Politics

Biden edges out Sanders in delegate race for front-runner status

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, are vying for the lead on Super Tuesday. NBC News photo

This story was updated.

Former Vice President Joe Biden continued his comeback in the Democratic presidential race on Super Tuesday, scoring upsets in 10 states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas, and cementing himself as the moderate alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Sanders won California, the largest Super Tuesday state, and scored smaller victories in Vermont, Utah and Colorado. Polls in recent days showed Biden doing well enough to keep Sanders from dominating the number of delegates won and setting up a head-to-head battle to win the nomination.

In the end, Biden not only won more states, but also had a decisive lead in the race for delegates with 385, compared with 325 for Sanders, according to the New York Times. Bloomberg came in at a distant third, and Warren finished fourth.

The turnaround was dramatic. Biden, who fared poorly in the first three contests, revived his campaign with a 30-point win in the South Carolina primary last weekend. He benefited Tuesday from a concerted effort by the Democratic Party establishment to stop Sanders, which led two moderate rivals, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, to drop out of the race just before Super Tuesday to coalesce around Biden.

“I am here to report we are very much alive,” Biden said Tuesday night in a speech from Los Angeles.

North Carolina and Virginia, with 110 and 99 delegates, were the two biggest prizes after California (415) and Texas (228), and networks called the races for Biden shortly after the polls closed, indicating a large win. Biden dominated among black voters in the South, which was also a weakness for Sanders in his loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Sanders was considered the front-runner after winning in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and he led Biden in delegates prior to Super Tuesday, 60-54. Buttigieg had 26 delegates with a strong showing in Iowa, Klobuchar had 7, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren had 8. Party leaders feared Sanders was too radical to defeat President Donald Trump.

Super Tuesday is key. More than one-third of the delegates contested in the Democratic nomination — 1,357 — were up for grabs. Delegates are divided among the candidates who gain at least 15% based on how well they do. 

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Massachusetts was expected to be a race between Sanders and Warren, but Biden ended up winning the state, which awards 91 delegates. Despite finishing third in her home state, Warren asked supporters for their continued support Tuesday night with six more primaries just a week away.

The race in Texas was also closer than expected compared to a week ago, when Sanders was leading. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke endorsed Biden recently and in the end the former vice president garnered 33.4% of the vote, beating Sanders who came in at 29.9%. 

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has spent $500 million of his own money after skipping the earlier contests, almost swept American Samoa, winning 5 delegates while Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard picked up one.

CNN also reported that Biden had won Alabama, as expected, where 52 delegates were at stake. The Associated Press reported Biden won Oklahoma, with 37 delegates up for grabs, and Minnesota, Klobuchar’s home state, with 75 delegates.

Polls had Sanders up a week ago in Minnesota and he had hoped to deliver Klobuchar a knock-out blow by winning the primary before she dropped out and endorsed Biden. Sanders had just visited the state on Monday and political analysts called the Minnesota win for Biden perhaps the most significant.

Biden also won Arkansas, which has 31 delegates, and Tennessee, with 64 delegates, as expected.

Colorado went for Sanders, with 67 delegates to be apportioned, according to AP. He also won Utah, with 29 delegates, according to CBS News.

Sanders also won easily in Vermont, getting more than 50 percent of the vote, but Biden finished with 22 percent. Candidates must win at least 15 percent in Democratic primaries to win delegates — under the party rules, Biden could pick up 5 of the 16 Vermont delegates at stake.

Maine was also considered too close to call with Biden and Sanders leading.

The bump from South Carolina and the other candidates dropping out could put Biden in the lead for delegates at the end of Super Tuesday, according to several scenarios outlined by the FiveThirtyEight, which put Biden’s chances of winning the nomination with a majority of delegates higher than Sanders’ right before Super Tuesday. (The most likely outcome was no one would have a majority by the convention.)

In a statement, the Trump campaign said the results increased the likelihood of a brokered convention, “which only means more chaos!”

“The media is hyperventilating about Joe Biden but everyone should remember that he is just as terrible a candidate right now as he was a few days ago. At the same time, establishment Democrats have ganged up to try to deny Bernie Sanders the nomination, which is causing even more mayhem.”

“President Trump will wipe the floor with whatever Democrat is unlucky enough to be the nominee,” the campaign said.

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Mark Johnson

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