Sanders Telegraphs His Pitches

Based, as far as I can tell, on a single recent (TargetPoint) poll, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight now projects that both Sanders and Clinton have a 50% chance of winning next week’s caucuses in Nevada. It’s very hard to figure out who will actually show up in Nevada, let alone how they might vote once they get there. On the upside, though, the TargetPoint poll has a huge 1,236-strong sample size. It’s currently the best estimate that we have. Preexisting polling is from last year and had very small sample sizes. It’s meaningless at this point.

If this poll is accurate at all, Sanders has a real chance to win in Nevada. And it’s probably something he needs to do because Silver is currently giving Clinton a 95% chance of winning in South Carolina on February 27th, a 97% chance of winning in Michigan on March 8th, and a 96% chance of winning in North Carolina on March 15th.

If his poor performance in last night’s Wisconsin debate is any indication, however, Sanders is going to have up his game. He can’t continue to do debates where he gives his stump speech and makes the exact same critiques of Clinton’s record. That’s like tipping a batter to what pitch you’re about to throw. Maybe the first time you face them, you can strike them out. But if you keep using the same sequence of pitches, sooner or later your best curveball is going to get deposited in the upper deck. And that’s pretty much what happened to Sanders last night. Other than attacking Henry Kissinger, he did nothing different from the debate in New Hampshire, and Hillary was ready with new and improved responses.

I also think Sanders needs to kick the nasty cold that’s been tormenting him since Iowa. It can’t be fun to travel and compete when you feel like death.

On the national level, Sanders is slowly closing the gap. Morning Consult polling has Clinton down 5% since February 3rd, and Sanders up four percentage points. While Clinton still has a 46%-39% lead, it’s significant the she’s below 50% for the first time. Recent Reuters and Quinnipiac polls show Sanders only three points down, and topping forty percent.

The trajectory of the race favors Sanders, but he needs to keep improving because his act is getting stale. He also needs Nevada. He can’t afford to lose his momentum because he has so much ground to make up in the states that are coming next.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.