Washington: Joe Biden ran up significant victories in the first round of Super Tuesday primaries, winning in seven states, including Virginia and North Carolina, while his chief rival, Bernie Sanders, claimed his home state of Vermont and Colorado.
Biden also won in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama and Minnesota. Early returns showed the former vice president winning by comfortable margins that will give him a large portion of the total delegates available. But states with polls closing later, particularly Texas and California, could aid Sanders, who had overtaken Biden as the front-runner in national polls.
“We’re feeling optimistic,” Biden said in Los Angeles after the Virginia race was called. “I think we’re going to do well in some other states as well.”
The results are a remarkable turnabout for the former vice president whose candidacy was on the ropes just days ago. A decisive win on Saturday in South Carolina rallied the Democratic Party leadership around Biden as the moderate alternative to Sanders, who’s seen by the party establishment as a candidate who can’t beat President Donald Trump. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar fell in line, dropping out and endorsing Biden.
Tuesday’s contests across 14 states, plus American Samoa, will award more than a third of all delegates to the Democratic convention in July in Milwaukee. The biggest day of the presidential primary calendar will define the nomination fight for Sanders and Biden and determine whether Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren have a rationale for carrying on their campaigns.
The Super Tuesday round of primaries marks the first time Bloomberg has appeared on the Democratic presidential ballot, and he collected his first delegates by winning American Samoa. He and Warren, whose best performance to date was third in the Iowa caucuses, will confront the question of whether to continue in the race if they don’t collect a substantial number of delegates.
Sanders and Biden headed into the night close in delegate tallies. Sanders emerged from the first four contests with 60 delegates, but Biden’s big win in South Carolina on Saturday brought him within six delegates of his chief rival.
That still might not be enough. Sanders went into day leading in polls in delegate-rich Texas and California. And Bloomberg, who is also making a pitch to moderates, threatens to play spoiler by snagging delegates in multiple states. One of Biden’s main goals on Tuesday was to prevent Sanders from building an insurmountable lead that would carry him into the party convention.
Biden is counting on his support from African-American voters, who make up a sizable portion of the Democratic electorate in Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Arkansas. He won 63% of the black vote in Virginia and North Carolina, according to network exit polls reported by CNN.
That also will help in later in the month when major caches of delegates will be available in primaries in Michigan, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.
“After Super Tuesday they’re all opportunities. I think I’ll do well in Florida, Michigan, it goes down the line,” Biden said Tuesday.
Delivery of some results Tuesday may be affected by vote-counting and weather. The outcome in California, the biggest prize of the night, may not be known for hours after polls close or even days as officials wait for mail-in ballots to arrive and be counted. In Tennessee, polling places in some parts of Nashville will stay open until 10 p.m. local time after tornadoes that swept through the area caused extensive damage and killed at least 22 people.
Warren and Bloomberg have so far indicated they planned to stay in the race. Some party leaders have been calling for Bloomberg to drop out to clear the way for Biden. The former New York mayor brushed off questions Tuesday about withdrawing.
“Joe’s taking votes away from me,” he said. “Have you asked Joe whether he’s going to drop out?”
Bloomberg acknowledged that the only way he can secure the Democratic nomination is if neither Biden nor Sanders wins a majority of delegates and the decision is left to a battle at the party convention in July.
Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist who many in the party establishment fear would return Trump to the White House. Sanders argues that the country is hungry for a “political revolution,” and he has grown a diverse base with promises of free health care, free housing, free college tuition and free child care, as well as plans to levy steep taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
Sanders is likely to emerge Tuesday still holding the most delegates. Biden’s task is to win enough support to stand as a credible challenger to Sanders as the primary calendar moves to contests that stretch through June, a task that would be made easier by the growing support he’s received just since Saturday night.
The Vermont senator will no longer benefit from a broad field of contenders for moderate voters, and it will be up to Biden to harness the momentum from his South Carolina victory and turn Klobuchar’s and Buttigieg’s to end their campaigns and endorse him into actual votes.
Yet the former vice president has repeatedly bungled advantages throughout the nominating contest, and the impact of the last-minute withdrawals might be muted with millions of early-voting ballots already cast. In 2016 in California, 60% of voters cast their ballots before Election Day by early or mail-in voting.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for a party that’s still reeling from Trump’s 2016 victory and is weighing diametrically opposite approaches to winning back the blue-collar, working-class voters along the Rust Belt that had long served as its electoral firewall — Biden’s centrist vision or Sanders’ populist one.
And if voters Tuesday fail to winnow the field, the odds of a contested convention – a political occurrence unseen in almost 70 years – will soar, further emboldening the incumbent president and diminishing the odds of a successful opposition challenge.-Bloomberg