Stunning night for Biden surprises everyone — including his own loyalists

Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Romney warns Trump: Don't interfere with coronavirus relief oversight MORE’s stunning wins on Super Tuesday came as a surprise to even Biden loyalists. 

Going into the contest on Tuesday, aides, donors and longtime allies said they hoped to keep the race competitive with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.), with an eye toward a contested convention. 

They knew better than anyone that Biden lacked the money, staff and resources to win a number of the 14 states up for grabs on Tuesday. 

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Instead, he pulled out huge upsets in the states of Minnesota and Massachusetts, where the Sanders bid to take those states and deal blows to home-state candidates Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots MORE (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-Mass.) backfired badly. 

Biden also won Oklahoma handily, which Sanders had taken in the 2016 primary. 

He is leading in Maine, another New England state where Sanders had been favored. 

And the former vice president pulled out a win in the second-biggest prize of the night in Texas to go with blowout victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee. 

It would be 10 victories in all compared to four for Sanders, who is projected to win the biggest contest of the night — California, where 415 delegates were up for grabs. 

Biden’s team expected his victory in South Carolina coupled with the endorsements of Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession MORE, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Klobuchar to help their candidate. But they didn’t expect such a momentous night. 

“In just a span of a week, this entire race changed,” said one longtime Biden aide, who had thought in recent days that it was “Bernie’s race to lose.” 

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“It WAS,” the aide wrote in a text on Tuesday night. 

Going into Super Tuesday, the aide had said Biden just needed to keep the race “competitive” and “make sure Bernie doesn’t stack up on delegates,” particularly in Texas. 

Another Biden donor was taken aback by the results, as the donor had been bracing for a big Sanders win.

“I thought South Carolina would give us some momentum, but I didn’t think it would be enough,” the donor said. 

“It was a romp. There’s no mistaking that, and this brings us a little closer to winning,” the donor added. "The party is finally coalescing around our guy.” 

Robert Wolf, the prominent Democratic donor and former chairman of UBS, said Tuesday night proved that Biden can appeal to voters across the party in much the same way that former President Obama was able to do in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. 

“Joe Biden will be the nominee and showed last night that the Obama-Biden coalition could be put back together,” said Wolf, who has not backed a particular campaign during the primary. 

A former Biden aide was hopeful the success would bring in new money to Biden’s campaign. 

"Biden’s 'money worries' have been his Achilles' heel in races over the years,” the aide said, who predicted he will now be “flush with cash.”

At the same time, Democratic strategists said Biden’s big night sent a resounding negative message to the progressive wing of the party. 

“Last night we were told to brace for revolution. We just didn’t think it would come from the center-left of the Democratic Party,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “What we saw was a pretty resounding blow to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. 

Payne added that the results were “less about Joe Biden and more about Bernie Sanders.”

“The central organizing principle of the Democratic primary fight so far has been to stop Bernie Sanders, and the moderate center-left coalition of the party was able to do that after a concentrated 10 days of active resistance to Sanders,” Payne said. “The results bode well for Democrats who wanted to see whether Biden could replicate the Obama coalition.”

Biden aides and advisers expect to be further bolstered if former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergFormer Bloomberg staffer seeks class-action lawsuit over layoffs Bloomberg spent over 0M on presidential campaign The Hill's Campaign Report: Officials in spotlight over coronavirus response MORE suspends his campaign, as they’re expecting in the coming days. Bloomberg’s only win on Tuesday night was American Samoa. 

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“He entered this race because he thought we couldn’t win. Well, we’re winning,” one longtime Biden ally said. 

But strategists say it’s a lot more complicated than that. 

Payne said Tuesday night’s results “suggest a bigger fight ahead.”

“Even if Biden is ultimately successful in winning more delegates than Sanders, there is still no clear strategy for keeping the Sanders coalition within the Democratic Party big tent,” he said. 

Biden also has other challenges up ahead, including building the infrastructure and operational support he lacked in the Super Tuesday states. 

“Everything from field offices to absorbing fundraising apparatus from former rivals like Buttigieg has to be a priority to build a campaign that can last,” Payne said. “Biden needs to build an operation that can sustain his momentum to maximize the results for the long haul.” 

There’s also the question of whether Biden, a candidate who wavered as the front-runner last fall, can keep up his success now that he’s reclaimed that status.

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“The debate in Phoenix will likely be a two-person affair, with Sanders back in the role of insurgent that he thrives on, and Biden back as front-runner which has never felt particularly comfortable,” the former Biden aide said. “Bernie will try and paint him as Hillary 2.0.”

The ex-aide also said Biden will face a two-pronged battle, with Sanders on one side and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE and Republicans raising his son’s work in Ukraine on the other.

“Biden needs to make Trump's attacks a badge of honor and use them to excite Democrats to circle the wagon against the candidate Trump fears most,” the former aide said. “He needs to retool his messaging on trade heading into Midwestern, Rust Belt primaries. He needs to do enough to avoid Democrats having buyer’s remorse before the next round of primaries."

“If he does well enough in a two-person race, the pressure will grow on Sanders not to reelect Trump,” the aide said.