Biden’s resurgence could curtail contest, with Sanders now a clearer long shot
The state of our union is unsettled, chaotic, impossible to pin down. The state of the Democratic primary, improbably, is not.
With a string of commanding victories on Tuesday — Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, probably any other “M” state that might have bothered with a primary this week — Joe Biden appears poised to complete one of the most striking turnarounds in recent campaign memory, finding himself in a dominant position only 10 days after the first state victory of his three presidential runs. His remarkable reversal, which included a win in Idaho Tuesday, has banished Sen. Bernie Sanders to a familiar electoral perch: an insurgent progressive long shot straining to catch an establishment favorite.
The former vice president has won in the South, in the Northeast, in the Midwest. He has won large states and small ones. He has won in places where his strength with African Americans could carry him and in others where such residents are fewer and far between.
So thorough is Biden’s hold on the party now that any collapse would probably require a political U-turn as sharp as the one that precipitated his rise. And as 2020 lurches into a logistically uncertain phase, with rallies canceled over coronavirus fears and voters more likely to privilege steady leadership, Biden is consistently and significantly outpacing Sanders on the crucial measure of whom to trust in a crisis, according to exit polls.
Next week’s contests include states where Biden is expected to perform well again. In Florida, the largest prize on the map until late April, his appeal to older voters and moderates, coupled with Sanders’ struggles with Cuban Americans, has Biden primed for the kind of delegate haul that can only come with a true blowout. A week later, on March 24, the race moves to Georgia, where a large black population is expected to help deliver Biden another rout.
Unlike 2016, when Sanders extended his race against Hillary Clinton with a series of victories in caucuses, a format in which he has excelled, this year’s calendar has many more traditional primaries, supplying fewer chances for Sanders to drive up margins and keep the delegate tally close.
The result — implausible as it seemed last month, when Biden faltered so badly in Iowa and New Hampshire that establishment Democrats indulged fantasies about a contested convention to stop Sanders — is a race that could be nearing its functional end.
It is difficult to overstate the whiplash. The last time Biden ditched one of his own election night parties, he was careening toward a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire in mid-February, skipping out on a Nashua gathering to seek refuge in South Carolina and accept his election-night fate from a safe distance.
On Tuesday, he again pulled out of an event — but this time, out of concerns that his crowd in Cleveland could be exposed to health risks amid the coronavirus scare. Biden headed instead to Philadelphia, the site of his campaign headquarters, where at the National Constitution Center he sought to project resolve in a time of national anxiety.
With his wife, Jill Biden, by his side, Biden appeared to describe the race as he sees it now: effectively over on the Democratic side — he thanked Sanders and his supporters for their “passion” — leaving voters with a choice between himself and President Donald Trump.