(Bloomberg) — Like the end of a romantic comedy, Democrats went running back to their first love on Super Tuesday, as late-deciding voters overwhelmingly backed former front-runner Joe Biden.
It was a moment that felt both surprising and inevitable, as primary voters had toyed with a number of possible suitors — from Kamala Harris to Elizabeth Warren to Pete Buttigieg to Amy Klobuchar to Michael Bloomberg– and nearly settled on Bernie Sanders before having second thoughts.
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But over the past week, Biden made his case with grand gestures like winning South Carolina by nearly 30 points and urgent warnings of what would happen if Democrats picked Sanders. Friends like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Representative Jim Clyburn chimed in to make the case for him.
And on Tuesday, Democrats went for it. The former vice president won 10 states, picking up hundreds of delegates to take the lead over Sanders. He is on top again in the three most recent nationwide polls. Donations are flooding in, as are endorsements, including on Wednesday morning former rival Bloomberg.
Democrats had played the field, but in the end, they returned to the one they knew best, Joe Biden.
Series of Rivals
Everybody expected Biden to run, but there was always something a little boring about his candidacy. It was the safe choice.
The desire for something new propelled an unprecedented 28 candidates to step forward, some only briefly. There was Beto O’Rourke, the rising star who quickly fell out of favor; Marianne Williamson, the dreamy author who spoke of peace; and Andrew Yang, the comic relief with some serious ideas.
But the most serious rivals for Democrats’ affections were Harris, Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders and Bloomberg.
Even though he led in national polls for much of 2019, Biden began to stumble not long after he joined the race in April.
Slip in Polls
When the first states started voting in February, Biden’s campaign looked like it had ended before the voting even began.
The one-time front-runner came in fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and a distant second in Nevada. Buttigieg and Klobuchar briefly had their moments in the spotlight, and Sanders’s strong showing in the first three contests coincided with leads in polls in the majority of the Super Tuesday states. Bloomberg, who focused all his energy on Super Tuesday, loomed just over the horizon.
But Biden turned it around with one of the most remarkable weeks in a recent American political campaign.
Biden won the South Carolina primary by nearly 30 percentage points, restoring his luster. Klobuchar and Buttigieg dropped out and endorsed Biden, as did O’Rourke and on Wednesday, Bloomberg. Biden says he raised more than $35 million in the first few days of March — nearly four times what he’d raised in all of January.
The South Carolina win played to Biden’s strengths in Super Tuesday states with similar demographics in the South, but exit polls also showed new support among suburban white voters and women — a coalition that echoes the successful Democratic ones that put Barack Obama in the White House twice and won back the House of Representatives in 2018. Biden did better in Vermont against Sanders than Hillary Clinton had, and he beat Warren in her home state.
Facing the run of wins by Sanders, the Democratic establishment he frequently criticized also succeeded in doing what the Republicans could not amid a similar insurgent campaign by Donald Trump in 2016 — unite around a single candidate.
But Biden still has a ways to go.
He faces decent odds of falling just short of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the nomination outright before the convention in Milwaukee. Clyburn said Wednesday that Biden needs to loosen up and be less robotic on the campaign trail. And his recent success did little to address his tendencies to lose his way mid-sentence and get snappish with reporters.
Biden based his campaign on the idea that he could win in November, and his wins on Super Tuesday were the best case he could make for that argument.
For the party faithful at least, in the end, it was always Joe.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ryan Teague Beckwith in Washington, D.C. at [email protected]
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at [email protected], Magan Crane
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