By Gregory Korte
But then Biden won South Carolina, forced three of those rivals out of the race, and picked up more than 100 endorsements — all on the way to the 14-state mega-primary on Tuesday that is deciding one-third of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Biden won Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia and was leading in Texas and Maine.
Here are five keys to his Super Tuesday success:
Some of the states voting Tuesday — Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Virginia — have some of the largest concentrations of black Democrats in the country and that is the single strongest constituency supporting Biden, whose ties to that community were only strengthened by being Barack Obama’s vice president.
Biden’s big win in South Carolina last Saturday was a harbinger. About 27% of Democratic primary voters in North Carolina and Virginia are African American, and 63% of them supported Biden in both states, according to exit polls.
One feature of the 2020 nominating contests is that voters are making up their minds late, and that was a huge help to Biden, whose Saturday win in South Carolina dominated headlines heading into Super Tuesday. Late-breakers who wanted to be with a winner could pick Biden.
Half of voters in Minnesota and Virginia said they decided who to vote for in the last few days, according to exit polls cited by CNN. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar was favored to win her home state. Then she dropped out and Biden emerged victorious. In Virginia, polls suggested Biden was facing a tough challenge from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s collapse on Tuesday benefited Biden.
(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
Overall, 49% of late deciders broke for Biden, compared to 19% for Sanders, according to The Washington Post. Broken down by state, 60% or more of voters in Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama picked Biden in the last few days, while nearly half of Minnesota and Texas voters settled on Biden recently.
Even though TV networks tend to focus on who won or lost a whole state, the primary contests are really made up of hundreds of individual races in congressional districts in the states. Clever campaigns find ways to pick up individual “CD’s” as they’re known, and Biden ran the table in some of the states where he performed well, racking up delegates.
Biden was able to run up the score by winning in every congressional district in Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Virgina. He also led every district reporting significant results in Minnesota, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Three-fourths of delegates are awarded by another metric, at the district level, so winning districts in addition to the statewide success can turn a marginal victory into a sizable delegate grab.
A majority of Democratic primary voters in Super Tuesday states said they were looking more for a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump than a candidate who shares their values. Those voters favored Biden over Sanders by nearly a two-to-one ratio.
The full story of Super Tuesday might not be known for days due to California.
But the part of the night that prime-time TV viewers saw, and morning newspaper headlines will capture, was the part of the night where Biden crushed it. He won eight states between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.
The No. 2 prize of the night, Texas, probably won’t be called until the middle of the night.
So Biden can bask in a full news cycle of two of good news — a jolt of energy his campaign desperately needs.