The Super Tuesday results felt extremely familiar to the people who advised and worked on campaigns for Democrats in 2018. Tyler Law, a California-based Democratic strategist and the former national press secretary for the DCCC, is bullish about Biden’s prospects. If he can keep winning with the same groups of people he was able to turn out last week, he’ll get the nomination, Law says. And “if Joe Biden carries the states where we won the House popular vote in 2018, we win.”
One of the most consequential places voting today is Michigan, where 125 delegates are on the line. Sanders needs to capture many of them to stay competitive in the race. In addition to Biden’s support from black voters in the state, two of the districts that Democrats flipped in 2018—Slotkin’s district, near Lansing, and Haley Stevens’s, near Detroit—are highly educated suburban districts. While Sanders won both of them in 2016, today “that seems almost impossible to imagine,” Kyle Kondik, an election analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told me.
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Suburban and exurban voters could also lead to a surprising win for Biden in Washington State, which is also voting today. “Maybe you’d expect Seattle proper to be with Sanders,” Hopkins says, “but [in] suburban Seattle, [there are] an awful lot of middle-to-upper-middle-class professional Democrats” who could swing the state to Biden.
Even if he’s able to earn the Democratic nomination, a general election would still pose serious challenges for Biden. He’d be running against Trump, instead of against the idea of Trump: Unlike in 2018, the president’s name will be on the ballot in November, and all signs indicate that Trump’s supporters will show up in full force to defend him. While they were successful in the House, Democrats lost ground in the Senate in 2018, showing the limits of a Democratic wave election. And Biden can’t rely on just black and suburban voters to lead him to victory. Wisconsin, for example, is a key battleground state whose demographics aren’t overly favorable to Democrats: The Milwaukee suburbs aren’t turning blue at the same rate as other cities’, and the state has a large rural population that is still pretty pro-Trump, Hopkins says.
Progressives argue that the former vice president’s struggle to attract young voters and young people of color to his campaign has dire implications for his nomination. “If you look at the last few decades and beyond of presidential elections, Democrats have not been able to win a general election if they get a nominee who did not earn a lot of support from young people,” says Neil Sroka, the communications director for Democracy for America, a progressive political-action committee that has endorsed Sanders.
Tonight’s results will demonstrate whether Biden will continue to repeat the results of 2018. If he does, the next question for him is whether he can persuade Sanders supporters and other progressives to join his coalition. To some Democrats, there’s a simple answer: “There is nothing more unifying than the effort to beat Donald Trump,” Kelly says.