On Politics: Biden Reshuffles the Race

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  • Joe Biden’s thumping win in the South Carolina primary on Saturday didn’t just throw him back into the race on the eve of Super Tuesday. It was also enough to knock two candidates out of it. Tom Steyer quit that same night, laid low by a distant third-place finish in the state where he’d pinned his hopes.

  • And on Sunday night Pete Buttigieg announced that he would drop out of the race. “Tonight I am making the difficult decision to suspend my campaign for the presidency,” the former mayor told a hometown crowd in South Bend, Ind. “In a field in which more than two dozen Democratic candidates ran for president — senators and governors, billionaires, a former vice president — we achieved a top-four finish in each of the first four states to hold nominating contests, and we made history winning those Iowa caucuses.”

  • Buttigieg, who would have become the country’s first openly gay president, and its youngest, finished strongly in both Iowa and New Hampshire, drawing support from a mix of younger and older white voters, liberals and moderates. But when the race moved into the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina, he failed to catch on. He did not have a clear path to victory in any of the 14 states that will vote on Tuesday.

  • The strength of Biden’s victory in South Carolina was bad news for Bernie Sanders, too. Biden captured almost half the state’s Democratic voters and three-fifths of the black vote, beating pre-election polls by a long shot in both cases. Sanders had hoped that after his blowout win in Nevada — where he trailed Biden among black voters by only 10 points, according to entrance polls — he might cut into Biden’s strength in South Carolina.

  • That didn’t happen, in part because Representative Jim Clyburn, the state’s most influential Democrat, endorsed Biden just ahead of the primary, helping him shore up support among African-American voters. Another reason: South Carolina Democrats are as likely to be moderate or conservative as they are to be liberal. And they are far more apt to favor a return to the policies of President Barack Obama than Democrats in the rest of the country. Biden won both moderates and Obama revivalists by huge margins on Saturday.

  • A half-dozen Southern states will hold primaries on Tuesday, a potential advantage for Biden heading into the most delegate-rich day on the primary calendar. But he’ll also be confronting Michael Bloomberg, who did not compete in the first four contests but will be on the ballot in all the Super Tuesday states. Mr. Bloomberg is polling fairly well among many of the same groups as Biden, particularly moderates and voters of color.

  • Bloomberg’s campaign is not exactly coasting, though. He gave lackluster performances in the two most recent debates, and he has struggled to escape the long shadow of stop-and-frisk, the policing strategy that disproportionately targeted black and Latino people in New York during his mayoralty. At an event in Selma, Ala., commemorating the violence of “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, Biden got a warm reception — but Bloomberg was met with demonstrators who stood up and turned their backs while he spoke.

  • Also on Sunday, Amy Klobuchar had to cancel a rally in Minnesota, her home state, after a group of protesters commandeered the stage for over an hour, calling attention to the story of Myron Burrell, a black man convicted of murder as a teenager while Klobuchar was the Hennepin County attorney. News reports have raised questions about the case, and Klobuchar has called for a review, but has not apologized for how she handled it.

  • Throughout the campaign, Bloomberg has seemed less interested in going toe-to-toe with his rivals than in positioning himself as an alternative to President Trump. On Sunday night, in an ad buy that probably cost well over $1 million, Bloomberg ran what you might call a proto-presidential address on CBS and NBC that lasted three full minutes, describing how he would handle the coronavirus outbreak without mentioning Trump by name.

  • After his big win in South Carolina, Biden is catching endorsements like rainwater. Over the weekend, he received the backing of Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia; Representatives Bobby Scott and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia; former Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas; Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the former head of the Democratic National Committee; and Mayor Darrio Melton of Selma.

  • Sanders has not garnered nearly the same amount of institutional support as Biden — probably unsurprising, given his penchant for lobbing broadsides at establishment Democrats. But on Sunday he had a different kind of good news: His campaign announced that it had raised $46 million in February from 2.2 million individual donations, including from more than 350,000 first-time givers. That’s more than any other campaign has raised in a single month this cycle.

