, POLLS CLOSE AT 8 P.M. EST)
The Show-Me State is all about candidates who show up — and they are, with Biden visiting Kansas City on Friday and Sanders hosting a rally in St. Louis on Monday. But this state’s older and more heavily African American demographics favor Biden. Not to mention the ideology of voters here, who tend to prefer pragmatic moderates.
MISSISSIPPI (36 DELEGATES, POLLS CLOSE AT 8 P.M. EST)
The Magnolia State fits the profile of other Southern locales that Biden has been dominating, and has the highest percentage of African Americans of any state. Sanders knows he doesn’t have much of a chance here, and scrapped a planned rally in the state capital of Jackson to spend more time in Michigan.
IDAHO (20 DELEGATES, POLLS CLOSE AT 11 P.M. EST)
It’s the one state where Sanders is predicted to win on Tuesday, according to our Forecast. And, like Washington, it will also be experimenting by giving up its caucus for its first primary election ever. Sanders should be able to net a few delegates here, as Idaho columnist Randy Stapilus points out that his organization remains superior.
NORTH DAKOTA (14 DELEGATES, POLLS CLOSE AT 8 P.M. EST)
One of the few caucus states left, North Dakota has just 14 voting locations in a state that takes five hours to drive across. That, plus a June caucus date, led to only 354 voters bothering to show up in 2016, an election Sanders won 64 percent to 25 percent over Clinton. More are likely to attend this time, since the nomination is still competitive.