Chris Cillizza’s winners and losers from Super Tuesday
Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg spoke to supporters on Super Tuesday as the results trickled in.
The biggest day of the 2020 Democratic presidential race — with more than a 1,300 delegates at stake in 14 states and American Samoa — is behind us.
While Super Tuesday votes continue to be counted in California, and Maine is still too close to call, there are still clearly winners and losers from the first truly national (or close to it) election of the primary fight. Below, my picks.
* Joe Biden: The turnaround in the former vice president’s fortunes is absolutely remarkable. Prior to his victory in South Carolina on Saturday night, Biden had won a total of zero primaries and caucuses in his three runs for president. In the 96 hours between Saturday night and Tuesday night, he won 10! Biden’s strongest pillar of support remained, as it was in South Carolina, African American voters, who propelled him to surprisingly easy wins in Virginia and North Carolina. But he also clearly benefited from the momentum handed to him by South Carolina — as late deciders and those prizing a nominee who can beat President Donald Trump flocked to him in droves. The race isn’t over yet, as Biden seems likely to now engage in an extended delegate fight with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But the former VP is in a stronger position today than anyone — including him! — could have even imagined a few days ago.
* Pete Buttigieg/Amy Klobuchar: It’s very hard to quantify just how big a difference the decisions by the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and Minnesota senator to a) drop out of the presidential race and b) endorse Biden, all within the space of about 24 hours on Sunday/Monday, made on the results on Super Tuesday. But it’s also hard to see how Biden sweeps to such a convincing set of victories across the country if both Buttigieg and Klobuchar are still on the ballot and siphoning off pieces of the moderate/establishment/pragmatist vote. If Biden does wind up winning the nomination and then the White House in the fall, he’ll look to the endorsements from Buttigieg and Klobuchar as a turning point — and want to thank them accordingly. Hello, Cabinet!
*Mo/Joe-mentum: Sanders, as well as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, all spent more money, had larger organizations and spent more time in this slew of Super Tuesday states than Biden did. There were states where Biden barely set foot and simply didn’t have enough money to have a large organization or even run TV ads. (Biden spent just over $2 million on TV ads in Super Tuesday states; Bloomberg spent $234 million.) And yet, Biden wound up drastically overperforming almost everywhere on Super Tuesday — including in places like Massachusetts, where polling conducted before his South Carolina win showed him in single-digits! Biden’s Super Tuesday rise is a testament to the power of momentum in campaigns — especially in a race like this one where voters (or at least those not already aligned with Sanders) seemed to lack any clear sense of who they should be with through the first month of the race.
* African American voters: If Biden winds up as the Democratic nominee, he owes a massive debt of gratitude to black voters, who stuck with him through the doldrums of February when he often looked like he was only a day or two from dropping out, and propelled him to the massive comeback that began in South Carolina on Saturday and continued in places likes Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina on Tuesday. In each of those states, Biden won a majority of the black vote — and it carried him to decisive wins in states where other candidates (Bloomberg and Sanders, to name two) believed they had a path to victory. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the contested Democratic presidential races of 2008 and 2016, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton eventually emerged victorious because they were the preferred candidate of a majority of black Democrats.
* Michael Bloomberg: Bloomberg spent $234 million in the 14 Super Tuesday states. He doesn’t appear likely to win a single one. And his victory in the territory of American Samoa is cold comfort when faced with that stark reality. Bloomberg will get some delegates out of Super Tuesday, yes, but there were a number of states where his team believed he could win — Virginia and Arkansas being two — where he got absolutely wiped out by Biden. “Here’s what is clear: no matter how many delegates we win tonight, we have done something no one thought was possible,” said Bloomberg in a speech early in the night. “In just three months, we’ve gone from 1% in the polls to being a contender for the Democratic nomination for president.” Eh … remember that the entire premise of Bloomberg’s candidacy was that Biden was too weak to win the primary. So now that Biden has ripped through the Super Tuesday map and effectively destroyed the “he can’t win” narrative, what does Bloomberg do next? Reportedly, he’s trying to figure out if he’s got a next act.
* Bernie Sanders: First, the good: Sanders won in Vermont, Utah and Colorado and he’s ahead comfortably right now in California with almost half of the votes counted. He seems likely to pick up delegates in virtually every state. Now for the bad news: The Sanders team has quite clearly hoped that Super Tuesday was the day on which he effectively seized the nomination, building a delegate lead substantial enough that no one could catch him — whether or not he got to that magic number of 1,991 to clinch the nomination. While California is still counting votes, that now seems very unlikely to happen. Losses to Biden in places like Texas, Minnesota and Massachusetts, which all seemed like certain wins just days ago, are body blows. And now, Sanders finds himself in a protracted delegate knife-fight with Biden. Which he could win! But is a very different path than Sanders was hoping to travel over these next few months.
* Elizabeth Warren: Not only did Warren finish third — behind Biden and Sanders — in her home state of Massachusetts, but she drastically underperformed the expectations her campaigns set for her in a memo on Super Tuesday released last month. “Warren is poised to finish in the top two in over half of Super Tuesday states (eight of 14), in the top three in all of them, and is on pace to pick up at-large statewide delegates in all but one,” wrote campaign manager Roger Lau in the memo, which was posted on Medium. Warren didn’t come anywhere close to that sort of rosy prediction. While Warren still has plenty of money to carry on through March, the question that now has to be asked is: To what end? She seems unlikely to now accrue enough delegates to be a major player in a brokered convention, and the longer she stays in the primaries, the more votes she takes from Sanders — her fellow liberal left standing.
* TV ads: Buying lots and lots of TV ads (also known as “paid media”) is one way to get voters’ attention. And it can be effective — especially when you have the airwaves to yourself. Witness Bloomberg’s rapid rise from 0% to double-digits in both national and Super Tuesday state polling during January and February. But the power of paid media pales in comparison to the reach and influence of positive attention from the mainstream media (aka “free media”) of the sort Biden got with his one-two punch of a South Carolina win and then the twin endorsements from Buttigieg and Klobuchar. That storyline drove the idea that Biden was rapidly becoming the establishment pick — the guy who could stop Sanders and beat Trump. Which overwhelmed (and made up for) the massive paid media deficit for Biden. As this amazing chart shows, Biden has only outspent Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on TV ads in the campaign to date!