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Joe Biden Confronts a Weakened Coalition
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Joe Biden Confronts a Weakened Coalition

South Carolina may be less dramatic this time for the incumbent, but it will still matter.

President Joe Biden greets staff and patrons at Regal Lounge, a men's barbershop and spa, in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 27, 2024. (Photo by KENT NISHIMURA/AFP via Getty Images)

Today, Joe Biden is getting what he asked for, but maybe not what he hoped.

The president took the extraordinary step of pushing his party to blow up its long-standing primary calendar that favored very white northern states, Iowa (90 percent white) and New Hampshire (93 percent white), over states with significant minority populations like Nevada (30 percent Hispanic) and Michigan (14 percent black).

But Biden starts his official progress to the nomination right where he wanted to be, with today’s Democratic primary in South Carolina (26 percent black). Biden couched his proposal in the language of racial inclusion, saying that Democrats had to “ensure that voters of color have a voice in choosing our nominee.” 

On the campaign trail, however, Biden wasn’t shy about the calculation behind the calendar change, telling black voters in South Carolina last week, “You’re the reason I am president.” And he’s not wrong. After back-to-back losses in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2020, the former vice president looked down for the count in his third bid for the Democratic nomination. But a massive win over progressive heartthrob Bernie Sanders changed the contest.

Biden won because the majority-black electorate, particularly black women and older black voters, swung hard to his side. We’re talking a lot about South Carolina and the Republicans this year, so just imagine what would happen to the GOP race if Nikki Haley went from an 11-point deficit in New Hampshire to a 29-point victory in South Carolina. 

Biden, who was picked as running mate to help the first-ever African American nominee of a major party shore up blue-collar white voters in the north, ended up owing his success not to Yankees in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but to the black women of the Deep South. The calendar change was supposed to be in part a precaution against a Sanders-esque primary challenge, but also a triumphal return. But that hasn’t been the story.

Instead, the new primary calendar has pointed to Biden’s weaknesses with non-white voters. At the end of the month, he will face Michigan’s substantial Arab population, which is incensed over the president’s ongoing support for Israel in its war against Hamas after the October 7 terror attacks. Biden is hoping strong union support can offset the losses, but it won’t be an easy ride in the key swing state. 

But it is problems with black voters that have Democrats the most concerned, particularly the low enthusiasm among younger black voters who appear more willing to back Republicans than their parents and grandparents were. There have been other ominous signs for Democrats, like the double-digit declines in midterm turnout from 2018 to 2022 in big swing-state cities like Detroit and Philadelphia. In those places the blue team counts on black voters to offset the deep red rural and small-town precincts elsewhere.

Biden has turned to the man who helped launch Barack Obama’s White House drive in 2008 and then saved Biden’s 12 years later, Rep. Jim Clyburn, who has spoken of the need to back Biden in stark terms: “Do what you did before,” Clyburn said at a campaign stop with the incumbent. “Turn that election around and save this democracy.”

It’s not like Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and gadfly Marianne Williamson pose any threat of defeating Biden. Phillips couldn’t get 20 percent in New Hampshire, where Biden wasn’t even on the ballot and had to win as a write-in. But what Biden has to fear is low turnout and a significant protest vote. There won’t be the 539,263 voters who came out for the hot race in 2020, but the size of the decline will tell us something about how fired up and ready to go black voters may be this November.


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STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.8%
Average disapproval: 57.0%
Net score: –17.2 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 1.2 points

Change from one month ago: ↑ 1.2 points

[Average includes: Quinnipiac: 41% approve – 55% disapprove; NewsNation: 43% approve-57% disapprove; ABC News/Ipsos: 33% approve-58% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 39% approve-58% disapprove; Fox News: 43% approve-57% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: EYE OF THE TIGER 

