Joe Biden has had a nice couple of days for himself. His big win in the South Carolina primary — Biden’s first such victory in three presidential attempts — at least temporarily revived his sagging nomination hopes. His allies in the media have been celebrating, and his large donors have returned to the fold, at least for now.
Centrist campaign rivals Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg stepped out of the race Sunday, and the Democratic establishment was blinking the house lights at Amy Klobuchar like a bartender after last call: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. She took the hint on Monday afternoon and ended her campaign, as well.
Harry Reid and Beto O’Rourke jumped into the line of establishment Democrats who were dogpiling their endorsements of Biden’s campaign. On Monday night, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and O’Rourke joined Biden on stage at a Dallas rally in a jubilant show of “moderate” unity.
The point of this endorsement eruption, of course, was to slow the momentum of the Bernie Sanders campaign going in to Super Tuesday. The effort, however, may be too little, too late. To have a real impact today, those endorsements probably needed to happen a week ago, back when the Democratic establishment still couldn’t get out of its own way. A lot of people had already voted by the time the Biden parade began, and Sanders’s supporters likely won’t be swayed by endorsements from candidates Sanders has already defeated.
Notwithstanding Monday’s endorsement festival, the Biden campaign’s seeming surge back into relevance faces an entirely different and thoroughly daunting test today: The ongoing candidacy of Mike Bloomberg threatens to turn Super Tuesday into 40 miles of bad road for the former vice president.
Bloomberg has spent more than half a billion dollars to have an impact on Super Tuesday, and that impact may well be to damage Biden by splitting the “moderate” vote the way Klobuchar and Buttigieg did in the earlier contests. I very strongly suspect Bloomberg’s phones have been ringing holes in the table since lunchtime on Monday with establishment Democrats begging him to step aside and clear the way for Biden. I am not holding my breath on that one.
In South Carolina, Biden succeeded in part because of the help of Rep. James Clyburn, the esteemed long-time congressman and civil rights legend, who delivered an 11th-hour endorsement to Biden that made a powerful difference in his home state of South Carolina. Prior to that endorsement, the Biden campaign worried Democrats, and especially Black voters, would split their support between the numerous “centrist” candidates, similar to what had transpired in the previous three contests.
While Sanders and Warren did receive a portion of those votes, the Clyburn endorsement directed a clear majority to Biden. Exit polling on primary day indicates that Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden was an important, if not deciding factor for a large swath of those who cast a ballot. When the dust settled, Biden had secured a resounding 28-point victory over the field, and by Monday afternoon that field had been reduced by three.
Unfortunately for Biden, James Clyburn’s endorsement will not carry nearly as much weight in California, or Texas, or Massachusetts, or Virginia, or Colorado, or Minnesota, or any of the other Super Tuesday states where Sen. Bernie Sanders is outpolling him. As for the endorsements of Buttigieg and the others, none carry the weight of a Clyburn blessing. They won’t hurt, but their impact will not nearly be the same.
Having ignited a movement of progressives around the country, Sanders stands as the favored choice over establishment Biden, billionaire Bloomberg, and even fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren. There are 1,357 delegates up for grabs today, the most of any single day on the entire primary calendar, and Biden appears to be playing from behind in several key, delegate-rich states.
In the latest California poll, Biden does not even crack second place, lagging behind both Sanders and Bloomberg. Sanders also holds a strong polling lead in Texas, where again, Bloomberg is a factor. The 643 delegates from those two states alone could prove decisive if Sanders manages to secure the lion’s share.
The fact that Mike Bloomberg has become the Biden campaign’s most immediate problem is majestic evidence that the universe is not composed of stardust and dark matter, but of irony.
The only reason Bloomberg entered the race and started spraying his money to all points on the compass was because Biden’s candidacy appeared to be on the verge of collapse. The establishment wing of the Democratic Party began actively sniffing Bloomberg over, and even labored to downplay his myriad flaws as a candidate, in the event Biden’s campaign fell apart completely.
It did not, at least not yet. Now that Biden has regained some of his footing after South Carolina, the Frankenstein monster that is Bloomberg’s campaign is out of the lab and set to face the voters for the very first time. The departure of Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Steyer will likely help Biden to a degree, but Bloomberg’s presence on Super Tuesday’s ballots will harm him far more.
Bloomberg’s standing is not what it was at the beginning of last month, especially after his first debate debacle and an overdue national conversation regarding his blatant racism and sexism. Still, his half-billion-dollar national ad buy has made an undeniable dent in the polls, comprised almost entirely of would-be Biden voters. The size of that dent will likely determine how far behind Sanders the former vice president will find himself on Wednesday morning.
For Biden and the Democratic establishment, Bloomberg represents a number of panicky, gold-plated chickens coming home to roost. Bloomberg’s bit of presidential cosplay regarding the coronavirus, which aired on CBS Sunday night halfway through “God Friended Me,” suggests the former New York City mayor has no pressing intention to follow in Steyer, Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s footsteps. With his $60 billion fortune, he can campaign for another 10,000 years without seeing a measurable dip in his quality of life. His performance on Tuesday will weigh on his decision to remain in the race, but he is under no financial pressure to do anything other than what he wants to do.
The Sanders campaign comes into Super Tuesday in the same strong position it has enjoyed since the season began back in Iowa and New Hampshire. Sanders’s core supporters remain unwavering, and his fundraising prowess continues to be formidable. His closest progressive rival, Warren, comes off a poor South Carolina showing to face the very real prospect of defeat in her home state of Massachusetts. If Tuesday finds Warren encompassing a swath of second or third place finishes, her once-promising campaign may soon come to an end as well. If that happens, Warren will have an endorsement decision to make that could have a huge impact, for good or ill, on the Sanders campaign.
Biden, to be sure, has improved his standing for today’s contests. His South Carolina victory could give him a significant bounce, and the departure of Steyer, Klobuchar and Buttigieg may well help him. Biden’s biggest anchor has been his own perceived weakness combined with a wide field of “centrist” alternatives. With that field narrowed and a victory finally under his belt, Biden comes into Super Tuesday in better shape than anyone expected a month ago.
A large delegate haul will make it all but impossible for Biden or anyone else to keep Sanders from arriving at the convention with a majority of delegates. If Tuesday is kind to Biden, however, we are probably looking at a long, drawn-out primary fight and a messy convention to follow. Michigan, Missouri and Florida will vote in the next two weeks, and Bloomberg may continue to be a thorn in Biden’s side for those contests if he performs well today. For Biden, the field is not yet cleared.
This article has been updated.