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🗳️ Happy Tuesday! It's "first in the nation" primary day in New Hampshire. It's 266 days until Election Day.

  • 🇿🇦 30 years ago today, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years, a key event in ending South Africa’s apartheid system of racial oppression. Read AP's story from Feb. 11, 1990.
1 big thing: Bloomberg's monopoly, Biden's market crash

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Spencer Platt, Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The political market is rendering two unambiguous trend lines: Mike Bloomberg's TV monopoly is fueling his surge into the top tier of Democratic presidential rivals, and cash-strapped Joe Biden is crashing.

  • Bloomberg's air war has vaulted him into 2020's top tier in national polls, media attention, insider/establishment buzz and the betting markets.
  • And Biden is dropping in those same metrics, Axios' Margaret Talev and Alexi McCammond report from Manchester, N.H.

Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are the favorites going into today's New Hampshire primary. Beneath the surface, here are the Bloomberg and Biden trends to watch:

  • State polling and our conversations with voters and campaigns show Biden at risk of finishing as low as fifth, behind Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. That could imperil the firewall he's always counted on from black voters in the South Carolina primary at the end of the month.
  • Bloomberg, who jumped in late, is skipping the first four states to focus on Super Tuesday and beyond.

A Quinnipiac University poll out yesterday found "Biden no longer dominates on the key question of electability," with 27% of national Democratic or Dem-leaning voters giving Biden the best chance of beating President Trump — a steep drop from 44% just two weeks ago.

  • Sanders was second with 24%. Bloomberg was third with 17% — up from 9% in late January, and ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar.
  • Among black primary voters, the poll found Biden's lead has dropped to 27% from 51% in December, with Bloomberg jumping to the second spot, at 22%, slightly ahead of Sanders.

Oddsmakers see Bloomberg in second, behind Sanders.

  • Biden has tanked in the PredictIt online market, where his shares cost 43¢ on Jan. 8 and now go for 11¢. Bernie goes for 48¢, Mike for 28¢ and Pete is 14¢.

Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters that if this were the World Series, "I would say this is Game 2 and we're going all the way to Game 7."

🥊 DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. (AP) — Mike Bloomberg carried a tiny New Hampshire community that votes at the stroke of midnight: Bloomberg received three write-in votes. The others went to Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders.

2. Jumpy campaigns jump ahead to S.C.
Joe Biden signs a baseball in Gilford, N.H., yesterday. Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Campaigns are already deploying staff, surrogates and even the candidates themselves to South Carolina to get a jump start on what many view as the most important of the early-voting states, Axios' Alexi McCammond reports.

  • Symone Sanders, a senior advisor on Joe Biden's campaign, spent yesterday in the Palmetto State doing TV hits, and canvassing across the state to rally black voters ahead of the Feb. 29 primary.
  • Pete Buttigieg's campaign says he'll be in South Carolina later this week before heading to Nevada, where the caucuses are Feb. 22.

The state of play: Biden once had a 31-point lead in South Carolina. A (Charleston) Post and Courier/Change Research poll out Feb. 2 shows him still in first, but with a five-point lead on Bernie Sanders (25%/20%).

  • Tom Steyer was in third (18%).
3. Splurging on Super Tuesday
Expand chart
Data: Advertising Analytics; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Mike Bloomberg is funneling more than a third of his massive advertising war chest into the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday (March 3), according to data from Advertising Analytics, Axios' Stef Kight and Sara Fischer report.

  • 35% of Bloomberg's ad money has been spent on the four states with the largest number of Democratic delegates — California, New York, Texas and Florida. Nearly half has been spent on Super Tuesday and Rust Belt states.
  • Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren have spent more than half of all their ad dollars since last January on early voting states.

Share this graphic.

4. Being there: N.H. on Primary Eve
Photos (clockwise from upper left): Eric Thayer/Reuters; Scott Olson/Getty Images; Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Brendan McDermid/Reuters; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters; Andrew Harnik/AP

Below, President Trump taunted Dems with a "Keep America Great" rally at Southern New Hampshire University Arena in Manchester last evening:

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
5. 109 troops suffer brain injuries from Iran strike
In January, U.S. soldiers stand at the site where an Iranian missile hit Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq. Photo: John Davison/Reuters

109 U.S. troops suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of Iran's Jan. 8 missile attack on U.S. bases in Iraq, the Pentagon said, and 76 have returned to duty.

  • Why it matters: President Trump brushed the injuries off as "headaches."
6. Green light for T-Mobile/Sprint

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"A federal judge is expected to approve T-Mobile US Inc.’s merger with Sprint Corp.," overcoming a state antitrust challenge to a tie-up of the two wireless carriers, which rank #3 and #4 by subscribers, the Wall Street Journal reports (subscription).

  • Why it matters, from Axios' Ina Fried: The move creates a much larger rival to AT&T and Verizon — and was seen as vital for Sprint, which has continued to lose market share during the deal's long approval process.
7. First look: Washington withdrawal
Courtesy Foreign Affairs

In a new issue of Foreign Affairs devoted to debate over calls for retrenchment from the global role the U.S. once embraced, the great Graham Allison of Harvard's Kennedy School writes in "The New Spheres of Influence: Sharing the Globe With Other Great Powers":

[T]he time has come for an alliance-focused version of the stress tests for banks used after the 2008 financial crisis.
The basic view of the United States’ role in the world held by most of today’s foreign-policy makers was imprinted in the quarter century that followed the U.S. victory in the Cold War. That world is now gone. The consequences are as profound as those that Americans confronted in the late 1940s.

Keep reading.

8. Bill and Melinda Gates: What we've learned in 20 years
Photo via GatesNotes: The Blog of Bill Gates

In their 2020 annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates take stock of the 20 years since they founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has since spent $53.8 billion on global health and development:

Twenty years later, we’re just as optimistic — and we’re still swinging for the fences. But we now have a much deeper understanding of how important it is to ensure that innovation is distributed equitably. If only some people in some places are benefitting from new advances, then others are falling even further behind. ...
We believe that progress should benefit everyone, everywhere.

Read the letter, with the Gates' handwritten annotations.

9. Abolitionists stand in Maryland Capitol
Photos: Julio Cortez/AP

"Until Nov. 1, 1864, the day Maryland lawmakers officially approved emancipation, fugitive slaves Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass could not legally enter their home state of Maryland, let alone the State House in Annapolis," the Baltimore Sun's Emily Opilo writes.

  • Now, they're in places of honor.
  • "Statues of the two leaders were unveiled and dedicated during a joint legislative session held [yesterday] outside the Old House Chamber, where slavery in Maryland was formally abolished."
10. 1 ⚾ thing: MLB may expand playoffs
On Oct. 30, Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer celebrates after beating the Houston Astros in the World Series. Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

Major League Baseball is considering expanding the postseason to nearly half the 30 teams and allowing higher-seeded wild-card teams to choose opponents, AP's Ronald Blum reports.

  • The playoffs would grow from 10 clubs to 14, with four wild cards in each league, up from two.
  • The selections would be made on a televised show.
  • The proposal would have to be negotiated with the players' association. The current collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2021 season.

The context: A 14-team postseason would include 47% of franchises.

  • Twelve of the 32 NFL teams (38%) reach the playoffs ... 16 of 30 in the NBA (53%) ... and 16 of 31 in the NHL (52%), which expands to 32 franchises next season.

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