Joe Biden’s Historic Comeback

Democratic front-runner Joe Biden (center-left), campaigning in Detroit, Michigan, joins hands with former rivals, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris  (left) and Cory Booker (right), and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (center-right), March 9, 2020. 

A funny thing happened on the way to Super Tuesday. A week before the voting, Bernie Sanders was surging in momentum toward the Democratic presidential nomination. Having won the New Hampshire Primary and Nevada Caucuses (and having almost won the Iowa Caucuses), the senator from Vermont looked unstoppable. But the next vote was in South Carolina, where former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign turned the corner, beating Sanders 48 percent to about 20 percent. The win wasn’t so surprising, but the margin of victory was. Not only that, but rival candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar performed poorly and subsequently dropped out of the race.

The South Carolina primary, on Saturday, February 29, was the first in the South, and thus the first in which large numbers of African Americans voted. Their support of Biden, President Barack Obama’s vice president, gave him a significant edge. Biden’s victory attracted endorsements from Klobuchar and Buttigieg, among other Democrats. A “bandwagon effect” took place, and Sanders’s support began to erode. Then came March 3. On Super Tuesday, 14 states held primaries, including the nation’s two most-populous: California and Texas. Biden won 10 states. Each primary awards delegates for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on July 13–17. Because they are not “winner-take-all” races, even the second- and third-place finishers can pick up delegates. But candidates must win at least 15 percent or get no delegates at all.

The votes of African Americans, who make up a major part of the Democrats’ coalition, were key to Biden’s South Carolina and Super Tuesday wins. Another undeniable factor in the rally to Biden’s candidacy was a growing concern among more-moderate Democrats about Sanders’s embrace of “democratic socialism.” Worried that Sanders would have particular trouble defeating President Donald Trump in November, these Democrats mostly backed Biden.

After poor showings on Super Tuesday, billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren suspended their campaigns. Bloomberg then endorsed Biden. Primary voting resumed on March 10 in Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Washington. Biden again won the majority of the contests. Now the clear front-runner, he may be able to attain a majority of delegates prior to the convention. If Biden were to go on to win the presidency, his comeback may be remembered as one of the most amazing political achievements in American electoral history—right up there with that of the incumbent president he seeks to defeat.

Image credit: © Michitaka Kaiya/The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

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