Former Vice President Joe Biden grabbed huge early victories on Super Tuesday, winning the prized Virginia and North Carolina Democratic primaries and also adding Alabama and Tennessee, CNN projects, confirming that his comeback momentum is for real on the most crucial night yet in the 2020 election.
Front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders, as expected, won his home state of Vermont and later added Colorado, CNN projects, and aides are warning that his fortunes will look better later in the night when results roll in from Texas and California, the states with the two biggest delegate hauls.
And now the two veteran candidates could be set for a showdown in the Lone Star State as they battle for Texas’ 228 delegates.
Biden’s big early wins enshrine one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern political history. A week ago, his campaign was running on empty after poor showings in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. But a massive win in Saturday’s South Carolina primary now appears to have triggered a rebound that appears to be expanding in the 14 states that voted on Tuesday.
Virginia was seen as a significant test of Biden’s strength against former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is facing voters for the first time in the 14 nationwide primaries after a half-billion-dollar advertising blitz. The results in Alabama and North Carolina will confirm the former vice president’s strength among African American and affluent suburban voters on whom he is basing his campaign.
Sanders and Biden are the early leaders in Minnesota, Maine and Oklahoma and the two are also in the early lead in Massachusetts along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is hoping for a win in her home state.
Voting also took place Tuesday in Democratic primaries in Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee and Utah.
Early Super Tuesday projections and results suggested a disappointing night could be in store for Bloomberg and Warren, who both need to make a statement to have a rationale for staying in the race. As votes are counted, both rivals were looking to vault the 15% threshold needed to win delegates in several states.
Bloomberg got one piece of cheerful news, winning the territory of American Samoa to open his delegate count.
Sanders is looking to Texas and California — the biggest prizes on a night when a third of the total delegates needed to win the nomination are up for grabs. It will likely be hours — or even days in the case of the Golden State — until those states can be called.
The key question on Tuesday is whether Biden’s momentum can counter the behemoth of a campaign that Sanders has spent years building. In money, organization and advertising in Super Tuesday states, Sanders is in a far better position than the ex-vice president.
But Biden’s wave of momentum built over the last few days may end up being a big factor. CNN exit polls show nearly half of Democratic voters in Virginia made up their minds in the last few days. Nearly 3 in 10 Democratic voters in North Carolina said the same, and about 4 in 10 Democratic voters in both states said they had made up their minds before February.
Late deciders and black voters break for Biden
Since his thumping victory in South Carolina on Saturday, Biden has enjoyed one of the most impressive streaks by a modern presidential candidate. He’s consolidated the center of his party after his sudden revival caused top rivals — former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — to quit and endorse him. Establishment Democrats are rushing to endorse him and the once-dry fundraising spigot is suddenly gushing.
From the moment polls closed on Tuesday, Biden began racking up wins.
A mix of affluent suburban voters in the Washington suburbs and African American voters downstate was a good fit for Biden in Virginia, a battleground won twice by former President Barack Obama. But it was a state where Bloomberg had high hopes of making an impact, and Biden’s success may be a bad omen for the financial data billionaire, whose entire campaign is premised on the idea that the former vice president cannot win the nomination.
Biden’s projected victory in North Carolina came from voters who decided in the last few days, black voters, and those who prefer a candidate who can beat Trump in November.
According to early exit polls, around 3 in 10 Democratic voters in North Carolina decided who to vote for in the last few days. Almost 3 in 5 of those voters supported Biden — suggesting that the departures of Buttigieg and Klobuchar helped consolidate voters behind the former vice president.
Black voters voted for Biden in strong numbers in North Carolina, around 6 in 10. In Alabama, Biden carried black voters, moderates and voters whose priority is to beat Trump in 2020. Democratic black voters in Alabama, who made up almost half of the electorate, supported Biden in huge numbers, around 7 in 10, according to early exit polls. Sanders trailed behind with 1 in 7 black voters, and Mike Bloomberg won around 1 in 10.
In Texas, the second biggest prize of the night, a quarter of Democratic primary voters only made up their minds in the last few days — and Biden drew 2 in 5 of those voters. But three quarters of those Texas Democrats decided who to support much earlier, and a third of those supported Sanders, the most of any candidate.
In Minnesota, half of late-deciding voters went for Biden.
There are 1,300 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday, a third of the total delegates. A candidate needs 1,991 pledged delegates to win the nomination on a first convention ballot. There are no winner-take-all states and any candidate who receives more than 15% of the vote in a state will win delegates to July’s convention in Milwaukee.
Polls in the 14 states started closing at 7 p.m. ET. Voting in California continues until 11 p.m. ET.
Given the vast geographic span of the Super Tuesday Election Day, it’s unlikely there will be a total picture of the situation at the end of the night. The Golden State could, for instance, take days or even weeks to sort out its delegate allocation.
Sanders ready for fight with party establishment
Sanders reacted to Buttigieg and Klobuchar coalescing around Biden by suggesting that the “political establishment is getting nervous” while at a rally on Monday night on Klobuchar’s home turf in Minnesota.
While calling Biden a “decent guy” and a “friend,” the Vermont senator savaged his former colleague’s record on issues like China trade, bankruptcy laws, NAFTA and the war in Iraq.
But Biden drove home his message that after a turbulent three years of Trump’s administration, Americans are not looking for more disruption that he says would result from a Sanders win.
“My message is people are not looking for revolution. They’re looking for results. I have the most extensive, successful record of getting big things done and big things passed,” Biden said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
But Warren warned that Biden’s pitch was simply about restoring a political order that had spurned working class Americans.
“Nominating someone who wants to restore the world before Donald Trump, when the status quo has been leaving more and more people behind for decades, is a big risk for our party and our country,” Warren said at a rally in Los Angeles on Monday.
As he waits to see how voters will embrace his campaign after skipping the first four nominating contests, Bloomberg took a shot at Warren, who blasted him in their debate encounters.
“I didn’t realize she’s still in. Is she?” Bloomberg said to CNN’s Cristina Alesci. Asked how he expected to perform on Tuesday night, he added, “I think we are going to do very well — looking forward to it.”
Warren and Bloomberg look ahead on disappointing nights
Warren and Bloomberg knew they had to have big nights to regain some momentum, but early returns from key states failed to give the news their campaigns needed. Still, both appeared set to keep pushing forward.
Warren and her team knew they weren’t having a good night, but a top Democrat close to the campaign said they are keeping their eyes — and pinning their fading hopes — on California. Two things will determine her future: whether she can be viable in Texas and whether she can show more strength in Massachusetts.
Advisers told CNN she wants to stay in the race to be an alternative to Sanders and Biden, if this becomes a three-way contest.
“She wants to be on the debate stage in Arizona as an alternative choice,” the top Democrat close to the Warren campaign said, but added that the “delegate math is looking increasingly tough.”
Warren has no bundlers and big donors, so her advisers believe she is less beholden to calls to drop out. But she does need money, which will be difficult to raise if Tuesday is a major disappointment.
Bloomberg took the stage for his first election night party of the 2020 cycle and quickly lowered expectations.
“As the results come in, here is what is clear,” he said. “No matter how many delegates we win tonight, we have done something no one else thought was possible.”
He added: “In just three months, we have gone from 1% in the polls to be a contender for the Democratic nomination for President.”
The line from the former New York mayor reflects a reality setting in for Bloomberg’s team: Tuesday night did not go as planned.