Former Vice President Joe Biden’s third White House bid was widely dismissed by political observers after a series of unsteady performances on the trail led to dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire last month. But his Democratic presidential campaign came roaring back to life on Tuesday in a comeback for the ages, as he romped to victory in at least nine of the 14 states that held simultaneous primaries.
Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who once seemed poised to capture an insurmountable advantage on Super Tuesday — saw his delegate lead slip away to Biden, even as he claimed the night’s biggest prize by winning California.
Biden handily outperformed his polling by claiming victories not only in southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and the delegate-rich Texas, but also in Minnesota to the north and Massachusetts to the east. He currently leads in Maine’s primary as well, although the Associated Press has yet to declare a winner. In addition to California, Sanders won primaries in Colorado, Utah, and his home state of Vermont.
As of this writing, Biden has surged ahead in the national delegate count: he currently boasts 453 delegates to Sanders’ 382. Proving the Democratic campaign’s evolution into a two-man race, the next contender, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, lies far behind at 50 delegates, followed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at 44 delegates.
Both Bloomberg and Warren came up short on Tuesday: the former didn’t win a single state (although he did come first in the American Samoa caucuses) after pouring more than $200 million into advertisements across the 15 contests, while the latter slid to third place in the state she has represented in the U.S. Senate for seven years.
With results from California and other states still being reported, 536 Super Tuesday delegates have yet to be allocated by the Associated Press, many of them in the Golden State. However, the New York Times still forecasts that Biden will maintain his newfound delegate advantage even after the allocation has completed, estimating that he will lead Sanders, 670-589.
Although Sanders is comfortably winning California (home to a mammoth 415 delegates), Biden could emerge as the only other candidate to be viable for delegate statewide: with 76% reporting, Sanders has 32.8% of the vote and Biden has 24%, while Bloomberg stands at 14.9%, just below the threshold.
“We were told, well, when you get to Super Tuesday, it’d be over,” Biden said at his watch party in Los Angeles. “Well, it may be over for the other guy!” According to exit polls, 49% of Super Tuesday voters who made a decision in the last few days chose Biden, suggesting that his string of victories was fueled by the high-profile endorsements he received on Monday from former candidates Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke.
Two of the states that delivered the most surprising wins for Biden were Klobuchar’s native Minnesota and O’Rourke’s native Texas. (Minnesota was one of two states that moved into the Biden column after voting for Sanders in the 2016 Democratic campaign, along with Oklahoma. Maine would be a third.)
Biden’s standout night was also powered by African-American voters, 57% of whom cast ballots for him across the Super Tuesday states. Across the board, Biden's success came despite significant structural disadvantages, as he was vastly outspent and outorganized by Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren alike in states he ended up winning. Biden did not even open field offices in nine of the states that voted Tuesday or come close to competing with Bloomberg's advertising dominance in any of them, instead riding a wave of free media that followed his series of new endorsements.
In his remarks from Vermont on Tuesday night, Sanders seemed far from prepared to throw in the towel even as Biden reclaimed the frontrunner’s mantle. “Tonight I tell you with absolute confidence, we are going to win the Democratic nomination,” he declared, going on to take shots at Biden on health care, foreign policy, trade, and other issues where their visions starkly contrast.
Bloomberg and Warren also remain in the race, for now at least, after ending Super Tuesday with little to show for their months of campaigning and millions of dollars in spending. According to NBC News, Bloomberg will meet with advisers and reassess whether to stay in the Democratic race today; per Politico, Warren also faces “facing political and financial pressures to get out.” Both campaigns are now publicly counting on a brokered convention — where no candidate receives a majority of pledged delegates on the first ballot — to capture the Democratic nomination.
While the prospect of no candidate winning a majority (1,991 delegates) during the primaries remains very much alive, the odds have slipped in light of Biden’s new momentum.
The Super Tuesday primaries capped a head-spinning 96 hours in which Biden won his first victory in three decades of seeking the presidency, then muscled out and won the support of a crop of younger rivals who had campaigned fiercely against him for months, and finally revived his campaign after it had once been left for dead. Meanwhile, Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren faded to the background (albeit to varying degrees), despite all holding credible claims at frontrunner status at different points in recent months.
In other words: these results do mean Biden is back in the driver's seat, but in a race as volatile as this one, it would be foolish to be certain that he will remain there for good.
With the possibility of a contested convention still in the air, Democratic campaign is likely to drag on for months to come, as the moderate Biden's appeal for centrism and unity is pitted against the more progressive Sanders' vision of democratic socialism and revolution. The next states to vote will be Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and Washington on Tuesday, March 10.