Philadelphia Inquirer: “The owner of Tokyo’s Philadelphia-themed cheesesteak restaurant made a trip to his favorite city on earth this holiday season. … Before [Kosuke Chujo] became a proprietor of Philly’s finest export, like many fellow Japanese teens coming of age in 1980s Tokyo, he was infatuated with the United States. … When he married his wife, Tomomi, they pored over cookbooks and online videos of American cuisine, especially the cheesesteak, his favorite city’s time-honored delicacy. … After studying the cheesesteak over the last decade, including at local giants like Dalessandro’s off Henry Avenue or Angelo’s in South Philadelphia, he learned to hone his craft. Anytime he visits Philadelphia, Chujo almost exclusively eats cheesesteaks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for research. He measures each cheesesteak with a mini tape measure and digital food scale, writing extensive notes in a cheesesteak notebook he carries with him everywhere.”


BIDEN PAC PREPS STAGGERING $250 MILLION AD BUY

New York Times: “The main Democratic super PAC supporting President Biden’s re-election bid, Future Forward, is beginning this week to reserve $250 million in advertising across the most important battleground states, a blitz that it says is the largest single purchase of political advertising by a super PAC in the nation’s history. … The ads, which are to be split between $140 million on television and $110 million on digital and streaming platforms, will start the day after the Democratic National Convention concludes in August and will run through Election Day. … The ad reservation covers seven states that are seen as the main presidential battlegrounds: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. … Future Forward is also aiming to target some of the same demographic groups of more disaffected and disengaged Democrats that the Biden campaign itself is focusing on: younger voters, Hispanic voters and Black voters.”

As the campaign edges out Trump’s fundraising: NBC News: “Trump’s official campaign blew through more cash than it took in over the last three months of the year. … By comparison, Biden’s campaign ended the year with $46 million in cash, far more than the $33 million Trump’s campaign held before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. … Trump continues to be a master of small-dollar fundraising. While 18% of Biden’s fourth-quarter haul came from donors who have given the maximum amount to his campaign, only 6% of Trump’s cash came from donors who have given the $6,600 limit. That means Trump is well-positioned to go back to the well for more contributions from donors who can still legally give.”

Dems can’t count on hyper-turnout to carry Biden: New York Times: Over the last year, two different sets of data have yielded two very different theories of where Democrats stand heading into 2024. On one hand, there’s polling. Survey after survey shows President Biden even or trailing against Donald J. Trump. …  On the other hand, there’s election results. Almost every time polls bring Democrats down, there’s a special election result to bring them back up. … The source of Democratic strength in specials over the last year, our analysis confirms, is therefore quite simple: It’s about turnout. Biden voters have turned out at higher rates than Trump voters in special elections, according to estimates based on voter file data. This turnout edge explains the entirety of the Democratic performance overall. Even more convincingly, turnout explains the results district by district, with special election outcomes aligning with New York Times estimates for the number of Biden voters who showed up. … But the findings suggest there’s not much reason to expect Democrats’ special election strength to persist in the general election, when voters of all kinds — not just the most highly engaged — will show up to the polls.”

RFK JR. WARMS UP TO LIBERTARIAN BID 

CBS News: “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says he is looking into running for president as a Libertarian, since he still faces significant hurdles in gaining ballot access in the vast majority of states as an independent candidate. … ‘That’s something that we’re looking at,’ he told CNN. … ‘We have a really good relationship with Libertarian Party,’ Kennedy added. … Kennedy has qualified for the ballot in only one state so far, Utah. He has also met the signature threshold in New Hampshire but hasn’t filed because his campaign is still finalizing its paperwork. … The Libertarian Party succeeded in obtaining a ballot line in all 50 states in both 2016 and 2020, but it’s not clear whether it has achieved full ballot access for 2024 yet.” 

DEMS SPEND EARLY TO PROTECT TESTER, ROSEN

Politico: “The Senate TV ad wars are beginning. Senate Majority PAC, Democrats’ largest outside group focused on Senate races, is placing its first ad buys for the fall ad campaign in two key states. … These initial reservations, the first of many to be made in the coming months, include $27 million in Montana and $36 million in Nevada. … Montana and Nevada are two states crucial to defending Democrats’ narrow Senate majority. Senate Majority PAC is placing reservations early in markets where TV ad space will disappear quickly, locking in both air time and lower rates. … The Montana Senate race has drawn a slew of ad spending already. Tester has aired TV ads, as has Republican Tim Sheehy. Two super PACs, one aligned with NRSC Chair Steve Daines and another with Senate Majority PAC, are also on air in the race.” 

