Joe Biden dominated across the South on Tuesday and scored a dramatic upset victory in Texas while surprising in Minnesota and Massachusetts, roaring into contention in a Democratic presidential primary that increasingly looks like a two-way race between the former vice president and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Biden ended the night with nine wins and still locked in a tight race in Maine – another state he’d ignored – that could make 10.
And Sanders will wait to see if the day’s biggest prize, California, will allow him to catch or surpass Biden.
The number of delegates each candidate won is what matters, and it’ll take days or even weeks to sort through how they’ll be divvied up from the results of the 14 states and American Samoa, which account for a combined 34% of Democrats’ pledged delegates.
California counts all ballots postmarked by Election Day, extending the time it takes to report results, meaning the state’s impact on the Democrats’ delegate math won’t be clear anytime soon.
Meanwhile, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $560 million in ad spending this year turned out to be a bust, and his dismal showing prompted him to exit the race on Wednesday morning. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bid to navigate a middle course between Sanders and Biden didn’t fare much better, and the future of her campaign is a major question mark moving forward.
Here are five takeaways from Super Tuesday:
Biden rides the wave
Biden’s wins Tuesday were about pure momentum.
Until days ago, Biden’s campaign had limped along with little organization and lagging fundraising. He’d barely advertised in Super Tuesday states and didn’t have field offices in some of them. Sanders had more staffers on the ground in California than Biden did across the entire map.
None of that mattered. The knock-out blow he’d delivered several of his rivals with his victory Saturday in South Carolina turned into a wave of endorsements and media coverage that carried Biden to wins across the map.
Biden won five states he hadn’t even campaigned in. The biggest surprises might have been Minnesota and Massachusetts, which his campaign had barely contested. He visited Virginia once, had one field office in the state and spent $233,000 on ads there – yet he won 53% of Virginia’s vote, while Bloomberg, who held the first rally of his campaign there and spent $18 million on ads in the state, couldn’t break 10%.
His late blitz in Texas, with rallies Monday in Houston and Dallas punctuated by an endorsement from former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, helped him overcome Sanders’ advantage with Latinos and win Texas.
Biden demonstrated a base of support in the south, where African-American voters make up large shares of each state’s Democratic electorates, with wins in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, as well as heavily contested North Carolina. That bodes well for Biden in contests later this month in Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.
Biden’s big night has moved the Democratic race into a new phase, as he and Sanders prepare for a drawn-out delegate battle.
Biden builds a coalition
Across the map, a Biden coalition was emerging: African Americans, older voters and white suburbanites were backing him in overwhelming numbers.
It was a forceful demonstration of the breakneck speed at which Biden has consolidated Democrats’ moderate wing since Saturday night. Monday’s endorsements of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar – both of whom had appealed to Democrats in the suburbs – appeared to translate directly into votes from their supporters. In state after state, exit polls showed that Biden won overwhelmingly among voters who made their minds up in the last few days.
“People are talking about a revolution,” Biden said Saturday night in Los Angeles – on a basketball court at a recreational center off Obama Boulevard.
In a shot at Sanders, who has promised to bring new voters into the Democratic fold, Biden said: “We started a movement. We’ve increased turnout. They turned out for us!”
Sanders’ coalition of Latinos, younger voters, liberals and independents was harder to see immediately on Tuesday night, with California results still to come. But its relative strength will come into clearer focus soon.
Sanders’ night hinges on California
Sanders has a lead in California, which could ultimately deliver him the delegate bounty he needs to emerge from Super Tuesday with a lead over Biden.
But Biden’s victories in Minnesota and Massachusetts, two states that Sanders campaigned in during the final countdown to the vote, put a major damper on the Vermont senator’s night. Biden also bested Sanders in a close race in Texas, a state many expected Sanders to win by a clear margin.
And while Sanders had benefited from a fractured field in early contests, the moderate consolidation hurt him Tuesday.
Even a state like Colorado, where Sanders won a clear victory, could end up being a delegate muddle. Biden, Bloomberg and Warren all look likely to finish at above 15%, meaning they will split the at-large delegates.
Sanders will be further deflated a bit by losses in state he won back in 2016 – Oklahoma and Minnesota.
If he notches a significant win in California, the rest of the map might not seem so daunting. The question as the votes continue to be counted: Does Bloomberg, currently in third, and Warren, now in fourth, finish at or above 15% statewide.
If they don’t, Sanders could yet emerge from Super Tuesday with a lead over Biden.
Bloomberg entered the race on the belief that Biden would be too weak to take on Sanders. But on Tuesday, Biden surged and the former New York mayor collapsed – losing across the map while potentially helping Sanders and hurting Biden by siphoning off delegates that otherwise could have gone to the former vice president.
It’s a stunning turn of events for the Bloomberg campaign considering they spent over $230 million on ads alone in the Super Tuesday states and spent months leading into Super Tuesday touting his massive state-level organizations and racking up high-profile endorsements.
Tuesday night proved the limits of an endless advertising budget in an environment where campaign cove.
Bloomberg was below the 15% he needed to win delegates in many states, and the only contest he won outright was American Samoa, a US territory with just six delegates up for grabs.
Even Bloomberg and his top aides struggled to spin his performance on Tuesday.
“As the results come in, here is what is clear. No matter how delegates we win tonight, we have done something no one else thought was possible,” Bloomberg told supporters at his Tuesday night party in Florida, pointing to his ability to move himself beyond 1% in the polls.
Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s campaign manager, tried to downplay the importance of the biggest single day of the Democratic presidential race: “Tonight, only one-third of delegates will be allotted.”
It was in direct conflict with what Bloomberg’s campaign had said for three months. His aides had hyped Super Tuesday as the key test for Bloomberg and a moment for his campaign to flex its organizing muscle.
By Wednesday morning, Bloomberg acknowledged that the “delegate math has become virtually impossible – and a viable path to the nomination no longer exists.” He threw his support behind Biden, calling him a “friend and a great American.”
Warren’s harsh reality
The day of the New Hampshire primary, Warren campaign manager Roger Lau published a memo mapping out her road to the nomination. She would finish in the top two in eight of the 14 states that voted Tuesday, he said, and would hit the 15% necessary to pick up at-large statewide delegates in all but one.
The harsh reality for Warren is that she is unlikely to come close to hitting those targets.
Warren’s campaign has been premised for weeks on the idea that winning states outright should take a back seat to amassing delegates on the way to this summer’s national convention in Milwaukee.
But on Tuesday, Warren not only failed to win a single contest – including her home state, where she finished third behind Biden and Sanders – but appears unlikely to hit the 15% mark in more than a few states.
Now, Warren will have to assess her path forward.
A top Democrat and Warren confidant said she deserved the time to come to a decision on her own and shouldn’t be pushed from the race. But the reality is clear: She has no path.
“There is no path forward for her,” the top Democrat said Tuesday night. “It’s beneath her to remain” in the race.
In a fundraising email to supporters late Tuesday night, the campaign urged calm and caution.
“Fourteen states voted today and results are still coming in from all across the country. In fact, we might not know the full results from states like Texas, California, and Colorado for a few days,” the email read. “Delegates have to be counted and allocated by congressional district or state senate district, and that process takes time.”
This story has been updated to reflect that Bloomberg has dropped out.