Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg is going up in the polls. In the Morning Consult poll for Super Tuesday states, he clocks in with 13 percent, effectively tied with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (14 percent) for third place behind the new top tier of just two candidates, former vice president Joe Biden (28 percent) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (24 percent). Nationally, Bloomberg has squeezed ahead of former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg in the RealClearPolitics averages (8 percent vs. 7 percent).

However, the big question remains: Can Bloomberg remain viable if he does not compete in the four early states? Let’s turn that around to see what would need to happen for Bloomberg to remain a top tier-contender on March 3.

One school is that no matter what happens, you cannot wait that long before competing. The precedent for that is Rudolph W. Giuliani, who thought in 2008 he could hold out until Florida’s primary but found out the race effectively ended when the John McCain won South Carolina. However, if opponents Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson or Mike Huckabee had won South Carolina, scrambling the race and draining McCain of momentum, Giuliani’s strategy might not have become the textbook example for a failed primary strategy.

And that is where Bloomberg’s chance, if he has one, remains: a scrambled race with no clear front-runner going into Super Tuesday — especially if there is a real risk that Sanders might actually win the nomination. This is the “Bloomberg to the rescue!” plan for rational Democrats who understand that nominating Sanders would be political suicide for the party. That would mean two things: 1) Biden fades and no alternative, dominating moderate emerges in the first four contests (e.g. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Buttigieg) and 2) Sanders remains a real threat, having put away Warren and taken her share of the primary electorate.

Neither condition is impossible to imagine: Sanders could win the first two contests and come in second or third in Nevada and South Carolina as Warren fades, perhaps failing to get 15 percent (i.e. the delegate threshold) in one or more states. Perhaps no moderate does particularly well in the first couple of races, Buttigieg wins Nevada and Biden squeaks by in South Carolina. That would give Bloomberg the perfect storm: a Sanders threat and no strong moderate alternative.

However, it is equally or even more likely that moderates before or just after Iowa coalesce around a single moderate and/or Sanders fades as concern about his electability, lack of vetting and divisiveness rise (as has occurred over the past week or so). Warren might also stage a bit of a comeback, continuing to divide the progressive vote. In that case, a moderate coming into Super Tuesday with a head of steam against a weakened Sanders considerably narrows the opening for Bloomberg.

In other words, the combinations and permutations are dizzying. Nevertheless, I find it hard to imagine that the entire centrist faction of the Democratic Party, its donors, activists and elected officials would let a month go by (between the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 and Super Tuesday on March 3) without consolidating around a moderate to block a rising Sanders. That might be the most likely scenario — either Biden, Buttigieg or Klobuchar becomes the consensus choice of rational Democrats who understand how to beat Trump — but it is not a foregone conclusion. That is precisely why Democrats might want to breathe a sigh of relief that Bloomberg is out there on the horizon, a kind of “break the glass in case of emergency” candidate. They just might need one.

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