Hot Air

Wow: Klobuchar drops out, will endorse Biden tonight; Update: Minnesota math

I just got done writing a post about how Klobuchar was helping Biden by fighting on for one more day in Minnesota, where she’s the only candidate who can hold down Bernie’s totals. The worse Sanders does there the fewer delegates he’ll take from the state, and thus the smaller his national delegate lead over Joe Biden will be once the votes are in tomorrow night.

Now here she is bowing out 24 hours before the vote. Wha’ happened?

Is this … a Buttigieg thing?

Ms. Klobuchar will appear with Mr. Biden at his rally in Dallas Monday night. The decision comes one day after former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., departed the race, and after weeks of Democratic Party hand-wringing about a crowded field of moderate candidates splitting a finite field of centrist votes, allowing Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to march forward unopposed among progressives and amass delegates…

The Klobuchar campaign was constantly rescheduling events, oftentimes releasing public advisories for an event with less than 24 hours advance notice. One “get out the caucus” rally in Nevada at Rancho High School attracted less than 100 people. Days before, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., brought more than 1,200 to the same school.

Ms. Klobuchar was forced to cancel a rally in her own backyard Sunday night, after protesters from Black Lives Matter and other local civil rights groups took over the stage in St. Louis Park, Minn. They were calling attention to the case of Myon Burrell, a black man convicted of murder as a teenager while Ms. Klobuchar was county attorney.

The “muddle in the middle” suddenly isn’t much of a muddle, thanks to Biden’s blockbuster in South Carolina on Saturday night. There’s real suspense now: What if Bloomberg tanks tomorrow night? Does he drop too? Imagine Democrats going from “a Sanders nomination is assured thanks to a hopeless deadlock among centrists!” to “Joe Biden is now free to consolidate most of the party!” in the span of four days.

My hunch when the news broke is that Klobuchar’s getting out in order to improve Biden’s chances of winning delegates himself in Minnesota tomorrow. And that’s doubtless true — certainly he’ll get more votes there than he would have gotten if she had competed. But check FiveThirtyEight’s model of Minnesota and you’ll find that Joe was a long longshot there until now. He may end up north of the 15 percent threshold tomorrow thanks to Klobuchar’s endorsement but it seems a cinch that Bernie will win the state easily. Wouldn’t it have been better for her to try to win and hoard those delegates from Sanders and then drop out endorse Biden?

Seems like something else is going on. It could be that Klobuchar’s polling showed she was likely to lose to Bernie tomorrow regardless, which would have been humiliating in her home state. The last polls taken there, around 10 days ago, showed her ahead by six points. It’s possible that her internal data had her fading after her weak finishes in Nevada and South Carolina. She was probably going to drop out tomorrow no matter what and certainly would have dropped out if Sanders beat her, so why not spare herself an embarrassment and punch a ticket on the Biden express instead?

I have a hot take about what’s really going on here, though, and it all comes down to the white-hot hatred with which Klobuchar regards Buttigieg. There have been stories for months about how she resents him for elbowing into the niche she was coveting for herself, the centrist-y midwesterner who can win Iowa and then springboard that victory into a national campaign. She’s a thrice-elected U.S. senator who’s routed her opposition in elections back home; he’s the ex-mayor of a small city. Yet she’s gotten maybe a tenth of the buzz Buttigieg has gotten in the race, an afterthought in the primary who even finished behind him in the one state where she beat expectations, New Hampshire. I think she fully intended to fight on until tomorrow and take her chances in Minnesota, believing she could beat Bernie there before bowing out of the race on a high note, before an adoring hometown crowd.

But then Buttigieg shocked the world by dropping out last night. Suddenly the spotlight was back on him. Suspense mounted: Would Pete endorse Biden before Super Tuesday? Would Pete perhaps show up as a surprise guest at a Biden rally today, with a beaming Joe showing off his new protege? And if he did, who would care about Klobuchar dropping out and endorsing Biden tomorrow, after her opportunity to affect the vote on Super Tuesday had passed?

So, my theory: I think this is “a Buttigieg thing” in that Klobuchar may have decided last night after he quit the race that she didn’t want to be an afterthought in resolving the “muddle in the middle” too. By quitting immediately and offering her endorsement to Biden before Pete did, she’d have the distinction of becoming the first major candidate to endorse Joe. She bigfooted Buttigieg, in other words, and at long last. I wonder if there was even some negotiation in which Klobuchar agreed to show up at the Biden rally tonight in Dallas on the condition that she not have to share the spotlight with Pete. Either that or maybe she heard through the grapevine that Pete already intends to be there for a “surprise” endorsement and she decided that she wanted to be part of those headlines tomorrow, not elbowed aside once again. Can’t wait for the behind-the-scenes reporting on this!

Update: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Update: Contrary to appearances, says Steve Kornacki, it actually might hurt Bernie in Minnesota now that Klobuchar is out. Until today it looked he’d net 33 delegates or thereabouts over Biden from MN. Now, assuming Biden reaches the 15 percent viability threshold for delegates, that net margin is likely to shrink.

Update: Yep, Buttigieg is all-in on the Biden rally tonight too. It’s the Pete ‘n Amy show in Dallas, as unlikely as that may seem. It was smart of Klobuchar to race to get a piece of that action before Pete had it all to himself.

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