Mar 1, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🦁 Happy Sunday, and welcome to March!

  • Today's Smart Brevity™ count: 1,384 words ... 5 minutes.

🍿 "Axios on HBO" Season 3 premieres tonight at 6 ET/PT.

  • See a clip from Alexi McCammond's interview with Harvey Weinstein prosecutor Cy Vance.
  • See a clip from my interview with Roger Stone.
  • We also take a wild look inside a Trump rally.
1 big thing: Super Tuesday suddenly looks different
Joe and Jill Biden celebrate last night in Columbia, S.C. Photo: Spencer Platt

Joe Biden's landslide in the South Carolina primary (won every county, and took 48% to Bernie Sanders' 20%, Pete Buttigieg's 8% and Elizabeth Warren's 7%) raises existential questions for Mike Bloomberg and could slow Sanders' runaway train.

  • The first-in-the-South blowout could give new life to Biden's withering electability argument — and ramp up pressure on other moderates to drop out, Axios' Margaret Talev, Alexi McCammond and Stef Kight write.

Between the lines: It's not at all clear Biden can carry this win beyond a state where he has longstanding relationships and the benefit of a majority black Democratic electorate.

  • With Super Tuesday just two days away, Biden is almost out of time to raise the money, air the ads and regain the momentum that's lagged until now.
  • There's no sign Biden's moderate rivals will drop out beforehand. That could help Sanders keep amassing delegates, and make him hard to catch.

Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said 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: Bloomberg draws votes away from Sanders as well as Biden. And in places where Biden polls too low to be eligible for delegates, Bloomberg only hurts Sanders.

1 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.

Expand chart
Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
2. Peter Hamby: Inside Biden's big win
Biden's bash at the University of South Carolina's volleyball center. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Snapchat's Peter Hamby, host of "Good Luck America," sends Axios this dispatch from Biden's victory party in Columbia, S.C.:

Joe Biden can now make the case he's got a coalition: black voters, older voters and the type of Never-Trump, Romney-Clinton suburban independents who were so crucial to Democratic House wins in 2018.

  • 7 p.m. ET, when the race was called, was the Biden campaign’s biggest hour of online fundraising to date.
  • The campaign's digital director, Rob Flaherty, tweeted that the campaign’s “No Malarkey” mugs sold out in two hours. 

Why it matters: Biden desperately needs the money and earned-media bump before Super Tuesday. He’s up with only $2 million in TV advertising in eight Super Tuesday states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia — targeting majority-black congressional districts where he can bank delegates.

  • A week of TV ads in L.A. alone can cost $3 million.

The intrigue: One buzzy question flying around the room at Biden’s victory event was whether, if this becomes a two-man race between Biden and Bernie Sanders, would Barack Obama get off the sidelines for his vice president?

  • Between the lines: Plenty of Democrats here told Hamby that last week's news coverage of Sanders' history of warm comments about communist regimes spooked moderates and clarified their choice.

By the numbers: The South Carolina electorate was 5% whiter than it was 2016 — something Hamby had predicted — but these weren't Bernie voters.

  • They were swing-y suburban moderates — affluent college-educated whites — who live across the border from Charlotte and along the coast, and who've flocked to the Democratic Party since Trump’s election.
  • Independents made up 10% more of the electorate than in 2016, and moderate/conservative turnout was 5% higher.
  • There were more first-time primary voters than in 2016, and Biden won them by 7 points, undercutting Sanders' argument he's the one who can expand the electorate.
  • Exit polling put 61% of the African-American vote with Biden, with Sanders at 16%, per the WashPost.

As in Iowa, with precincts outside Des Moines, the surge in the Democratic primary was from suburban whites, much like the 2018 midterms.

  • Absentee ballot data showed white, Democratic turnout in South Carolina more than doubled from 2016, while African-American turnout stayed flat.

Share this story.

3. Why the U.S. doesn't have a coronavirus shutdown — yet
A Shanghai taxi isolates the back seat with a plastic sheet. Photo: Yifan Ding/Getty Images

We still don't know a lot about the coronavirus, making contingency planning a lot harder, Axios health care business reporter Bob Herman writes.

