Tom Steyer isn’t done in the presidential race. At least he’s not done making an impact. While his chances of actually getting the nomination would only break above the longshot-level if most of the other candidates inexplicably dropped out, he does have a very clear path to influence the election and spin it in Bernie Sanders’ direction.
Currently, Steyer is polling at a very strong third place in the South Carolina primary this week. He also happens to be outspending everyone there, making a play for the Black vote that makes up 6-in-10 of the Democratic voters there. Though his chances of winning the primary are low, he should get delegates. The same can’t be said for fellow billionaire Mike Bloomberg who isn’t even on the ballot.
Bloomberg has put all of his eggs into the Super Tuesday basket. It’s a brokered convention strategy; if he can keep Sanders from winning the nomination outright, he believes he can unify (ie buy) support for the nomination at the convention. It’s a strategy that may very well work, but the person who stands in the way the most (other than Sanders if he gets a majority of delegates) is Steyer.
The key to this is the math surrounding the new rules from the DNC. Candidates must get 15% in local and/or state races to qualify for any delegates. Sanders is polling strongly in most Super Tuesday states, but not necessarily strong enough to get a majority of the delegates. That’s where Steyer comes into play. He’s spending more than anyone other than Bloomberg in the multiple television markets important on Super Tuesday. A strong third place finish in South Carolina will give him something (other than delegates) that Bloomberg won’t have: momentum.
Bloomberg is banking (literally) on flooding the market with so many ads that his name is echoing in people’s dreams as they sleep. He’s trying to out-muscle the field and the only person who can get traction otherwise is Steyer. If the “lesser” billionaire can take a strong finish in South Carolina plus huge spending on ads into a contentious Super Tuesday, there’s a good chance he could get to 15% in some states. But more importantly, he could prevent Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar from reaching the threshold. Currently, FiveThirtyEight shows Sanders as the only candidate meeting the threshold in California:
All Steyer has to do is keep Bloomberg under 15% in some of the Super Tuesday states and both billionaires’ campaigns will be essentially done. A strong showing in South Carolina (plus millions spent on ads) may make Steyer the Bloomberg-killer.