Late last week, we highlighted decisive polling movement toward Joe Biden in South Carolina -- noting that if anything, the final polling average might understate his final margin because Palmetto State Democratic polling often shortchanges the candidate who enjoys the most support among older black voters. Sure enough, former Vice President Joe Biden rode a wave of momentum and a key, well-timed endorsement to score a thumping victory over the rest of the 2020 field on Saturday. The polling average on election day predicted a Biden win by roughly 15 points; he won by more than 28 points, crushing everyone. Bernie Sanders finished a distant second and was the only other candidate to secure any delegates at all. An ebullient Biden delivered a strong, smart speech in front of cheering supporters, celebrating the clear high mark of his candidacy to date. Indeed, this was his first primary or caucus win over the course of his three presidential runs:
"You launched Bill Clinton, Barack Obama to the presidency. Now you launched our campaign."— ABC News (@ABC) March 1, 2020
In a rousing victory speech, Joe Biden thanked his South Carolina supporters—and said voters were looking for "results" over promises of revolution. Watch: https://t.co/Y6Uzsyoy2s pic.twitter.com/ccTp1gkACv
The impressive breadth of Biden's triumph made a real statement, a mirror image of Bernie's dominance in Nevada:
Really short SC exit poll analysis -> Biden won a ton of groups, while Sanders won 17-29 year-olds and people who never go to church. See more results in our excellent graphic --> https://t.co/0lhEJYDVEO pic.twitter.com/2fhbE9RnRy— Scott Clement (@sfcpoll) March 1, 2020
But this, right here, is how he notched such a resounding win:
Updated exit poll, with more interviews conducted has African Americans at 57% of the SC Dem electorate, voting:— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) March 1, 2020
The South Carolina electorate looked very different -- many more African Americans, moderates, and religious people -- than any of the previous states in the process. Biden ran up the score among blacks and lapped his competitors. This over-performance from the former Vice President has other implications, as well: It creates a narrative about Biden being the only Democrat who can maximize crucial black turnout in a general election, while further damaging Sanders' argument that he is uniquely (or at all) capable of turning out new or low-propensity supporters to defeat Trump. Expect anti-Bernie Democrats to make these points loudly and repeatedly for the next 24 hours:
This is really important. Bernie’s promise to turn out a wave of new voters to vote for him hasn’t happened. The state with massive turnout was the one Biden won. And it has mainly been up in the suburbs elsewhere. https://t.co/m0UGFzV1Pw— Ben LaBolt (@BenLaBolt) March 1, 2020
Perhaps most importantly -- even though everyone but Tom Steyer and Pete Buttigieg insisted they'll stay in the race through at least tomorrow's Super Tuesday results (Team Warren appears to be digging in for a long winless streak, with an eye toward the convention) -- there are signs of an emerging anti-Sanders consolidation getting underway among supporters and donors:
Bundlers backing the former vice president’s campaign told CNBC that they are seeing a surge in big money commitments in the wake of Saturday’s apparent blowout victory in the Palmetto State. Fundraisers looking to help Biden secure resources for Tuesday, when 14 states hold primaries, got what they were looking for in the buildup to South Carolina and throughout Saturday. According to people with direct knowledge of the matter, Biden’s bundlers lured donors who had been backing Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. They also grabbed support from donors who had been uncommitted, these people added. These wealthy donors are now willing to give up to the max amount of $2,800 to Biden’s campaign, which has struggled at times to raise cash. “Money has been pouring in. And now it will really pour. Voters now understand that a vote for anyone other than Biden is a vote for Bernie Sanders,” Florida-based businessman John Morgan, a Biden bundler, told CNBC after his candidate’s big win. “I have been inundated with emails today.”
Buttigieg's exit almost certainly helps Biden, and unlike other non-Bernie alternatives in the race, polling shows that Biden is at least theoretically viable against the Vermont Socialist in a one-on-one dynamic. Biden has pushed into second place in the overall delegate tally and has edged ahead in the overall popular vote. But tomorrow's votes in 14 states could change everything all over again. Biden's smashing victory is likely to buoy him in the South, and could pull momentum in his favor elsewhere. But Sanders' base realizes that they have a major fight on their hands and will be motivated to turn out. Recent public opinion surveys show Sanders leading consistently in Texas (228 pledged delegates), and up big in California (415 pledged delegates). Winning both of those states would be a major accomplishment for Sanders, who is also well-positioned to rake in delegates from other Super Tuesday contests (including in delegate-rich Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts).
A dominant performance in California could be huge for Bernie, and might any pro-Biden movement after South Carolina be blunted by early voting? Quite possibly, but Politico reports that a substantial number of anti-Sanders voters have hung on to their ballots in order to assess the lay of the land following the 'First Four' contests:
Despite his weak polling in California, there’s a silver lining emerging for Joe Biden in the biggest delegate prize on the board next week. Biden’s weakness after a distant second finish in Nevada could have compelled Californians who have been voting since the Iowa caucuses to support a moderate alternative who was doing better at the time. But there's a big upside for Biden: A huge number of them haven't voted yet. The portion of returned ballots at this stage is much lower than in recent elections — and his campaign is counting on a late surge of support among those holdouts after his dominant performance on Saturday. Paul Mitchell, an elections expert who has tracked the number of returned vote-by-mail California ballots through Friday, told POLITICO he’s seen a significant drop-off among Democratic voters to date from the last two California presidential primaries. And the decline in returned ballots so far is occurring among the most dedicated voters: Those who have participated in the last five elections.
If these voters decide en masse to rally behind Biden, the former Vice President could eat into Sanders' margins in the Golden State. Anything other than a Bernie win in California would be shocking, but denying Sanders a giant trove of pledged delegates will be a major storyline tomorrow night...and beyond, due to the state's extremely slow results-counting process. The knife fight over delegates is underway all across the map:
CNN's @jeffzeleny reports that Bidenworld WANTS Warren and Klobuchar to stay in the race so they can deny Bernie a haul of delegates in MN/MA.— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) March 1, 2020
Delegate math, boys and girls.
The biggest remaining X-factor is Michael Bloomberg, whose name will appear on ballots for the first time tomorrow. Will he be relevant in the delegate count? Will be mostly play a spoiler role? Or will he fizzle into irrelevance, having set at least half-a-billion dollars on fire for nothing? The narrative may get shuffled again, but I think this is basically the correct read at this point:
What's really happening here (that polls/media have been underestimating): there's a big pool of Dem primary voters who have been waiting for something to clarify who the main alternative to Sanders is. SC was likely that event.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 1, 2020
It's a two-person race https://t.co/ISzA39yP1Q— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 1, 2020
I'll leave you with this link to a useful Twitter thread about potential delegate count scenarios after the Super Tuesday dust settles. The bottom line, for now:
"But Sanders remains far and away favorite to emerge from Super Tuesday as the big leader in the all-important delegate race. His lead in California alone could put significant distance between himself and his rivals."https://t.co/w3uGdTkR2D— Kelsey Walsh (@Kjwalsh_news) March 1, 2020