Joe Biden Makes it a Two-Man Race

The 78-year-old is the Comeback Kid. And the only chance of preventing a Bernie Sanders nomination.

A 30-point win in the first primary state with a significant African-American constituency has revived Joe Biden’s campaign and rendered all other candidates but frontrunner Bernie Sanders spoilers.

POLITICO (“Biden romps to victory in South Carolina“):

Joe Biden notched his first election win Saturday in this first-in-the-South state on the strength of widespread support from black voters — a triumph that he’s hoping will propel him on Super Tuesday and then into a one-on-one race against Bernie Sanders.

Biden’s win was announced as soon as polls closed at 7 p.m., based on preliminary results and exit polls showing him with a staggering lead. The victory puts the onetime frontrunner back into serious contention for the party’s nomination against Sanders, who leads the crowded field and likely came in second.

The results from South Carolina also promise to alter the trajectory of the race by damaging the prospects of several other candidates who have failed to demonstrate that they can generate significant support from non-white voters.

The outcome also undercuts the case for the candidacy of billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who has spent $500 million since entering the race late in November on the theory that the former vice president would implode.

Jonathan Chait agrees that “Joe Biden Is Now the Only Democrat Who Can Stop Bernie Sanders.”

Biden appears to have taken control of the Democrat Party’s center-left voters so decisively none of his mainstream rivals will be able to sustain a rationale for their candidacy. Michael Bloomberg, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg — all of whom have made Biden-esque pitches to the electorate — will face enormous pressure to leave the race after Super Tuesday, and possibly even before.

The mistake many of us made with regard to Biden was viewing his campaign through the prism of age. Biden looks and acts much older than Bloomberg, Sanders (who has looked exactly 85 years old since the 1980s), and even Trump, who also appears to be experiencing rapid cognitive decline. Biden campaigned unevenly and delivered uncomfortably meandering performances at the debates that often worsened as each debate dragged on. It seemed intuitive that the pattern of decline would also apply to Biden’s campaign. His best day would be his first, and he would slowly exhaust the supply of pent-up goodwill that was his primary asset.

But whatever his limitations, Biden has not gotten worse. His last debate performance was his best. It was almost good.

The heart of Biden’s claim to the mainstream Democratic mantle is his impressive performance with African-Americans, who had little representation in the previous three contests. They are not attracted to Biden out of mere nostalgia, gratitude, or familiarity. Black voters in the state — especially older ones, who have the closest personal experience with overt white supremacy — have thought carefully about the primacy of ousting Trump over every other goal, as well as their role in that process.

This conclusion is not me reading my views onto them. Pay attention to what voters there have told reporters like Astead HerndonEugene Robinson, and others. Robinson described the mood of voters he met as “urgent pragmatism” to end a presidency that is reversing decades of racial progress. “Black voters know white voters better than white voters know themselves,” one voter told Herndon. “So yeah, we’ll back Biden, because we know who white America will vote for in the general election in a way they may not tell a pollster or the media.”

I like Biden more than Chait and still have serious doubts about his physical and mental fitness for the White House. But I have major concerns, albeit different ones, about all of the contenders for the Democratic nomination.

I’ve been arguing for a while that Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer should drop out. The latter two are vanity candidates who never had a serious shot at the nomination. Klobuchar’s resume makes her worthy of consideration for the White House but, for whatever reason, she has never caught on or risen above the single digits in the national polls.

Steyer has dropped out before Super Tuesday, rightly bowing to the inevitable and refusing to continue acting as a spoiler.

Elizabeth Warren, alas, is doubling down in a way that may well help Donald Trump.

No word yet from Klobuchar or Buttigieg but one suspects they’ll continue their efforts at least until Tuesday night. In doing so, they’re effectively helping Sanders win the nomination.

Bloomberg is a special case, in that he’s poured some $400 million into the race and appears on a ballot for the first time Tuesday. But the entire rationale for his candidacy was to be the backup plan in case Biden imploded. In an ideal world, he would now throw his support behind Biden. That’s unlikely to happen.

I’ll vote here in Virginia Tuesday after work. Buttigieg is my favorite candidate but he has no shot at the nomination. So I went into yesterday with the intention of voting for Biden if he won in South Carolina and Bloomberg otherwise. Biden was my second-favorite candidate, anyway, and the forecasts in Virginia have him and Sanders neck-and-neck.

So, Biden it is.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    Called it a few weeks ago, sort of:

    I agree that it’s highly premature to declare Biden’s candidacy dead. First of all, there’s a history of candidates going on to win their party’s nomination after being declared dead by the media (Bill Clinton in ’92, John McCain in ’08). And when thinking about it, I keep coming back to SC. Bloomberg isn’t on the ballot there, so if it isn’t Biden who will win there, who will be there be to pick up the pieces of his AA support? Bernie’s the likeliest at this point, but I have my doubts. I just can’t see Pete, Warren, or Klobuchar doing it.

    And if Biden wins SC, I bet the narrative would quickly shift to “Biden recovered,” and it would undercut Bloomberg’s campaign in the later contests.

    Oddly, Bloomberg’s best chance is that Bernie wins SC, because it would mean Bernie bested or nearly bested all the moderates in the early states, handing Bloomberg just the opening he needs to position himself as the mainstream alternative who can stop Bernie. In short, for Bloomberg’s campaign to continue to have any life it has to come down to a Bloomberg-Bernie race.

    Two late-septuagenarian New York Jews with a history of not calling themselves Democrats. I confess this is not what I imagined the race to turn into, but it looks like that’s where it might be headed. If, that is, the other late-septuagenarian doesn’t come back from the dead.

