Biden's Tuesday Is Super After Topping Sanders in Nine States
The “Resistance” to President Trump was aflame on Super Tuesday, but the young revolutionaries backing Bernie Sanders weren’t the only ones manning the barricades. The Democratic Party establishment showed up in greater numbers to inject energy into the suddenly surging campaign of Joe Biden and render the Democratic nominating contest a two-man race—with Biden once again the front-runner.
“People are talking about a revolution,” a triumphant Biden declared Tuesday night in a dig at Sanders. “We started a movement.”
Given up for dead as recently as two weeks ago by pundits and donors, Biden resurrected his campaign in South Carolina with a smashing victory Saturday that led to wins Tuesday in North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Texas. In Maine, Biden was leading Sanders in a close race.
“This was one of the greatest comebacks in modern American political history,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, declared in a network interview.
Sanders carried California, Colorado, Utah, and his home state of Vermont. Maine was essentially a dead heat, meaning that Sanders and Biden will likely split the delegates there. The same was largely true in Texas, the second biggest delegate prize on the ballot, where voting was extended into the late-night hours as Biden took a slight lead. Both campaigns were intently watching the election returns from California—with by far the biggest delegate count of the night—to see how much Sanders’s win translated into delegates.
“Tonight, I tell you in absolute confidence, we are going to win the Democratic nomination, and we are going to defeat the most shameless president in the history of this country!” Sanders told an enthusiastic crowd of Vermonters at his home base of Burlington. “We are going to defeat Trump because we are putting together an unprecedented, grassroots, multi-generational, multi-racial movement.”
Sanders then took direct aim at Biden on a host of issues ranging from Social Security to single-payer health care.
In Los Angeles, an equally ebullient Biden returned the compliment while celebrating his promotion from political purgatory. “For those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind--this is your campaign,” he said. “Just a few days ago the press and the pundits had declared the campaign dead, and then came South Carolina, and they had something to say about it. We were told when it got to Super Tuesday that it’d be over. Well it may be over for the other guy.”
While Biden and Sanders each had reason to crow, the other three remaining Democrats in the field had precious little to celebrate. Fourteen states and one territory were on the ballot Tuesday night, with 34% of the delegates needed for the nomination.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren won none of them, including the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Warren, who led the field in October, had a plan for almost everything. But no candidate has a plan for finishing a distant third in their home state. Warren also pulled off an ignominious exacta—she also lost in Oklahoma, the state where she was born.
Until Tuesday, the Warren campaign was counting on a contested convention to keep her presidential hopes alive. Campaign Manager Roger Lau said as much in a public memo Sunday. Their theory of the case was that no candidate would emerge with a path to the majority of the delegates. That scenario seems less likely now after Biden and Sanders nearly ran the Super Tuesday table; Warren’s role looks now like that of a spoiler, not a top-tier contender. The candidate whom Warren knee-capped in the Nevada debate had arguably an even worse night. Despite spending an estimated $500 million of his personal fortune in the Super Tuesday media markets, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg garnered only one first-place finish—in little American Samoa—a statistical tie for second in Utah and then a close third in Colorado.
The California results underscored the drawback of early voting. Mail-in ballots went out to voters the day of the Iowa caucuses. Although a portion of the Golden State electorate waited until after South Carolina to make their decision, more than 2.7 million had turned in their ballots before Tuesday morning, according to the California secretary of state. And many of them had voted before Bloomberg’s Nevada implosion and Biden’s South Carolina ascension. Voters in Colorado and Utah—the other two Western states Sanders carried—also voted early. In other words, if voting had been limited to Election Day, Biden’s very big night could have been even bigger.
Bloomberg entered the race believing Biden would continue to falter, and he’d be there to pick up the pieces. It happened just as he predicted, with Biden finishing up behind the track in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada – states where Bloomberg did not compete. But as he rose in the national public polls, Bloomberg qualified under the Democratic National Committee’s rules for the party’s Las Vegas debate. Now it was Bloomberg’s turn to falter—bombed is probably a better word. It turned out not to be a tactically savvy move to debate in a state where he wasn’t on the ballot in the first place, but when savaged by the other candidates, especially Warren, he seemed more than unprepared.
The results of Tuesday put Bloomberg in the exact place he didn’t want to be: He entered the race fearing no Democrat could head off the Sanders juggernaut. But on Super Tuesday – and going forward – his presence only helps Sanders blunt the charge of Biden.
Both Biden and Sanders could take solace in another trend that emerged Tuesday: Money wasn’t the deciding factor. Sanders rails against “billionaires” on philosophical grounds; and after his weak start, Biden’s campaign was strapped for funds. But it didn’t matter. Biden won Massachusetts despite having spent only $10,000 in the commonwealth.
The former vice president spent even less in Minnesota, and never even visited the state, which he essentially ceded to Sanders while hoping home state Sen. Amy Klobuchar could pull an upset. She did better than that. After endorsing Biden over the weekend, she unleashed her political operation on Biden’s behalf, which pushed him to victory.
If endorsements helped sway the Democrats’ traditional rank-and-file voters, so did experience and name identification: Biden carried Arkansas and Tennessee without setting foot in either state during the primary season.
Will the Democrats’ crowded debate stage now be whittled down to the two men who dominated Super Tuesday? Maybe not.
Tulsi Gabbard, an afterthought who hasn’t been on stage since the fifth debate in Atlanta, won one delegate in American Samoa. According to current party rules, two senior DNC officials told RCP, a single delegate would punch the Hawaii representative’s ticket to the next debate. However, they conceded that those rules could be changed at the whim of the party.
Gabbard’s presence might be welcome, however, at least for the television audience. A Biden-Sanders semifinal, let’s face it, pits a 77-year-old man against a 78-year-old man – for the right to run against a president who will turn 74 this June. As feminist writer Jill Filipovic quipped on Twitter last night, “Either way the general election debate is going to look just like that Thanksgiving where grandma invited both her boyfriends. Buckle up!”