Washington (AFP) – For a candidate left for dead just weeks ago, Joe Biden has scored a dramatic comeback in the Democratic White House race, capped by victories over chief rival Bernie Sanders in a majority of the 14 states contested on Super Tuesday.
After going zero for three in the first early voting contests last month, Biden’s White House hopes were suddenly revived with early projected wins in major southern battlegrounds Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama.
He went on to score wins in Tennessee, Arkansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and rival Elizabeth Warren’s state of Massachusetts.
“They haven’t buried me yet,” the 77-year-old former vice president told ecstatic supporters in Los Angeles.
“I’m here to report, we are very much alive!”
Despite being heavily outspent by Sanders and with only patchwork organization on the ground in some states, Biden claimed what he cheekily called the “#Joementum” in a tweet.
But he hardly has a cakewalk to the Democratic nomination and the right to face Donald Trump in November.
He must out-duel Sanders, the self-declared democratic socialist, in a battle for a majority of the delegates who formally pick the nominee at the party convention in July.
Sanders, 78, seized the early advantage by securing the most votes in Iowa, which kicked off the race, and the next two states.
He claimed victories Tuesday in Colorado, Utah, his home state of Vermont, and was projected by exit polls to win California, the largest US state, with its motherlode of 415 delegates at stake.
In Texas, the night’s second biggest prize with 228 delegates, Biden looked set to break even or narrowly defeat Sanders.
If Biden also stays competitive in California, he may well be the delegate leader by the time the Super Tuesday dust settles, showing he is able to build a broad coalition of voters.
“Maybe not quite the equal of Lazarus,” veteran television anchor Dan Rather tweeted, “but I haven’t seen a political back-from-the-dead story quite like Joe Biden’s.”
– Firewall –
From the start, Biden’s campaign expressed confidence they could bounce back from poor showings in early states and win the 1,991 delegates necessary to secure the nomination outright.
It would be a first. No candidate has placed below second in both Iowa and New Hampshire, as Biden did in February, and won the nomination.
Biden appeared disengaged early on. While key rivals like senators Sanders, Warren and Amy Klobuchar were locked in Washington for Trump’s impeachment trial, Biden failed to capitalize on his natural advantage when he could have barnstormed Iowa virtually unchallenged.
He came in fourth.
Biden then virtually conceded New Hampshire, and finished a shock fifth.
In Nevada he was runner up to Sanders, and when a supporter there shouted that Biden was the “comeback kid,” it rang hollow.
His poll numbers collapsed. Late entrant Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, ramped up his half-billion-dollar advertising campaign in Super Tuesday states.
With Sanders surging and Democratic grandees openly worried about a socialist facing Trump, the establishment scrambled to galvanize around a centrist candidate.
Then came Biden’s firewall of South Carolina, where the majority of Democratic voters are African American.
Biden has a deep history with black voters, who respect his eight years as deputy to popular president Barack Obama. They came through for him Saturday in a big way, propelling him to a comprehensive victory.
South Carolina forced other moderates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to drop out and endorse Biden, joining a parade of Democratic leaders consolidating around him.
It paid off. Biden won Virginia — with 99 delegates at stake — taking 53 percent of the vote, 30 points ahead of Sanders.
In North Carolina (110 delegates) Biden scored an 18-point victory, while in Alabama (52 delegates), Biden’s winning margin over second-place Sanders topped 45 percentage points.
Biden’s camp, and his supporters, kept a wary eye on Bloomberg and his ballot debut Tuesday. But the billionaire finished third or fourth in most states.
“I was worried a week ago,” 67-year-old Biden supporter Jose Marroquin admitted to AFP in Los Angeles.
Not any more, he said: “The other candidates have dropped off, and the people who have more experience in government are coming out in support” of Biden.