Sometimes being the underdog is better than being the front runner. Joe Biden just found that out.
Biden consistently over-performed expectations in the 14 states voting on Super Tuesday yesterday. States that no one expected he would win, like Minnesota and Massachusetts, fell in his lap. He owes Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) a big thank you for that victory.
He swept the Southern states, bolstered by his strong support from black voters. And in states where he came in second to Bernie Sanders, the margin was far closer than anyone predicted.
Biden is turning out to be the Lazarus of candidates. He came back from the political dead to stage a remarkable surge at the last minute. Buoyed by endorsements from former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Biden has emerged as the (relatively) moderate alternative to Sanders. More importantly, he seems to have the momentum to keep building on his Tuesday successes.
It’s not as if Sanders tanked. He did well in California, but that was expected. (Also, many voters there cast ballots early, before Biden’s surge after his South Carolina victory.) Sanders also won Colorado and Utah, as well as his home state of Vermont.
But what was revealing was that in other states, Sanders appeared to hit a ceiling, in the 25 percent to 30 percent range. Even in states he won, the numbers weren’t stellar. He won a bit more than a third of the vote in Colorado. By contrast, in Virginia Biden won more than half.
The results made it clear that the race was down to two candidates. In a warning sign for Sanders, exit polls found that last-minute voters broke far more than in Biden’s favor than Sanders’s.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) came in a humiliating third in her home state, putting pressure on her to bow out. As for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, his wan showing (he won American Samoa!) suggests that the $500 million he spent on his campaign ads would have been better spent on lottery tickets.
That leaves Sanders and Biden to fight it out for the direction of the party. Up until last night, there was good reason to think that the battle would extend all the way to the convention floor in Milwaukee this July.
But after last night, maybe not so much. Sanders’ nomination scares the bejeezus out of a lot of Democrats, enough so that the moderate-to-liberal wing was willing to put aside its dithering to try to push Biden off the line.
At the same time, Sanders’s claim that he can expand voter turnout wasn’t on display last night. He has a committed core of supporters, but hasn’t shown that he can make inroads with other groups of Democrats.
Many Democrats are panicked that Sanders – a socialist who had a heart attack last year – presents a lot of easy targets for Trump. It’s true that the senator from Vermont has never undergone a national campaign, and with his past flirtation with left-wing regimes, he’s open to a lot of negative ads.
That may be why voters are coming around to Biden. Electability is the issue that Democratic voters have been grappling with all through the campaign season. They may have decided that for all his flaws – and he has no shortage of flaws – Biden is the Democrats’ best chance to defeat Trump.