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Latest In Politics: What We Can Expect Next In Democratic Presidential Race


The Democratic race for the presidential nomination shifted on its axis this week. Before Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders was in the lead, but it was Joe Biden who won 10 of 14 states. Big Tuesday is next. Six states hold primaries. And NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Boy, a lot has changed. And I don't know anyone who predicted it. Joe Biden now seems to be slightly ahead in the race. After all those crowded debates onstage, it seems to now be down to two major candidates.

ELVING: You think about that last crowded debate stage - five of those seven people are gone. And when we talked last week, Scott - when I talked to you from South Carolina - we thought Biden was going to win there, but we had no idea he was going to blow the doors off, win by nearly 30 points, get over a quarter of a million votes and knock out Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar on the spot. And then, as you say, Joe Biden astounded everyone by winning those 10 of 14 states on Super Tuesday, winning in states where he had scarcely campaigned, finishing a respectable second in California without running any television ads in California. So now we have two white males born in the first half of the last century. So apparently, the bottom line on that whole, OK, boomer thing was, OK, boomer, step aside and let someone more mature have a term.

SIMON: Before we go into next week, as we know it, a lot of experts seem to have gotten things wrong. So did candidates. So did their high-priced consultants. Did we learn that you can spend millions on ads, and it'll get you brand recognition like peanut butter but not necessarily votes?

ELVING: Now, you might be talking about Mike Bloomberg here, Scott.

SIMON: Maybe.

ELVING: He spent more than $500 million and won only American Samoa. Now, you know, it's a special moment when you first meet a punchline you'll be using for the rest of your life.

SIMON: (Laughter).

ELVING: No matter how well you sell your peanut butter, you still have to put some good peanut butter in the jar, or people are going to go back to Skippy or some other brand they know.

SIMON: And did we learn that no matter what polls show about different demographics, they don't always materialize as votes?

ELVING: You know, they don't always. Polls say that voters under 30 love Bernie Sanders, but the results say voters under 30 didn't show up in sufficient numbers to make the difference for him - not just in South Carolina but all over Super Tuesday. And on the other hand, the most steadfast voters in the Democratic coalition, black voters - and especially older black women - do show up and did show up. And that's largely why Biden is the new frontrunner.

SIMON: What are you going to watch for this Tuesday?

ELVING: Well, we got six states. Two pretty small ones in North Dakota and Idaho, where Sanders should do well. Mississippi with its large black population will be big for Biden. And then three states with big cities, Michigan, Missouri and Washington, good ground for Sanders in 2016. He won 2 out of 3, virtually tied in Missouri. But these are also states where the Democratic officeholders seem to be coalescing at this point behind Biden.

SIMON: The coronavirus outbreak - lots of criticism over how the Trump administration is handling it and misinforming the public.

ELVING: This is the biggest wild card that's been thrown into an American political season since the collapse of Wall Street in September of 2008. And you remember, that event reversed the momentum in that race and established and opened the door for then-Senator Barack Obama to become President Obama. So the polls turned around pretty quickly then, and Obama never trailed after that. In the present situation, President Trump has resolved to tough it out, insists the crisis is either not as bad as it looks or insisting it's not going to hurt him. But he has already had to push out his chief of staff, his - we now have his fourth in three years and two months. And he's also gotten sideways with some of his own top health officials. So this could be the issue where the president's freewheeling style and his reliance on saying, trust me - I'm a very stable genius - or my uncle was a scientist at MIT - does not have its usual success. The president looked bulletproof just a couple of months ago after impeachment, but if you're in the Trump camp right now, there are some reasons to be worried.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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