Super Tuesday Was Super for Moderate NC Democrats

Moderate Democrats in North Carolina think Super Tuesday gave them the best of two worlds: Joe Biden’s candidacy and Mike Bloomberg’s money.

They’re happy because Biden is heavily favored to win the nomination now. They’re also happy because Bloomberg says that, even though he’s out of the race, he’ll spend heavily to beat President Trump and help Democrats in six swing states, including North Carolina.

This is how moderate Southern Democrats hoped Super Tuesday would work when they devised it back in 1988 – coincidentally, the first time Biden ran for President.

Jim Clyburn and Biden

In the weeks before this year’s Super Tuesday, there was palpable gloom among North Carolina’s moderate Democrats – the “Mods.” Trump’s impeachment acquittal, while expected, was deflating. Bernie Sanders’ emergence as the frontrunner was terrifying.

The Mods were split mainly between Biden and Bloomberg. Bloomberg impressed a lot of them with his “I can beat Trump” message. And yes, his money.

Some Mods feared that Biden and Bloomberg would split the centrist vote and Sanders would win big on Super Tuesday. Then he’d be unstoppable.

They didn’t think Sanders would lose North Carolina in November by McGovern- or Mondale-like 30-point margins. The electorate has changed. But the difference between the presidential candidate losing by three points or six points could have a huge impact on the races for Governor, U.S. Senate, legislature and down the ballot.

A number to remember: Trump beat Hillary Clinton here by just under four points in 2016, and Governor Cooper barely edged Pat McCrory.

Anxious Mods began pushing like-minded Democrats to unite behind Biden. Others cautioned that Democrats could very much use Bloomberg’s formidable campaign infrastructure this fall. And, yes, his money. They didn’t want to alienate Bloomberg by coming out publicly against him.

Behind the scenes, there was much jostling, jockeying and jawboning.

In the end, South Carolina solved the problem. Yes, all you Clemson- and Gamecock-haters – the state that Robert E. Lee supposedly said is “too small to be its own nation, but too big to be an insane asylum.”

Biden came out of that primary like he was shot from a cannon. Specifically, the Jim Clyburn cannon.

If not for early voting, Biden would have won Super Tuesday even bigger – here and from Texas to Virginia to Massachusetts to Minnesota.

Suddenly, other candidates were dropping out, and Biden was the frontrunner. Bloomberg withdrew, but he promised to deploy his army of operatives and organizers – and, yes, his money and his ads – in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida in November.

Which brings us back to 1988. Super Tuesday was engineered that year by white Southern Democrats who wanted no repeat of Walter Mondale’s landslide loss in 1984. Their candidate was Al Gore.

It didn’t work. Gore and Jesse Jackson split the Southern states. Michael Dukakis won the nomination and lost the election.

Super Tuesday helped Bill Clinton in 1992, after a string of losses in early states.

In 2008, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton split the Super Tuesday states. In 2016, Clinton won more states and delegates on Super Tuesday than Sanders, but didn’t put him away.

This year, largely thanks to African-Americans, Super Tuesday worked just super for the Mods.

Correction: Last week, I incorrectly said some polls in South Carolina had shown a three-way tie between Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg. Bloomberg wasn’t on the ballot there. I meant Tom Steyer. Remember him?

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