  • And even before Biden won South Carolina, millions of voters had already voted early in a variety of Super Tuesday states — a possible boon for Sanders. In California, most primary voters tend to cast their ballots ahead of Election Day; more than three million early votes have already been sent in. In Texas, one million people had already voted by the end of Saturday. And in North Carolina, the number of early ballots cast is also approaching one million.

  • Sanders remains way up in California and Texas, the two biggest Super Tuesday states, according to polls — though none have been taken since the South Carolina results came in. An NBC News/Marist College poll released Sunday showed him leading Biden by 15 points in Texas, largely thanks to the overwhelming support of Latino voters.

  • But in southern states like Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee, things are much tighter. A separate NBC/Marist poll of North Carolina out Sunday showed Biden and Sanders in a virtual tie. That survey was conducted before Biden’s victory in South Carolina, and before the departure of Buttigieg, one of his most formidable moderate rivals.

  • Another warning sign for Sanders: While he has often argued that only his campaign would be able to drive a surge in voter engagement, no meaningful bump in turnout occurred in any of the three earliest contests. In South Carolina, on the other hand, turnout far exceeded what it had been in 2016 and nearly reached 2008 levels, when Obama’s candidacy created a wave of enthusiasm.

  • It is still an open question whether this flush of momentum will be enough to help Biden overcome his lackluster campaign organization in Super Tuesday states, and the fact that he has not been running nearly as many ads in them as Sanders or Bloomberg.

  • There is also the possibility that Buttigieg’s departure could do at least as much to help Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren as it does to buoy Biden. Like Buttigieg, they have both enjoyed some of their greatest popularity among white voters and college graduates, and with him out of the race they could be in a position to pick up some of his erstwhile supporters.

Pete Buttigieg’s campaign canceled a get-out-the-vote rally in Dallas on Sunday as Mr. Buttigieg prepared to drop out of the race.

Our colleague Katie Glueck has been traveling with Biden for months. In the earliest voting states, when he was still perched at the top of the polls, he often failed to excite a passionate base of support. But with the campaign shifting southward, starting with the South Carolina primary on Saturday, Biden’s campaign has taken on a new life — and his events have reflected that, Katie says:

Joe Biden often drew small, subdued crowds as he campaigned in the heavily white states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where party activists were turned off by his shaky debate performances, weak campaign organization and meandering campaign trail appearances.

But many African-American voters, especially older voters, feel a deep affinity for Barack Obama’s vice president, and his larger and more enthusiastic crowds in the more diverse states where he has campaigned recently have reflected that affection.

A businessman by trade, Michael Bloomberg managed to serve three terms as mayor without ever becoming particularly comfortable on the campaign trail — or on the stump.

As a presidential candidate, his strategy has centered on the airwaves: He has bought over half a billion dollars’ worth of ads across the country, even in early states where he didn’t compete.

Our reporter Jeremy W. Peters just published a story about Bloomberg’s efforts to punch up his savoir faire over the past few months. His aides have had to remind him not to roll his eyes at his opponents during debates, and not to fight back when he’s heckled at an event.

One of Jeremy’s observations that didn’t make it into the story: At Bloomberg events, attendees receive swag and special treatment unlike anything offered by other campaigns. But if a candidate lacks charisma, it can be hard to make up for it.

There is some irony to the fact that Bloomberg is not working harder to blow voters away. His campaign, after all, is running a highly curated, aim-to-please experience. It’s just that the candidate doesn’t always cooperate.

Bloomberg rallies are the closest thing voters will find on the campaign trail to a full-service banquet. There are catered spreads: fig scones and organic coffee in the morning; brisket, pulled pork sliders and crudités later in the day.

The staff watches over the crowds with the attentiveness of a hotel concierge. They open car doors and are at the ready with an umbrella if it’s raining. They are always checking if you need another “Mike 2020” pin: pink, blue, green, white? Maybe an extra T-shirt? One with a more generic “Mike Bloomberg 2020” slogan or a more locally tailored “Tennessee for Mike” one, perhaps? Another size? They stock XS to XXXL.

Then again, sometimes it feels as if this may all be a form of compensation for a candidate who falls short in the charisma department.

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