CHAPEL HILL —
Are you, like me, waiting to vote in the upcoming primary until the South Carolina results give us a better idea about who the viable Democratic presidential candidates are going to be?
In 1984 local Democrats in Iredell County faced a similar dilemma. In a three-way Democratic primary race for a congressional seat, there were three candidates: a liberal, a conservative, and me, the one in the middle. The local party leadership supported the conservative candidate, State Senator Ben Tison. They believed that he would be most likely to win support from the mostly conservative local electorate in the November general election.
They also knew that they would have a tough time supporting a liberal congressional candidate in the fall election. They knew it would be hard to hold their traditional Democratic base together for the rest of their party’s ticket.
When Tison was eliminated in the first primary, I rushed to Mooresville to ask for support in the run-off against liberal Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan Greene. I still remember the endorsement their leader gave me. “What we need to win this fall is a conservative Democrat. And D.G. is the closest thing that we got.”
Today’s North Carolina Democrats, who fear they cannot beat Donald Trump with Bernie Sanders, do face a dilemma something like the one that was before the Iredell County Democrats in 1984. But today’s challenge is more serious and difficult.
After Nevada, Sanders, with solid support from a host of Democrats, faces a scattered group of candidates, any one of whom might be able to beat Trump in the fall. But none of them can beat Sanders, as long as the entire group is in the race.
In other words, while any one of them by him or herself might be able to gather enough support to beat Sanders in North Carolina’s March 3 primary, none could do it if the votes are split among former Vice President Joe Biden, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and others, including the complicating candidacy of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
So how do “Never Bernie Sanders” Democrats keep the inevitable Sanders nomination from happening?
Maybe it would be impossible.
The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggests how it could happen. He wrote after the Nevada caucuses, “Against an unconventional front-runner, unconventional measures are required.”
He concedes that there are no sure-fire unconventional measures such as several candidates coalescing around one strong one. “There isn’t an obvious unity ticket equivalent for the non-Sanders Democrats, but the dynamic between Bloomberg, Biden and Buttigieg is worth watching. They are all positioned as moderate alternatives to the Sanders revolution, and after South Carolina and Super Tuesday one of them may look a lot more viable than the others. In which case two of the B’s swiftly dropping out and just as swiftly campaigning and fund-raising for (or simply funding, in Bloomberg’s case) the third might be the only chance at a not-Sanders consolidation. And that chance is worth taking” because, as Douthat writes, “a world where Sanders is on track to get a clear delegate plurality in late March is probably a world where he gets a majority by May.”
Maybe the results of the South Carolina primary will point the way to a better strategy to slow down the Sanders juggernaut.
I will wait and see before I vote on March 3, but I am not holding my breath.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch” Sunday at 11 a.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. firstname.lastname@example.org