Analysis: The 72 Hours That Revived Joe Biden’s Campaign

As Super Tuesday and its 1,357 delegates loomed large last week, Joe Biden’s prospective path to the Democratic nomination looked grim. 

A series of dismal showings in preceding states and a string of subpar debate performances, combined with the crowded field of candidates vying for moderate voters fueled speculation that Biden’s campaign was doomed. By Tuesday night, however, Biden had exceeded expectations, winning 10 of the 14 states being contested and emerging as the Democratic frontrunner with a healthy lead in the pledged delegate count over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

In addition to sweeping the Southern states he was poised to do well in, Biden won in more progressive states such as Massachusetts and Minnesota. Biden also overperformed in the night’s two most delegate-rich contests, coming in a close second in California and winning in Texas, despite polling which had consistently shown him trailing to Sanders by margins of between 10 and 15 points

Even with his loss in California, Biden’s delegate haul from the state may only increase since nearly 3.2 million ballots remain uncounted as of last Friday, according to the California Secretary of State.

The results stood in stark contrast with the predictions of pundits and analysts who were expecting a poor performance by the former Vice President since even the most favorable projections for Biden had him trailing Sanders by dozens of delegates coming out of Super Tuesday. 

According to MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, the best possible outcome for Biden showed him emerging at least 61 total delegates behind Sanders, 590 to 529. CNN’s Harry Enten agreed, tweeting that such a scenario would be “an incredible result for Biden.” As of Sunday evening, Biden led Sanders 664 delegates to 573, according to the Associated Press

Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at The Intercept and outspoken supporter of Sanders’, said Kornacki’s projections “[made] clear that even if Biden has the wildest and most improbably fantastic night possible on Super Tuesday, he’d still be well behind Sanders.”

Greenwald, like many of Sanders’ supporters, was frustrated with how coverage of the primary shifted after Biden’s resounding victory in South Carolina on Saturday. Over the next two days, former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) both dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden, along with former candidate Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out last November

On Sunday, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post predicting Biden would be too far behind Sanders after Super Tuesday. He highlighted the fact that Biden only won 61 percent of African-American voters, a demographic he is relying on to receive the nomination, in South Carolina.

Biden actually received even less of the total African-American vote on Super Tuesday with 58 percent; however, Michael Bloomberg had not competed in the South Carolina primary and likely drew some voters who may have otherwise supported Biden. In the days after Super Tuesday, both Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also dropped out, making the race a three-person contest between Biden, Sanders and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

Another group that boosted Biden on Tuesday night was late deciders, likely because of the field narrowing in the preceding days. Biden saw a 30-point advantage over Sanders among voters who decided in the last few days whereas Sanders led him by six points among those who decided earlier.

Many of the late-deciding voters that Biden earned were from one of Sanders’ largest demographics: college-educated whites. He performed 31 points better with white college-educated voters who decided late than those who decided early. In South Carolina, Biden won the same demographic by 28 points.

One analyst, David Wasserman, an editor at the Cook Political Report, did anticipate the revitalization of Biden’s campaign after the South Carolina primary and highlighted a possible late-deciding voter behavior that the news media had “underestimated.”

“[There is] a big pool of Dem primary voters who have been waiting for something to clarify who the main alternative to Sanders is,” Wasserman said. “SC was likely that event.” 

In a separate tweet, he added: “Honestly, you’re not going to hear a lot of outrage from me about big polling misses. Things are pretty fast-moving right now and the Dem race is being fought by the hour, not the day/week.”

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