Joe Biden capped one of the most head-spinning political turnarounds in memory, racking up a string of victories in Super Tuesday primaries to complete a three-day resurrection of his status as Democratic presidential frontrunner.
In the biggest day on the primary calendar, the former U.S. vice-president’s campaign gobbled up two-thirds of the states being contested Tuesday, and walked away with an apparent delegate lead in a contest against Sen. Bernie Sanders.
What a change from the weekend.
His campaign appeared on death’s door before he won Saturday’s South Carolina primary — which prompted other candidates to drop out and moderate voters to stampede his way before Tuesday’s 14 contests.
“They don’t call it Super Tuesday for nothing,” Biden said at a victory rally. “We were told that when it got to Super Tuesday it would be over.
“Well, it may be over for the other guy.”
His deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield called it one of the greatest comebacks in American political history, and CNN political commentator Van Jones said people would be studying the night for decades to come.
The rival that Biden dismissed as “the other guy” predicted his own eventual triumph.
Speaking in his home state of Vermont, Sanders said: “We are going to win the Democratic nomination and we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country.”
By early Wednesday, Biden had taken Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas and Massachusetts.
Sanders won Vermont, Colorado and Utah, and was leading in California.
Here are five takeaways on the state of the race.
It’s a two-person dogfight:
It might take a while to sort out the exact delegate totals, with results still being tallied for those delegates awarded on a district-by-district basis. But Biden and Sanders emerged from the evening in the top two in delegate totals.
Biden won about two-thirds of the 14 states. He was dominant in the north, east and south, winning in unexpected places, including Minnesota; easily capturing the delegate-rich states of Virginia and North Carolina; and pulling off his biggest coup of the night in Texas.
Sanders won the west. He performed well in states with sizeable Latino populations — Colorado, Utah — and he led throughout the night in the biggest prize of all, California.
Sanders’s challenge gets steeper:
But the map only gets harder for Sanders. The biggest states about to vote are overwhelmingly ones Sanders lost in the 2016 primaries.
While there are still two-thirds of 3,979 delegates yet to be allocated, only eight remaining states hold 100 delegates or more.
Sanders lost all but one of those eight states against his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. Last time, he won Michigan, which votes next week; but he lost the other large states, and most of them by a wide margin — Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
The good news for Sanders: He’s shown an ability to win in places he lost four years ago. Namely in the southwest, where Sanders lost California and Nevada last time, and did much better in 2020.
Party favours make the night:
Biden got valuable help from his Democratic friends.
This week’s sudden withdrawal from the race of rivals Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg was a godsend in several ways.
Their departure made a huge mathematical difference, especially in California. It allowed Biden to reach the minimum threshold for getting delegates, at both the state and district level. Candidates failing to get 15 per cent at the state level, or in any single congressional district, are assigned zero delegates.
Had the anti-Sanders vote remained splintered, Sanders might have conceivably been the only qualifying candidate in California, and galloped ahead with virtually its entire haul of delegates.
Endorsements helped Biden elsewhere.
In Minnesota, Klobuchar’s sudden withdrawal and help on the ground helped Biden secure a stunning upset. He beat Sanders in a state Sanders carried by 23 points against Clinton in the 2016 primaries.
That burst of momentum helped Biden overcome organizational deficiencies: the former vice president’s campaign was short on cash and had a limited presence in several of the states he won.
Exit polls showed a sudden burst of late-deciding voters who turned toward Biden.
Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has showered hundreds of millions of dollars of his own cash in a campaign that enriched advertisers and political staffers across the country.
He’s served food at rallies and ran expensive national ads that aired in places he wasn’t even competing.
The result of this roughly half-billion in spending? American Samoa — it’s the one place Bloomberg won.
In a speech to supporters, he emphasized the broader achievement of having entered the race late, as an outside candidate, and picking up delegates in lots of different places.
Bloomberg appeared poised to end Super Tuesday competing with Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a distant third place.
“No matter how many delegates we win tonight, we have done something no one else thought was possible. In just three months we’ve gone from one per cent in the polls to a contender for the Democratic nomination for president,” Bloomberg said.
It’s young vs. old:
The Democratic Party is split among generations. Oldest voters were solidly pro-Biden, and the youngest were squarely pro-Sanders.
Sanders’s main sales pitch has been that he would inspire youth to turn out in record numbers to defeat President Donald Trump.
Young people consistently vote at a far lower rate than older Americans.
Sanders won the under-30 age category by dozens of percentage points nationwide — ranging from 13 percentage points in Alabama, to nearly 50 per cent in Texas and Minnesota.
Biden won the senior citizens’ vote by 69 points in Alabama, 45 points in North Carolina, 36 points in Texas, and the numbers were similar elsewhere.
In digesting these numbers Tuesday, several pundits pointed to a big challenge ahead for the Democratic Party: will it select a candidate capable of turning out both groups in November?
Sanders continued making the case that the key to victory is inspiring youth turnout: “You cannot beat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics,” he said.