Mar 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Super Tuesday suddenly looks different

Biden celebrates in South Carolina. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Joe Biden's huge win in South Carolina is resetting the parameters of the Democratic contest ahead of Super Tuesday.

Why it matters: The former vice president's first primary victory raises existential questions for billionaire Mike Bloomberg and could slow Bernie Sanders' runaway train. And it could give new life to Biden's own withering electability argument — and ramp up pressure on moderates in his lane to drop out.

Yes, but: It's not at all clear Biden can carry this win beyond a state where he has long-standing relationships and the benefit of a majority black Democratic electorate.

  • He's almost out of time to raise the money, air the ads and regain the momentum that's lagged until now.
  • African American voters could play big roles in southern states voting next week. But as Axios' Stef Kight notes, Super Tuesday states outside the South represent more pledged delegates. The states out West, in particular, have higher proportions of Hispanic voters, a group that helped Sanders in Nevada.
  • Sanders also has had the edge with white, working-class, noncollege-educated Democrats.

Be smart: With the March 3 mega-contest just days away, there's little expectation of Biden's moderate rivals dropping out beforehand. That could help Sanders keep amassing delegates and make him hard to catch.

  • 14 states and one U.S. territory will vote, including the biggest states, California and Texas. Early voting is underway.
  • "We've just won, and we won big because of you," Biden told a crowd in Columbia, South Carolina, saying the pundits had prematurely declared his candidacy dead. "We are very much alive. This campaign is taking off. So join us."

By the numbers: Per the Washington Post, exit polling in South Carolina put 61% of the African American vote with Biden and 17% with Sanders.

  • Biden led Sanders with moderate/conservative voters in the state, 54% to 14% — and even led Sanders with "very liberal" South Carolina Democrats, 42% to 29%.

The other side: "You cannot win 'em all," Sanders told supporters at a rally in Virginia, congratulating Biden on his win but quickly looking ahead to Super Tuesday. "Tonight we did not win in South Carolina. And that will not be the only defeat."

  • Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey made clear that Bloomberg still fully intends to compete on Super Tuesday, the first contests in which he's on the ballot.
  • The Bloomberg campaign's internal data suggests if he dropped out now, it actually would improve Sanders' delegate path, one adviser told Axios. The explanation goes that Bloomberg draws votes away from Sanders as well as Biden and that in places where Biden polls too low to be eligible for delegates, Bloomberg only hurts Sanders.
  • Billionaire Tom Steyer, who had staked his own strategy on South Carolina, ended his candidacy, saying, "I can't see a path where I can win the presidency." He did not immediately endorse anyone.

What they're saying: "Democrats want a nominee who's a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat," Biden said. (Sanders is an independent democratic socialist, and Bloomberg is a former Republican and independent.)

  • Biden said if he's the nominee, Democrats can defeat Trump, hold the House and win back the Senate.
  • Biden spokesperson TJ Ducklo tells Axios' Alexi McCammond that the lower performing rivals must reconsider their paths forward, but he stopped short of calling on specific candidates to drop out.
  • "If you are a candidate and you have not shown that you can get traction with the core of the Democratic Party, with African American voters, then you have to take a hard look at your path and what your goals are," Ducklo said.
  • Biden thanked his friend, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), for his crucial endorsement this week. "You brought me back," he said.

One fun thing: "Move On Up," Curtis Mayfield's 1970s soul hit with black-pride appeal and a regular part of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign playlist, blared as Biden took the stage.

Go deeper

Joe Biden wins South Carolina primary

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Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected to decisively win the South Carolina Democratic primary, a crucial win that demonstrates his support among African American voters.

Why it matters: The victory is Biden's first-ever presidential primary win. He has long predicted that his appeal among voters of color would carry him in South Carolina.

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The big question for Bernie Sanders after Tuesday night's losses: Is there a path back to the Democratic nomination, or is Joe Biden's trajectory unstoppable?

The state of play: Notably, Sanders did not comment on the results. Pressure ramped up on him to concede and Biden carefully began to turn his remarks to the general election after extending his delegate lead in "Super Tuesday 2," with wins in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Idaho.

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