  2. Kylopod says:

    Ah, turns out I made the prediction even earlier, nearly three weeks ago:

    My gut sense is that a Biden recovery is around the corner. The media is always overhyping candidate collapses. It’s part of the reason for the original “comeback kid” narrative in 1992, and at this point I’m almost half-expecting that to happen if Biden finishes “no worse” than 4th place in NH. And even if he does as abysmally as expected, you can’t beat something with nothing, and somebody’s going to need to pick up the pieces of Biden’s African American support in SC. Could Bernie or Pete do it? Perhaps, but I have my doubts.

  3. Bill says:

    Biden vs Sanders. What a pathetic couple of choices Democratic voters have.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Bill: It’s a bad process. But the candidates have all had months to sell themselves to the electorate. While the New Hampshire-Iowa-Nevada-South Carolina gauntlet is a dumb way to narrow the field, we’re effectively down to the two candidates doing best in the national polls. Bloomberg, the only other candidate likely to do very well on Super Tuesday, is third in those polls.

  5. Cheryl Rofer says:

    So eager to run the women out of the race!

    There are still a lot of votes and delegates to go, James.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Klobuchar never caught on. She’s never risen above the single digits in the national polls. She hasn’t finished in the top two in any contest yet and there’s simply no path for her to get to the nomination.

    Warren, likewise, has done poorly in all four states thus far and is about to get trounced in the Super Tuesday contests. She was a solid second in the national polls for a short bit but fell off precipitously.

    They may well both lose the states they represent in the Senate.

    Is their failure to catch on partly a function of sexism? It wouldn’t surprise me in the last. But the bottom line is that they haven’t caught on.

  7. Scott says:

    In a lot of the Super Tuesday states, a lot of the votes are already in. Including mine. So yesterday had no impact on my thinking. I don’t think it makes sense for any candidate to do anything until Wednesday.

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    Biden v. Bernie. A depressing reality. Pete, Amy and Liz, it is time to head to the sidelines. Thank you for your effort. As @Scott: points out, early voting has been ongoing in many if not all Super Tuesday states with the results partly baked.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    Women are in the majority, especially in the Democratic Party. If Klobuchar (who I’ve donated to) and Warren (ditto) didn’t get traction it’s because women voters rejected them.

    It continues to be the case that while there is a gender gap, there’s no such thing as ‘the women’s vote.’

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Women are in the majority, especially in the Democratic Party. If Klobuchar (who I’ve donated to) and Warren (ditto) didn’t get traction it’s because women voters rejected them.

    It continues to be the case that while there is a gender gap, there’s no such thing as ‘the women’s vote.’

    It’s true. Hell, more white women voted for Trump than for Hillary.

    I’m honestly surprised Warren hasn’t fared better. She’s a much better representative of the progressive cause than Sanders. But his anger, which makes him repellant to me, seemingly proves to them that he’s committed.

  11. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    Hell, more white women voted for Trump than for Hillary.

    Yes. In fact, white women have traditional voted in higher numbers for Republican presidential candidates. In fact, good old Roy Moore won the white women vote as well. It was women of color who played the definitive role in that election.

    Again, Democrats have not won a majority of white votes in most Presidential Elections and many statewide in years. Which makes the decision to start their primaries in two of the whitest states even stupider if you actually want to represent the dynamics of the modern party.

    I’m honestly surprised Warren hasn’t fared better. She’s a much better representative of the progressive cause than Sanders.

    I think a lot of it does come down to Sander’s name recognition, sexism (including fears about Clinton’s loss in 2016), and the fact that Warren is a bit too wonky.

    In fact, can anyone point to any Wonks who have done well (other than arguably Obama and he was able to mix populism and wonkiness in a once-in-a-few-generations type of way).

  12. So, Biden it is.

    I think that yesterday is going to result in a lot of that. It has for me (and, like you, he was not my first choice–indeed, he is likely, in terms of pure preference, my third or fourth amongst those still on the ballot). But my ultimate preference is Trump defeated in November and I think that Biden has a better chance than does Bernie. And so, as you say, Biden it is.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m on Team “Anybody but Bernie . . . unless it’s Trump.” So, I think Biden is the best chance of preventing Sanders from getting the nomination and that he’s at least as likely as Sanders to defeat Trump in November.

  14. @Cheryl Rofer:

    So eager to run the women out of the race!

    There are still a lot of votes and delegates to go, James.

    My preferred candidate at the moment is Klobuchar. She isn’t going to win–the numbers utterly mitigate against it. So, I can vote my preference or I can add weight to a candidate who has a real chance of winning the nomination and winning the presidency.

    There comes a point where the fact that there are a lot of contests and delegates on the table ceases to matter for certain candidates, and we are at that point for most of the field.

    The semi-proportional 15% threshold means that Klobuchar, Warren, Mayor Pete, etc., are mathematically unlikely to do well at all on Tuesday. They will win some delegates, but the share of support that Bernie and Biden have will make it essentially impossible for any of them to breakthrough.

    Do I wish that female candidates were doing better? Yes.

  15. mattbernius says:

    Since everyone is doing it, my first choice was Warren. Assuming it comes down to Biden or Sanders, I chose Biden everytime.

    However if it comes down to Trump or Sanders, I hold my nose and vote Sanders.

  16. Scott B Robertson says:

    As I mentioned in a earlier thread, I already voted here in Texas. I went for Buttigieg. My wife and daughter went for Warren.

    I will vote for a yellow dog before I vote for Trump.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Biden vs Sanders. What a pathetic couple of choices Democratic voters have.

    As opposed to the Republican alternative…