Poll: GOP challengers gain on Brown: NBC4 [Columbus]: “Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown saw his lead shrinking in a contest against all three of his potential Republican opponents, according to the results of a new poll released Thursday. Brown still leads all three of his potential opponents—state Sen. Matt Dolan, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, and businessman Bernie Moreno—but has lost ground on all three since the last poll in November. … Brown holds the edge over independent and female voters while male voters prefer any of the Republicans over Brown. The poll also found that 42% of likely voters in the March 19 Republican primary still haven’t selected their candidate. Among likely voters, Moreno leads the pack with 22% of the vote, LaRose second with 21% and Dolan with 15%.”

Gaetz, Bannon tease a Rosendale Senate bid: Q2 News [Billings]: “Congressman Matt Rosendale is making several appearances this weekend in Montana alongside Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and right-wing podcast host Steve Bannon teased a possible ‘very special announcement’ with Rosendale next week on his show on Thursday. The upcoming tour with Gaetz and Rosendale’s appearance Thursday on Bannon’s podcast are the latest developments in one of the major storylines of the 2024 election season so far—if Rosendale will run for U.S. Senate again and face Tim Sheehy in a primary. … Rosendale confirmed at the end of his appearance that he and Gaetz would be holding ‘about four or five events’ Friday and Saturday.”

Allred maintains advantage over Gutierrez in Texas: Texas Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Colin Allred is looking to protect his frontrunner status as he enters the final weeks of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, facing increasingly sharp criticism from one opponent and the uncertainty that comes with a crowded field. The Dallas congressman has been dominant in fundraising, but while polling continues to show he has the lead, a plurality of voters remain undecided. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, meanwhile has been crisscrossing the state and working to turn Allred’s bipartisan instincts into a vulnerability. … The primary is reaching a critical juncture, with Allred launching his first TV ad this week and preparing for his only scheduled debate against his opponents Sunday.”

Schiff boosts Garvey in bid to freeze Porter out of California general: Los Angeles. Times: “Republican Senate contender and former baseball All-Star Steve Garvey is getting a campaign boost from an unlikely source—Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a top rival in the race for the seat once held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Schiff’s campaign released a new ad portraying Garvey, a political novice considered a long shot to win the coveted seat, as his greatest competitor in a close 2024 Senate race that features two other top Democrats: Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland. ‘Two leading candidates for Senate. Two very different visions for California,’ a narrator intones, noting later that Garvey ‘is too conservative for California’ and voted for Donald Trump twice. While the message will turn off Democratic voters in the state, it may increase the former baseball player’s appeal to Republican voters—as it is designed to do …”

BRIEFLY

How the DeSantis campaign burned $160 million—New York Times

Progressive Rep. Cori Bush under investigation for misuse of campaign funds—CBS News

GOP ups ad spending ahead of Santos special election—Politico

February 13 special election to determine Pennsylvania House control—NBC News

WITHIN EARSHOT: YOU CAN LOOK IT UP 

“I go back to the most basic principle of an Abraham Lincoln quote … when Abraham Lincoln said, ‘Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.’”—Sen. James Lankford jokes about Speaker Mike Johnson’s criticism of the Senate border security deal. 


MAILBAG

‘All tines all the time’ is great — but I suspect the honesty I expect from you was compromised by your saying, ‘The problem with Trump isn’t his supporters, it’s how good he is at exploiting them to serve his own ambitions.’ That the supporters cannot see through this—or are unwilling to see through it—is a huge problem and at the current pace, will cost the Republicans their fourth straight disappointing election results.”—John Johnson, Tucson, Arizona

Looked at that way, Mr. Johnson, it is fair to say that we are all part of the problem. Human nature being what it is—and immutably so—all of our political maladies are rooted in our weaknesses. But not all maladies are equal, nor are all weaknesses. The response that caused you to question my honesty was to a fellow correspondent who wondered: “If Trump hadn’t come along, would someone else have taken it? Could any of his imitators in Congress or the media have blazed the populist trail in his absence?”  I was suggesting that another, more virtuous populist might have tapped into the same energy but to less dire consequences. You may disagree with my assessment, but I can assure you that it is my honest opinion. 

