Joe Biden's stunning surge
By the time all the Super Tuesday votes are counted across 14 states, former vice president Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will likely be neck-and-neck in the delegate count, or one might have slightly bested the other. But the biggest story of the night by far will have been Biden's stunning surge.
One month ago, Biden fell off a polling cliff, plummeting from the high 20s in national polls to the mid-teens. He finished fourth in Iowa and came in a distant fifth in New Hampshire. No modern candidate with results like that has gone on to win a presidential nomination. He seemed dead in the water. And after Sanders ran away with the Nevada caucuses, it seemed for a few days like the Democratic Party was preparing to nominate a democratic socialist with the self-financed campaign of billionaire Michael Bloomberg the only thing that could stop him.
But all that has changed in the past week. From South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn's endorsement of Biden last Wednesday to Biden's resounding 48.4 percent victory in the state's primary on Saturday to former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden over the intervening days to a series of strongly favorable polls on Monday and Tuesday, all signs pointed toward a dramatic turn of events. And on Tuesday night that sense was verified in spades.
Biden didn't just win in the South — in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia — where he was widely expected to do very well with African American voters, as he had in South Carolina. He also prevailed in Oklahoma, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, showing he could do well in states with whiter electorates in very different regions of the country. As of midnight, he was also fighting Sanders to a virtual tie in Maine and had begun to pull into the lead in Texas.
Measured in delegates, Sanders was likely to have a good night as well — with wins in Colorado, Utah, and the biggest delegate prize of them all, California. On the other hand, after such an unexpectedly robust showing on Super Tuesday, Biden would be a strong favorite in several upcoming contests in large states over the next two months, including Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. Biden accomplished what appeared to be impossible just over a week ago: he brought himself back from the dead.
But that's not all. Biden's unexpected resurrection also shredded a series of assumptions that have long prevailed among pundits and other political prognosticators.
Biden showed that Iowa and New Hampshire don't need to matter at all. We've seen candidates skip Iowa, fail to win New Hampshire, and then go on to secure their party's nomination. But competing in both, finishing fourth and fifth, and then ending up the frontrunner? That's unheard of — and it calls into question not just whether those two small and unrepresentative states should come first on the calendar, but whether the way they vote deserves outsized attention at all.
Biden also showed that money doesn't matter as much as many of us tend to assume it does. The Biden campaign was outspent 7-to-1 by the Sanders camp and an astonishing 100-to-1 by the Bloomberg juggernaut in the states that competed on Super Tuesday — and yet Biden beat Sanders in lots of places and bested Bloomberg almost everywhere.
The same could even be said for campaigning itself. Biden barely campaigned at all in several of the states he won on Tuesday — and he had just one field office in the state of Virginia, which he won with 53.3 percent of the vote! (Sanders came in second there with 23.1 percent.)
But perhaps most surprising of all after the Trump insurgency of 2016 and the apparent Democratic chaos of the past couple of months, Biden's remarkable reversal of fortune this past week shows that the party decides presidential nominations after all — or at least it can still do so when the stakes are sufficiently high and leading members of the party resolve to intervene. Tuesday's results simply couldn't have happened had the institutional party not engaged in an astoundingly rapid act of consolidation — against Sanders and in favor of Biden.
Whatever the final tally turns out to be, we will be learning the lessons of Joe Biden's spectacular comeback on Super Tuesday 2020 for a long time to come.