Biden's surge redefines the race

By David Siders

LOS ANGELES — Joe Biden steamrolled across the South on Tuesday, carried Texas and won a stunning victory in Minnesota, severely weakening Bernie Sanders and recasting the race as a head-to-head contest between them.

Sanders won the largest state, California, as well as Colorado and his home state of Vermont. But momentum was on Biden's side.

Early, quick calls for Biden in the Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama primaries offered the first sign that the former vice president had won over much of an unsettled electorate's late-breaking vote. And as the hours passed, one state after another was called in his favor.

Addressing cheering supporters in California before polls here closed, Biden said, “It’s still early, but things are looking awful, awful good.”

For anyone who predicted the race might be over by Super Tuesday, he said, “Well, it may be over for the other guy."

It is far from over, of course. Sanders was immediately declared the winner in California. But Texas marked a significant defeat for Sanders. He had been leading in recent polls, and many observers predicted early votes cast in that state would preserve a victory for him there. Instead, Biden surpassed him.

Sanders, speaking at his rally in Burlington, Vt., on Tuesday night, predicted the night would end well for him despite Biden's string of wins. "We're doing well in Texas right now, we won Colorado, and I'm cautiously optimistic that later in the evening, we can win the largest state in this country, the state of California," Sanders said to cheers.

The early results appeared likely to narrow the race to Sanders and Biden, with the rest of the field barely hanging on. Biden won Elizabeth Warren's home state, Massachusetts, and Mike Bloomberg was teetering elsewhere. After skipping the first four nominating states but spending hundreds of millions on TV ads, Bloomberg received disappointing news in the quick calls for Biden in Virginia and North Carolina. He did, however, win American Samoa.

Most likely, the set of elections, in which about one-third of delegates will be awarded, will culminate in a grouping of Democratic voters around opposite poles — progressives to Sanders and moderates to Biden.

Sanders, after wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, raised nearly $47 million in February alone, when he became the frontrunner in the contest and saw his rival progressive, Warren, fall far back. Sanders has been drawing crowds of thousands to rallies in California and Virginia in the run-up to Super Tuesday.

Sanders' win in California was especially significant. It is the largest delegate haul by far and a state he failed to carry in his unsuccessful 2016 run. But because of late balloting, the results from California could take days or weeks to count — and even small margins in that state could be significant to Biden, Bloomberg and Warren.

If Sanders can keep other candidates from reaching the 15 percent threshold needed to win statewide delegates, he could bank an enormous number of delegates on a smaller share of the overall vote.

If Tuesday was a measure of Sanders’ durability, it also confirmed the extent of Biden’s momentum. The former vice president’s lift in the primary came suddenly, only after his victory in South Carolina resurrected his campaign. Two other moderates, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, dropped out on Sunday and Monday, respectively, and endorsed him at a rally in Texas on Monday night. So did Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman and presidential candidate.

Biden said Monday that his campaign has raised more than $30 million since the beginning of last month, as he attempts to catch up to Sanders.

Warren and Bloomberg have seen their paths narrow to the point that their only hope is at a contested convention.

Bloomberg, a billionaire former New York mayor, banked on an unwieldy field, but he may have misjudged how quickly it would consolidate. Still, he has polled well in Arkansas and Oklahoma and has shown signs of support in Alabama — all states voting Tuesday.

Rejecting criticism from fellow moderates that he could help Sanders by leaching support from Biden, Bloomberg said Tuesday, “I’m not helping Bernie Sanders. I’m trying to help myself.

“I got in because I thought that I could beat Donald Trump and I thought I could do the job of being president,” he said. “That’s why I’m here and that’s why I started and that’s where we’re going to wind up — in the White House.”

Warren, once a frontrunner and a favorite of progressive activists, could have the opposite effect, hurting Sanders if she had won a significant number of delegates on Tuesday.

On Monday, EMILY’s List endorsed Warren. But other progressives are abandoning her. The political action committee Democracy for America, which had sought unsuccessfully to draft Warren into the presidential race in 2016, endorsed Sanders on Monday.

In Los Angeles on Monday night, Warren lamented a nominating process that she said is “barreling toward another primary along the same lanes as 2016: one for an insider, one for an outsider.”

“Democratic voters should have more choice than that," she said. "America should have more choice than that.”

Holly Otterbein, Caitlin Oprysko, Marc Caputo and Nolan D. McCaskill contributed to this report.