The polls, however, show the pundits are wrong. Biden has always been strongest among black voters, in part because he was vice president to Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president. Contrary to predictions, blacks have not abandoned Biden’s allegedly sinking ship. Instead, polls taken since New Hampshire in five different states by five different pollsters show Biden receiving between 36 percent and 41.5 percent of the black vote. That’s an amazingly consistent result and unlikely to be a coincidence.
These findings show how Biden can get back into the top tier of candidates. Black voters were 13 percent of Nevada’s Democratic electorate in 2016, likely large enough to let Biden break the 15 percent threshold there that qualifies him to get delegates with minimal support from other voters. The Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina, the final state to vote before Super Tuesday on March 3, was 61 percent black in 2016. That’s large enough to let Biden win if he gets 40 percent or so of the black vote, even if he gets a paltry 10 percent or so among whites. He will then go into the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday with momentum fueled by black voters.
Biden’s bet on black voters should then pay off big. In 2016, black voters comprised at least 19 percent of the Democratic vote in six Super Tuesday states and were about a third to half of the vote in three of them. Biden should finish in the top three in all of those and could even win some depending on how well he does among whites. That gives him media buzz and delegates.
Blacks are just as important in the states that vote in the following two weeks. One, Mississippi, is dominated by black voters, and blacks are between 20 and 27 percent of the electorate in five others. If Biden keeps getting 40 percent or so of the black vote, he will likely win some of these states and get loads of delegates out of all of them.
If Biden’s black support holds up that long, he will have prevented Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from locking up the nomination before the convention. Democrats award their delegates according to a candidate’s share of the popular vote, so long as that person received at least 15 percent either statewide or in a congressional district. If Biden has locked up the black vote and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg are each breaking 15 percent of the white vote, then Sanders will not have a large delegate lead after four states vote on March 17. More than 61 percent of the delegates will have been awarded by that date; Sanders cannot win the remaining states by large enough margins to give him a majority before the convention.
This means Biden can go into the convention with a good shot of winning because of his support among the Democratic establishment. These party leaders comprise the uncommitted superdelegates, who also will attend the party convention. They won’t be allowed to vote on the first ballot, but they can vote on any ballot after that if the convention is deadlocked. Biden’s black support will ensure such a deadlock if it holds up, and then the establishment can rally behind the man they always hoped would lead the ticket. Gamblers know that the odds are almost always with the house, and in the Democratic Party, the superdelegates are the house.
Biden knows all this, so bet on him to emphasize his Obama connection repeatedly over the next two weeks. It’s no coincidence that his recent attack ad on Buttigieg included photos of him with Obama and highlighted the fact that Buttigieg fired South Bend’s black police chief when he was mayor. Nor is it a coincidence that racially charged quotes and clips of Bloomberg are surfacing now. Sanders will get his share of the black vote; Biden needs to prevent Buttigieg and Bloomberg from cutting into his support. He will fight tooth and nail to keep that.
As Kenny Rogers said, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ‘em. Biden knows what he’s holding and is betting big. Don’t bet against him.