As the votes were being counted on a Super Tuesday night that set up a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party between centrist Joe Biden and progressive Bernie Sanders, the rival contenders spoke within minutes of each other about the battle going forward.
Biden, surging on the strength of a Saturday win in the South Carolina primary and Monday night endorsements from former rivals Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke, began his Super Tuesday with Southern state wins powered by overwhelming support from African American voters. With those victories secured and more to come, the candidate celebrated a dramatic change in his political fortunes.
“For those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign!” an exuberant Biden told cheering supporters in Los Angeles. “Just a few days ago, the press and the pundits declared the campaign dead. And then came South Carolina, they had something to say about it! And we were told, well, when you got to Super Tuesday, it’d be over. Well, it may be over for the other guy.”
The former vice president was, indeed, having a super night—winning states where he had done little or no campaigning. He collected early-in-the-evening wins in Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In a remarkable comeback after painful losses in the first caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, he was suddenly on a roll.
Biden was beating a rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren, in her home state of Massachusetts; he was also winning the home state of a former rival who had just endorsed him, Minnesota Senator Klobuchar; and he was moving ahead in the state where he had held his audacious final rally with Klobuchar and O’Rourke: Texas. Yet Sanders had wins that could not be discounted. The senator, who began then night with a win in his home state of Vermont, picked up speed as polls began to close in Western states. The senator was declared the winner in Colorado and Utah and opened up a substantial lead in the delegate-rich state of California before the night was over.
In claiming his wins. Biden mocked his rival for proposing a political revolution, telling his backers, “People are talking about a revolution. We started a movement.”
But Sanders was having none of it. “We’re going to win because the people understand it is our campaign, our movement, which is best positioned to defeat Trump,” Sanders told a crowd of backers in Vermont. “You cannot beat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics.”
“What we need is a new politics that brings working-class people into our political movement,” he declared. “Which brings young people into our political movement. And which, in November, will create the highest voter turnout in American political history.”
The fight between Biden and Sanders will go on—to the major March primary states of Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and Arizona. Sanders and Biden still have opponents in this long race for the Democratic nomination. But on Tuesday night, their rivalry was eclipsing the candidacy of billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who was winning delegates in a number of the 14 states that voted Tuesday (and securing a victory in the territory of American Samoa) but who was falling short of expectations after mounting the most expensive primary campaign in history. And Elizabeth Warren was faced with the reality of a third-place finish in Massachusetts. There was plenty of speculation that the free-spending billionaire and the senator who exposed that billionaire’s weaknesses might each exit the competition.
But Sanders was not going anywhere. He must retool his campaign and message in ways that make him more competitive with primary rivals. But he will keep on fighting.
That was clear Tuesday night when the senator ticked off a long list of objections to his Biden’s record: “One of us in this race led the opposition to the war in Iraq. You’re looking at him. Another candidate voted for the war in Iraq. One of us has spent his entire life fighting against cuts in Social Security and wanting to expand Social Security. Another candidate has been on the floor of the Senate calling for cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ programs.”
Drawing a clear distinction between the political movement he leads and the “same old, same old” politics that Biden represents, Sanders announced to the rising cheers of his unbowed young supporters in Vermont: “ We’re not only taking on the corporate establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment.”