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The Memo: Biden shakes up Democratic race with Super Tuesday wins

Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits MORE savored a political resurrection on Super Tuesday as voters restored him to front-runner status in a race he looked set to lose until recently.

The former vice president won the majority of the 14 states that voted Tuesday, defeating Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill NFL's Justin Jackson praises Sanders for opposing Biden's USDA nominee MORE (I-Vt.) in several key primaries across the country.

Sanders had begun the day as the preeminent Democratic candidate, but his confidence that he was about to be catapulted within reach of the party's nomination proved badly misplaced.

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As of 2 a.m. Eastern time, Biden had been projected as the winner in nine states to Sanders’s four, with one — Maine — still in the balance.

Biden, against all predictions, was projected the winner in Texas. It was the biggest upset of a night that already had several.

Biden won at least two other states, Massachusetts and Minnesota, where rivals had held an edge in opinion polls.

“They don’t call it Super Tuesday for nothing,” an ebullient Biden told supporters during a victory speech Tuesday night.

The speech was momentarily interrupted after protesters rushed the stage in California. Campaign aides quickly escorted the protesters away.

Sanders can take some heart from the fact that he has been projected the winner in California, the biggest state in the nation and therefore the biggest prize in terms of delegates.

Much will hinge on his margin of victory. But with almost half of all precincts reporting, it appears that both Biden and former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergDwayne 'The Rock' Johnson vs. Donald Trump: A serious comparison On The Trail: The political perils of Snowmageddon Five things to watch in the New York City mayoral race MORE will win at least 15 percent of the vote each — a crucial threshold figure for winning delegates and thus limiting Sanders’s advantage.

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In one night, the race has been reordered in a fundamental way. Biden has been boosted, while Sanders’s strength has been sapped.

The contest is now a two-person race between the two septuagenarians — and it will almost certainly be a prolonged one.

Six states vote next Tuesday, but they include likely wins for both Biden and Sanders in Mississippi and Michigan, respectively.

March 17 sees another four sizable states vote — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — where the two leading candidates might again divide the spoils.

Exactly three weeks before Super Tuesday, Biden had seemed to be sinking toward an inglorious end to a long political career when he trailed in fifth place in the New Hampshire primary. 

The green shoots of a comeback were first seen with a second-place finish in Nevada’s caucuses on Feb. 22.

But it was Biden’s thumping victory in the South Carolina primary on Saturday that really breathed new life into his campaign.

He defeated Sanders by almost 30 points, delivered a fiery victory speech and, in the next 48 hours, won endorsements from three other moderate former candidates — Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (D-Minn.), former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegExclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Chasten Buttigieg jokes about his husband biking home from work MORE (D) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas.) 

Klobuchar and Buttigieg had dropped out in the wake of disappointing showings in South Carolina.

Those endorsements were part of a strong shift of the Democratic establishment behind Biden.

The centrists were jolted into action by the realization that Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who skeptics contend is unelectable in November against President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE, was on the brink of building an insurmountable delegate lead.

In the past week, Biden has won the endorsements of a number of Democratic power-players including former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTrumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate MORE (D-Nev.), Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineWarner: White House should 'keep open additional sanctions' against Saudi crown prince Overnight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Biden administration to give Congress full classified briefing on Syria strikes by next week MORE (D-Va.) and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Sanders’s setback should not be exaggerated. He is very much in the hunt for the nomination, and he has some formidable assets, not least the intensity of his supporters and formidable fundraising prowess.

But he faces some serious questions.

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He lost at least two states on Tuesday night — Minnesota and Oklahoma — that he had won against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMedia circles wagons for conspiracy theorist Neera Tanden The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Senate ref axes minimum wage, House votes today on relief bill Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm MORE four years ago. The loss of Texas was a bitter blow.

He also appears to have lost the black vote again by dramatic margins, a crucial factor in his losses across the South. 

Biden won Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. In Virginia, Biden won by around 30 points; in Alabama, by more than 40.

To be sure, this cycle has already defied almost everyone’s predictions. And there are plenty more factors that could add to the volatility.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster MORE (D-Mass.), who soared in polls last fall, had another dismal night on Tuesday. She lost her home state and appears likely to be relegated to third place there. She never came within a whiff of a breakthrough anywhere else.

The pressure for her to exit the race could be irresistible. Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show Six ways to visualize a divided America Jamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' MORE (D-Minn.), who has endorsed and campaigned for Sanders, took a veiled but clear shot at Warren on Twitter on Tuesday night for splitting the progressive vote.

If Warren drops out, Sanders would seem the most likely beneficiary.

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But a parallel situation could unfold among the centrists.

Bloomberg, who has spent more than $500 million since entering the race in late November, also failed to break through.

Dogged by poor debate performances and squeezed by Biden’s post-South Carolina surge, Bloomberg never came close to winning in any state, though he did win American Samoa, a U.S. territory.

He posted respectable numbers in some states, including California and Colorado, but that hardly justifies his enormous expenditure.

Bloomberg and his aides are reportedly considering whether to stay in the race. A withdrawal could come as soon as Wednesday.

Those permutations will work themselves out. But Super Tuesday was Biden’s night.

If he ends up becoming the nominee, this will be a critical moment. But this year's race could have some fresh twists still left.