A weekend is a long time in American politics. Fresh from his landslide victory in South Carolina on Saturday, Joe Biden miraculously found the elusive “big mo” on Super Tuesday.
“He has gone in a week from being a joke to a juggernaut,” said a genuinely astonished Democratic commentator on CNN last night.
The momentum that proved so elusive to the 77-year-old former vice-president in the first three Democratic contests ground into gear after the endorsement of withdrawn candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.
Bernie Sanders, as forecast, won delegate-rich California but Biden triumphed in Texas, the other main prize of Super Tuesday, as well as Massachusetts, Arkansas, Minnesota, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia, leaving him with 450 delegates (and 47 per cent of the vote) to Sanders’ 376 (40 per cent). Sanders’ only other victories came in Utah, Colorado and his home state of Vermont.
A significant early triumph for Biden came in Minnesota where Sanders won convincingly against Hillary Clinton in 2016. This time, with the support of home senator Klobuchar, Biden defeated Sanders by 39 per cent to 30 per cent, despite spending no time or money campaigning there. In Massachusetts, Warren’s failure to break through made the state look ripe for Sanders from neighbouring Vermont. But again, it was Biden who won convincingly by 34 per cent to 27 per cent.
Biden has become the candidate that the anti-Trump movement is coalescing around. Exit polls had already indicated that Democratic voters were determined to pick a candidate who was thought most likely to beat Donald Trump in the November showdown than one who most represented their views on policy issues.
In his victory speech, Biden concentrated his fire entirely on Trump, appealing to Americans’ sense of themselves as a virtuous nation. “We are a decent, brave and resilient people,” he told cheering crowds. “We are better than this and we are better than this president. So let’s get back up and take this country back.”
The results suggest that the presidential ambitions of billionaire Michael Bloomberg are over. Despite spending an astonishing $500m on advertising and organisation, the media mogul underperformed across the board except in California (where he won 17 per cent of the vote). He was below 15 per cent – the minimum threshold for delegates – in most states. The question now is whether Bloomberg will deploy his 2,400-strong organisation and huge financial heft to help Biden push Sanders out of the race.
Tight-lipped Bloomberg staffers, flying back to New York last night, said only that they would consider their position in the morning. “He does not want Sanders to be the nominee” was all one aide would say. It is also assumed that Warren will now fall on her sword after winning just 48 delegates and 5 per cent of the vote.
The Biden breakthrough will provoke deep suspicion among Sanders’ passionate young supporters. They have long suspected a “stitch-up” by the Democrat establishment – fearful that the self-declared democratic socialist would be conspired against in smoke-filled rooms. However, it is hard to attribute Biden’s success to a conspiracy when the results last night came as an immense surprise to even well-informed onlookers. Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and one-time chair of the Democratic National Committee, appeared genuinely astonished by the results.
“Turnout in Virginia was up 68 per cent [on last time],” he pointed out, indicating a real enthusiasm for the veteran vice-president. “And if Biden can win in Texas, that would be astonishing.” Biden duly won Texas.