(CNN)With just 2 days until Super Tuesday 2, the 2020 election is in full swing. Every Sunday, I deliver to your inbox the 5 BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked — so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.
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5. California is still counting: It’s been five days since California held its Super Tuesday primary. But as of late Saturday night, just 71% of all precincts in the state are counted — and former Vice President Joe Biden keeps narrowing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ once-sizable lead in the state.
“CA votes counted *since* Wednesday morning:
“Don’t think there’s much chance Biden overtakes Sanders, but don’t expect Sanders to stretch his CA delegate lead as more votes come in.”
Sanders now has 33.8% of the vote compared to Biden’s 26.4%, a somewhat remarkable set of numbers given that going into Super Tuesday there were real questions about whether Biden would make the 15% viability standard statewide in California.
Had Biden fallen below 15% statewide, it’s a near-certainty that Sanders would have seized a nationwide delegate lead that would have made it extremely difficult for Biden (or any other candidate) to catch him.
Now, while it still looks likely that Sanders will win the California primary when all votes are counted, his margin won’t be nearly what he would need to retake the delegate lead from Biden. Which means that California may have decided the identity of the Democratic nominee — just not in the way we initially thought.
4. Biden as foible-y front-runner: Eight days ago, Biden was fighting for his political life. He had yet to win a single primary or caucus in the 2020 race, was running out of money and was facing questions of when he would drop from the race if he lost the South Carolina primary.
Fast forward to today where Biden is, without question, the race’s front-runner — rapidly consolidating establishment support and looking very much like the next Democratic nominee.
It’s been an absolute whirlwind. One thing, however, has not changed amid the establishment rush toward Biden: He remains a decidedly gaffe-prone candidate.
Here’s Biden on Saturday night in Missouri:
“We cannot get — re-elect — we cannot win this re-election — excuse me. We can only re-elect Donald Trump — if, in fact, we get engaged in this circular firing squad here.”
You know what he was saying: The only way Trump wins again is if Democrats savage one another in a primary fight. But Trump, of course seized on the Biden speaking error — tweeting it out to his 70+ million followers.
While Trump will weaponize even non-gaffes — as he has shown many times in the past — the rush to Biden does seem to have overlooked the fact that he is a candidate with a long history of saying the wrong things.
“I am a gaffe machine, but my God what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth,” Biden acknowledged before entering the race in late 2018.
With Biden now established as the front-runner, scrutiny on what he says and how he says it will only increase. Can the gaffe machine turn himself off?
3. WWWD (What Will Warren Do)?: When Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren got out of the 2020 race late last week, she pointedly refused to throw her endorsement behind either Sanders or Biden. But she also didn’t rule out doing so at some time in the future. Which is interesting!
The issue for Warren is that she has issues with both candidates. She and Sanders got into it on the debate stage over a report that he had told her he didn’t think a woman could be elected president in 2020. And she has a long history of policy disagreements with Biden — dating back to a fight over a 2005 bankruptcy bill.
There’s no question that Sanders could use her endorsement more, as he has been struggling since Biden’s surprisingly strong Super Tuesday showing to slow the former veep’s momentum. Sanders badly needs a way to change the conversation from the inevitability of Biden’s march to the nomination — and a Warren endorsement (especially if it come before Tuesday) would do that.
Biden would like to have the Warren endorsement too, of course! Given their contentious history, it would not only be a surprise but might also be the last straw for Sanders’ chances.
Unlike many former 2020 candidates, however, Warren doesn’t need to endorse a candidate to matter in this race. She has her own power center within the party that she will keep whether or not she endorses. And if a Democrat wins the White House, Warren will be in the Cabinet conversation no matter what.
2. Michigan matters: While there are six states set to vote on Tuesday, Michigan is, without question, the most important.
Not only does the state have the largest number of available delegates (125) on Tuesday but it’s also a state that a) Sanders won in the 2016 primary and b) he probably needs to win again in order to make a case going forward that he can beat Biden in the delegate chase.
By the numbers, the state contains strengths for both men. One in five voters in Michigan in the 2016 primary were black — and African Americans have been at the center of Biden’s comeback since the South Carolina primary. On the other hand, 36% of voters in the 2016 primary were whites without a college degree, a very strong group traditionally for Sanders.
Sanders’ decision to effectively give up in Mississippi, which also votes Tuesday, to focus his time on Michigan makes the state pretty close to a must-win for the Vermont senator.
“We’re working as hard as we can because Michigan is very, very significant in terms of the primary process,” he told CNN on Sunday. “We hope to repeat the victory we had in 2016.”
So Sanders knows the stakes. Win Michigan and the race is reset — again. Lose it and, from a math and symbolism perspective, the race could be close to over.
1. Coronavirus as Katrina?: What sunk President George W. Bush and Republicans in his second term wasn’t the war in Iraq. It was his administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Whispers have begun that President Donald Trump‘s handling (or mishandling) of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic has the potential to have political consequences just as devastating for the GOP.
“Viral Katrina,” tweeted “Never Trump” Republican Rick Wilson over the weekend.
The problem for the administration at the moment is an inability to stay on message. The White House and/or experts on the coronavirus task force say one thing that is then publicly contradicted by the President.
Even as the virus spreads across the country, Trump is insisting it’s all contained and patting himself on the back for his efforts. He’s pushing to keep potential infected Americans on a cruise ship rather than evacuating them — for fear of bumping up the count of sick people in this country. He’s vilifying the media for reporting on facts about the virus because they contradict his preferred narrative. And on and on it goes.
Moments like this one — when the entire country is looking to its President for leadership, stability and, most importantly, facts — are a high-wire act for an administration. Fall down on the job here, and there may be no recovery.