I would also remind you that not everyone who voted for or will vote for Trump is a dupe. Many see him as a bad, venal person who’s return to power brings considerable dangers. But they see the dangers as less considerable than those of keeping Joe Biden in power. A considerable number of these folks would rather have a different Republican nominee, but don’t wish to have a primary fight. Like MacBeth, they say, “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly.” They may be wrong in their calculation and undertaking what most Americans see as a dangerous gambit. But remember only that there are tens of millions of Americans who don’t approve of Trump as a person but will vote for him anyway. Then there are those who see through Trump’s schtick, but agree with his policies and even like the chaos and destruction he promises. 

I’d think of these as the folks who see Trump as an instrument of their own objectives. There are, of course, those who have been well and truly gulled by Trump and believe his claims, no matter how preposterous. But the question I was trying to answer was what would have happened if someone other than Trump had arisen as the pitchfork bearer. Some of the people in all of those categories would still be rotten people, no doubt. But then, lots of people who will vote for Joe Biden are rotten people with bad motivations. One could conclude that the percentage of rotten people is higher among Trump voters. But that’s a subjective assessment and one that Trump voters would straight away say is true in reverse. The problem in the character of our electorate seems to me to be less about gullibility and more about slavish partisanship. Almost all of the people who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 would have just as readily voted for another Republican candidate. But they would rather gamble on a person of weak character than let the other side win. To your point, none of that would be possible if it were not for the core group of dupes and cynics who glommed on to Trump in the first place and propelled him through the primaries eight years ago. But after that, the tidal forces of negative partisanship took hold and brought us to where we are today. 

“Not much was made of the fact that several networks called the Iowa caucuses for Trump right as everything started. Based on, what I understand, were entrance polls. Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the event—to listen to speakers about the candidates, then decide? I realize Trump was always going to win, but didn’t Haley get hurt by this? Hopelessly naive in Savannah.”—Pamela Lappin, Savannah, Georgia

Maybe it was just because I was there and subject to some of the blowback from the DeSantis team around the call, but it sure seemed like a lot was made of it! But it’s certainly worth examining, if only for the sake of how the situation will be handled four years hence (assuming there are Iowa caucuses in 2028). 

As you pointed out, projecting the results of caucuses relies on entrance polls, as opposed to the exit polls that were traditionally used to forecast election results. That’s because of the lengthy process you alluded to—sometimes as long as three hours—before the votes are tallied. This is more straightforward on the Republican side than in the old Democratic caucuses, which had viability thresholds in which supporters of candidates that didn’t hit the minimum line had to affiliate with another group. The GOP caucuses are just straw polls held after representatives of the various candidates get a chance to make presentations. Pollsters asked caucusgoers how they planned to vote and, given the lopsided nature of the contest, news organizations had no trouble guessing that Donald Trump would win. 

In the days of yore, it wouldn’t have been a problem since the people inside the caucus rooms wouldn’t have known what was being projected outside. But this year, those projections resulted in tens of thousands of little pings in the pockets of caucus participants as news alerts cascaded out. Did this violate the rule not to forecast election results before voting is through? Kind of. Looked at legalistically, no. There was no election going on. The caucuses are a party-run means for selecting delegates to district conventions, not any kind of official vote. But looked at through the lens of a journalist’s duty to avoid interference, maybe so. I don’t believe that any significant number of votes was affected for the very reason you mentioned: Trump’s victory had been foretold by polls for months, and the entrance polls tracked closely to what pre-election polls had shown. It’s hard to imagine someone who went to caucus for Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, heard the projected result and switched their votes to be with the winner. I’m not saying there weren’t any, just that the number would have to be very, very small given the consistency of pre-caucus polls, entrance polls, and the final result. Certainly I can’t imagine  a voter who went to caucus for Haley, heard the projection for Trump, and switched to DeSantis. That wouldn’t make any sense. Haley’s disappointing third-place finish seems much more to do with low enthusiasm among her supporters who opted to skip brutally cold weather rather than go support a struggle for a silver medal. 

