By John Whitesides and Joseph Ax
WASHINGTON/SELMA, Ala. (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders raised $46.5 million in February, his campaign said on Sunday, and will launch new television ad buys in nine states with primaries later this month after this week's Super Tuesday contests.
The announcement came the day after former Vice President Joe Biden scored a decisive victory over Sanders in South Carolina. That was the fourth nominating contest in the state-by-state Democratic race to pick a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Biden's campaign reported raising $5 million the day of the South Carolina primary. His February haul was $18 million, spokesman Michael Gwin said.
Meanwhile, rival Elizabeth Warren, who struggled to a fifth-place finish in South Carolina, raised more than $29 million in February, her campaign manager Roger Lau said in a memo to supporters on Sunday. That figure, which was driven by a pair of strong debate performances last month, is more than Warren's previous total for any quarter.
The fundraising haul for Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, came from more than 2.2 million donations and surpassed what any Democratic candidate had raised in any full three-month quarter last year.
Looking to reclaim momentum after the South Carolina result, the Sanders campaign said he had raised $4.5 million on Saturday alone - the best fundraising day since he launched his campaign.
"It is not only the amount of money that we raised, and that is a phenomenal amount, it's how we raised it," Sanders said in an interview Sunday with CBS in which he criticized Biden for taking money from billionaires. "This is a campaign of working people and by working people."
Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, is self-funding his campaign and has spent a half-billion dollars to compete in the nominating contests beginning in March.
MORE URGENT PHASE
The race for the Democratic nomination is entering a more urgent phase. On Tuesday, 14 states will hold contests and award a third of the available delegates who will determine the eventual nominee. Ten more states vote in the subsequent two weeks.
The Sanders campaign is already airing television commercials in 12 Super Tuesday states and announced it is adding television advertising time in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington, which hold nominating contests on March 10. It will also buy ads in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, which hold contests on March 17.
The donations in February bring Sanders' total haul since he entered the race to $167 million, the campaign said.
Lau, Warren's campaign manager, said the money raised in February had allowed the campaign to increase its media spending in Super Tuesday states as well as every state that votes later in March, along with Wisconsin, which votes in April.
In his memo, Lau argued that no candidate has a clear path to an outright majority of delegates and said Warren was well positioned to emerge as the party's choice at the convention in July. If no candidate has a majority of delegates on the convention's first ballot, the nominating battle could turn into a messy fight between contenders seeking to pull support from one another.
"We're in this race for the long haul," he wrote. "We believe that Super Tuesday will greatly winnow this field and it will become clear that only a few candidates will have a viable path to the Democratic nomination - and Elizabeth Warren will be one of them."
(Reporting by John Whitesides and Joseph Ax, additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Frances Kerry, Will Dunham and Lisa Shumaker)