  • We don't know how widely the virus is spreading undetected, which makes it more important for leaders to map out worst-case scenarios.
  • But experts say we're also not at a place where closing schools, requiring telecommuting, or canceling public events are imminent or practical.
  • "There's a lot of panic and concern, but there's no indication that these more dramatic measures are necessary," said Allison Bartlett, an infectious disease physician at the University of Chicago.

The latest: President Trump increased travel restrictions to Iran and authorized "do not travel" warnings for areas in Italy and South Korea — and said he's looking "very strongly" at closing the southern border with Mexico.

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency after a man died there of COVID-19, the first reported death in the U.S. More than 50 people in a nursing facility are sick and being tested for the virus. (AP)
  • A source in yesterday's Trump's coronavirus task force meeting in the Situation Room tells me Vice President Pence repeatedly turned to doctors and medical experts to weigh in on options that the politicals were bouncing off each other.

The bottom line: The flu is infecting and killing more people, but the coronavirus has a higher preliminary mortality rate.

  • That mortality rate could be incorrect, though, because we don't know how many people are infected but not showing symptoms.

China's restrictions helped slow the spread, but would be tough to enforce in the U.S. for many reasons, including the lack of guaranteed paid sick leave.

4. This is what democracy looks like

South Carolina votes ...

Photos (clockwise from upper left): Eric Thayer/Reuters, Joshua Lott/AFP via Getty Images, Patrick Semansky/AP, Sean Rayford/Getty Images
5. Nation on edge: Virus preppers
Duane Reade on Upper East Side. Axios AM reader photo by Rob Saliterman

Shoppers nationwide are buying out Clorox wipes, sprays and bleach.

  • Shortages of hand sanitizer and fitted N95 face masks began in early February, CVS spokesman Joe Goode told Axios' Orion Rummler. Details.

The N.Y. Times added this editors' note to an opinion piece, "How to Be a Smart Coronavirus Prepper" (subscription):

An earlier version of this essay suggested people buy face masks to prepare for a coronavirus quarantine. We have removed that suggestion because the surgeon general on Saturday urged the public to stop buying masks.

That refers to this tweet:

6. World on edge: Fanless games
Start of Tokyo Marathon in 2019 (left) and today (right). Photos: Kyodo via Reuters, Charly Triballeau/Pool via Reuters

Pro sports leagues in Italy (soccer) and South Korea (basketball) are playing televised games in empty stadiums and arenas, rather than postponing or canceling them in response to the coronavirus. (AP)

  • Here's a list of sporting events that have been disrupted around the world, from archery to wrestling.

💋 "Friendly kissing poses European dilemma as virus spreads."

7. Laurene Powell Jobs: "I’m not interested in legacy wealth"
Photo: Michael Cohen/Getty Images

Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and president of the Emerson Collective (an investor in Axios), is exerting new influence with major stakes in The Atlantic and Monumental Sports (owner of Washington's Wizards, Mystics and Capitals), and is funding efforts on immigration, education and independent media.

She says in a "Corner Office" interview in today's New York Times that she has philanthropic plans for her entire fortune, some $27.5 billion:

She is a Silicon Valley billionaire, pushing back against the wealthy occupant of the White House. The very fact that such fortunes exist while others struggle to get by strikes her as unjust.
“It’s not right for individuals to accumulate a massive amount of wealth that’s equivalent to millions and millions of other people combined,” she said. “There’s nothing fair about that.” ...
“I inherited my wealth from my husband, who didn’t care about the accumulation of wealth,” she said. ...
“I’m not interested in legacy wealth buildings, and my children know that,” she added. “Steve wasn’t interested in that. If I live long enough, it ends with me.”

Keep reading (subscription).

8. 📺 1 fun thing
Photo: Will Heath/NBC via Getty Images

The "Saturday Night Live" cold open was a coronavirus press conference with a dash of a Democratic debate:

  • "Vice President Pence": "We've assembled a very experienced team of some of the best people left in government."
  • "Elizabeth Warren" to Mike Bloomberg: "I might be fifth in the polls, but I'm Number 1 in your nightmares."
  • "Joe Biden": "Guess who just kicked butt in South Cracker Barrel?"


Photo: Will Heath/NBC via Getty Images
Mike Allen

📬 Thanks for starting your week with us! Please tell a friend about AM/PM.