So the answer to the first question you suggest, whether the projection changed the result, is very likely “no.” But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reevaluate our approaches for 2028 when the contest will probably be much closer. Technological changes like smart phones and news alerts have to be taken into account. Assuming I’m in a position in 2028 to be part of such decisions, I will certainly counsel for restraint.


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the diligent Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: FROSTY RECEPTION

President Joe Biden holds a milkshake during a quick stop at Cook Out, a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, following an event to promote his economic agenda on January 18, 2024. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden holds a milkshake during a quick stop at Cook Out, a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, following an event to promote his economic agenda on January 18, 2024. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Many of the entries around this photograph of President Joe Biden grabbing a delicious milkshake at a walk-up window at a North Carolina Cook Out location fell into three categories: Biden’s countenance, fast food jokes, and, keen-eyed as you always are, the little help-wanted sticker on the window behind him. I tend to find the “Biden is old” gags repetitive, but the winner of the first week of our February contest got me good:  

“Sure, Jill took my keys but here’s the deal, man—they automatically give you the senior discount if you walk through the drive-thru!”—Steve McCardell, Redding, Connecticut

Winner, Dignity of Work Division:

“I stuck an application in here just in case.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Charlamagne Tha God Division:

“That ain’t black!”—Chris Debaillon, Rosenberg, Texas

Winner, Expectations Are Everything Division:

“This coffee is ice cold. I know that’s not what I ordered.”—Michael Smith, Georgetown, Kentucky

Winner, Mocha Malaise Division:

“Four dadgum bucks for a coffee—blame it on Carter.”—Max Marshall, Charleston, South Carolina

Winner, Sounds About Right Division:

“Biden calls for ‘lid’ on coffee, Trump mocks”—David Porter, Tampa, Florida

Winner, Grandad Jokes Division:

“Hey Jill, I got your order of Joe! Oh, and this cup of coffee is for you too. Heh heh heh”—Jonathan Mahlum, Orting, Washington

Winner, Dangerfield Division:

“See, here’s the thing, and I’m not makin’ this up. … It’s the God’s Honest Truth. …The Dow is over 38,000 and no one will even buy me a stinkin’ cup of coffee.”—Bert Hauver, Walkersville, Maryland

January Contest Winner:

What can I say  but that I love a good sight gag? Our January winner, Daniel Summers, Knoxville, Tennessee, kept it simple with this picture  of Sen. Tim Scott getting politically engaged to Donald Trump, with Trump hulking behind the senator, who has his hand to his ear: “What’s that? He’s right behind me?” In addition to being this year’s first entrant for the annual ham prize, Mr. Summers has won an “OpTIMism” button from Scott’s former presidential campaign. Please send us your mailing address, Mr. Summers, so we can send you your reward!


#BLESSED 

WFTV: “A mom in central Florida has been banned from dropping her kids off at a private Christian school because of an advertisement for her OnlyFans account on her vehicle. Michelle Cline says the school is making her park across the street, which forces her kids to cross a busy road, go down a sidewalk, and walk through the parking lot to get to school. That is, unless she takes the ad for the adult content site off her car. … She has a large decal that stretches across her vehicle’s back windshield to promote her OnlyFans account. … But other parents at Liberty Christian Prep [say] Cline should just take the decal off her car. ‘And that one seemed like an easy thing to say, for sure,’ Cline said. ‘But for me, you know, it supports my family, this provides a very comfortable way of life for us. And it’s legal, you know, I pay taxes just like everyone else but I’m not breaking the law. I just offended people.’”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.