WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A resurgent Joe Biden rode a wave of momentum to win at least eight large states on Super Tuesday, but Bernie Sanders won the biggest prize of California to set up a long one-on-one battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Biden rolled to wins across the South, Midwest and New England on the biggest day of the Democratic campaign, as Americans in 14 states voted for a Democratic challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
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“They don’t call it Super Tuesday for nothing,” Biden, the former vice president who had performed poorly in the first three nominating contests but broke through with a win in South Carolina, told roaring supporters in California.
“We are very much alive,” he said.
Sanders, the one-time front-runner who had hoped to take a big step toward the nomination on Tuesday, was projected by Edison Research to win in his home state of Vermont, Colorado and Utah. Fox News and AP projected Sanders won California.
Edison Research projected Biden the winner in Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia.
More than one-third of the delegates who will pick the eventual nominee at a July convention were up for grabs in the primaries on Tuesday, which provided some clarity at last in a muddled race for the White House.
Without naming him, Sanders took direct aim at Biden during a rally with supporters in Vermont, criticizing his 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq and his support for global trade deals that Sanders opposed.
“We’re going to win the Democratic nomination and we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country,” Sanders said.
The results left Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor who spent more than half a billion dollars on advertising, largely out of the running, with his only victory coming in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.
Bloomberg campaign officials said he would reassess whether to stay in the race on Wednesday, but that did not mean he would drop out.
Biden’s burst of momentum after his blowout win in South Carolina on Saturday fueled a flurry of endorsements from a flood of prominent party officials and former rivals.
BROAD BIDEN COALITION
Biden accomplished his main Super Tuesday goal of muscling aside Bloomberg and consolidating support from moderates to turn the race into a one-on-one contest against Sanders.
Biden’s showing in the Super Tuesday states was fueled by strong support among a broad coalition of voters including women and men, white and black, those with or without college degrees, and those who considered themselves liberal or moderate.
The results were particularly disappointing for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who finished well behind Sanders and Biden in most states and was trailing them in her home state of Massachusetts.
Edison Research forecast a record turnout of 1.3 million voters in Virginia, well ahead of 986,203 in 2008 and 785,041 in 2016.
Early exit polls by Edison Research showed Biden was winning large majorities of African-American voters in the South, including 72% in Alabama, 71% in Virginia, 63% in North Carolina and 62% in Tennessee.
In Virginia, Biden won the votes of more than four of 10 white college educated women, compared to about two in 10 each for Sanders and Warren.
Bloomberg was a wild card heading into the voting, as he joined the competition for the first time. In early results, he was winning more than 15% of the vote, enough to pick up some delegates, in Tennessee, Texas, Colorado and Arkansas.
The moderate Bloomberg skipped the first four contests and bombarded Super Tuesday and later voting states with ads, but saw his poll numbers slip after coming under fire during Democratic debates over past comments criticized as sexist and a policing policy he employed as New York’s mayor seen as racially discriminatory.
Biden is trying to build a bridge between progressive Democrats’ desire for big structural change and more moderate Democrats yearning for a candidate who will be able to win over enough independents and Republicans to oust Trump.
That effort gained fresh momentum on the eve of Tuesday’s voting as moderate presidential rivals Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, endorsed Biden after withdrawing from the race.
The pace of the Democratic race begins to accelerate after Super Tuesday, with 11 more states voting by the end of March. By then, nearly two-thirds of the delegates will have been allotted.
Sanders headed into Tuesday with 60 delegates to Biden’s 54 in the state-by-state nominating fight. Sanders managed a virtual tie with Buttigieg in Iowa and wins in New Hampshire and Nevada.
Besides leading in polls in California, Sanders also is ahead of Biden by a smaller margin in polls in Texas. Sanders’ strength with Hispanics should pay dividends in that state, where Latinos comprise one-third of the Democratic electorate.
Biden, whose South Carolina win affirmed his popularity with black voters, hoped to win five states where African Americans make up at least a quarter of the Democratic electorate: Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas.
The next contests, on March 10, will be in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington state.
Reporting by John Whitesides, Jarrett Renshaw, Ginger Gibson, Doina Chiacu, Sharon Bernstein, Trevor Hunnicutt and Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Paul Simao and John Whitesides; Editing by Soyoung Kim, Peter Cooney and Howard Goller