On Politics: Biden’s Big Comeback

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  • Just a week ago, Joe Biden’s campaign seemed to be on death’s door. Today he wakes up as a front-runner again. Buoyed by endorsements from a slew of Democratic leaders, Biden sailed to victory in a majority of yesterday’s Super Tuesday contests: He swept the South, scored upsets in the Northeast and the Midwest, and denied Bernie Sanders a crucial win in Texas.

  • If there’s one state that symbolizes what transpired last night across the country, it’s Minnesota. Less than two weeks ago, a Star Tribune/MPR News poll put Biden at just 8 percent there. But yesterday, he won nearly five times that share, soaring to a lopsided victory over Sanders.

  • What made the difference? Mostly it was Amy Klobuchar, the state’s senior senator, who dropped out of the presidential race just a day earlier and endorsed Biden. After Minnesota was announced for Biden on Tuesday night, he called Klobuchar to thank her.

  • In one of the night’s biggest surprises, he even won handily in Massachusetts, leapfrogging both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who finished in a disappointing third place in her home state and now finds her campaign in dire straits. Biden won despite the fact that his lean operation had not spent a single dollar on TV ads in the state.

  • Yet Sanders held on to win the biggest prize of the night in California. When all is said and done, he and Biden could each come out of Super Tuesday with a similar amount of delegates. So the playing field will be about even as the race enters a new phase. It’s a Biden-Sanders contest now, and each candidate will have to confront weaknesses that have yet to be fully exploited.

  • Going forward, Biden must find a way to keep the wind in his sails. While he soared on Super Tuesday thanks largely to the endorsements of other politicians, he has often struggled to generate enthusiasm or sustain supporters’ confidence when left to his own devices. And a big chunk of his voters on Tuesday decided on him at the last moment, with many attributing their decisions to the endorsements. There might be just one more endorsement with the power to inject decisive adrenaline into his campaign — and that vote of confidence may not be coming, at least not soon.

  • For Sanders, the challenge is clearer than ever. He will have to build support beyond his base — from older, less liberal and African-American voters in particular — in ways he has failed to do. Even in California, where he notched his most significant win, Sanders lost moderates to Biden by 10 points, and black voters by 20 points.

  • Sanders’s weaknesses were most apparent in Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts, states with relatively high suburban populations. Their races were supposed to be tight but ended with decisive Biden wins.

  • What made an unexpectedly good night for Biden seem like an out-and-out rout was largely timing. Sanders underperformed in most Eastern states but did well in the West — so most of his wins didn’t become official until late. The slowness of the vote count in California didn’t help him, either: Election officials there technically have 30 days to count ballots, so we may not know exactly how many delegates each candidate won for quite a while.

  • Both Warren and Michael Bloomberg scored only a handful of delegates on Tuesday — disappointing finishes, no matter how you slice it. Warren will inevitably face pressure from progressives to drop out and expand Sanders’s lane, while moderates may increasingly call for Bloomberg to make way for Biden.

  • In his first day on a primary ballot after spending more than $500 million of his own money on political ads, Bloomberg won only the caucus in American Samoa. And, like Sanders, he found that his stronger showings came in the Western states, meaning that by the time many people had gone to bed, his best news of the night was still to come.

  • Our reporter Trip Gabriel pointed to one famous county in which Bloomberg did emerge victorious: Napa, Calif., the home of Pete Buttigieg’s infamous wine cave — and, apparently, welcoming territory for self-funding billionaires. Warren, who roasted Buttigieg at a debate for his fund-raiser in the cave, finished fourth there.

The Dallas County Young Democrats hosted a Super Tuesday results watch party at the Texas Theater in Dallas.

Our reporters were with each of the four major candidates on Tuesday night, watching how their campaigns responded to the results. Here’s what they saw.

  • Katie Glueck, in California: “It was an extraordinary night for Joe Biden. It’s his third bid for the White House, but Biden had never won a state as a presidential candidate until he romped to victory in South Carolina on Saturday. That win opened the floodgates for money, momentum and endorsements. On Tuesday, the good news for him started coming in as he campaigned at a chicken and waffles restaurant in Los Angeles. He heard about Virginia. Then North Carolina. When a reporter informed him that he had won Alabama, he pumped his fist. And his night only improved from there.”

  • Sydney Ember, in Vermont: “Bernie Sanders did not have the resounding blowout on Tuesday night that aides had hoped for, and all of their swagger from the past several weeks was gone. The results from Texas and California were still outstanding at that point. But even his loyal supporters didn’t stick around after he spoke (briefly) at his election-night rally in Vermont.”

  • Patricia Mazzei, in Florida: “Michael Bloomberg’s campaign event in West Palm Beach, Fla., felt like a party. There was wine. A D.J. Even a fog machine. The candidate had little to celebrate in terms of wins: He had notched a single victory, in American Samoa, before taking the stage early on, a telltale sign of a not-great night. But he celebrated his first night on the ballot just the same, promising the (older) crowd that he would compete in swing states, including Florida, which votes March 17. And that seemed to satisfy his supporters, as they filed out at a reasonable hour, just fine.”

  • Astead Herndon, in Michigan: “Speaking at an election-night town hall event in Detroit, ahead of the Michigan primary next week, Elizabeth Warren ignored the realities of her electoral standing. She gave her speech early in the evening, before it became apparent that she would finish third in her home state and would collect few delegates nationwide. She stuck to her normal stump speech, while other candidates were pointing to their delegate totals.”

The presidential elections were far from the only nominating contests on Tuesday. A number of down-ballot nominations were also in play.

Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, is fighting to reclaim his Senate seat in Alabama — but a falling-out with President Trump has left him vulnerable among the party’s base. Neither he nor any other candidate scored a majority of votes in the Republican primary on Tuesday, so the Senate nomination is now headed to a runoff. He is likely to face Tommy Tuberville, a former college football coach turned politician. Whoever becomes the nominee will go up against Doug Jones, the Democrat who won a nail-bitingly close special election in 2017.

In Texas’s 28th Congressional District, the incumbent Henry Cuellar, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats, was locked in a close race with Jessica Cisneros, an insurgent challenger backed by Justice Democrats, the liberal group that helped elect Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. As of early this morning, the race was too close to call. The district runs along the Mexican border, and broke hard for Sanders in the presidential contest.

In North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, an Army veteran and businessman seeking the Democratic Senate nomination, beat back his liberal challenger, Erica Smith, whom some Republicans had sought to elevate in an attempt to undermine Cunningham. He will now face Thom Tillis, the state’s junior senator, who beat back his own Republican primary challenger on Tuesday. This will be one of the most closely watched state-level races come November, when Democrats seek to flip the Senate.

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