How Joe Biden won Super Tuesday

If Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans debate life under COVID-19 risks Biden set to make risky economic argument against Trump Hillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel MORE wins both the Democratic nomination and the presidency, books will be written about the three days that changed everything, the breathtaking span between the South Carolina primary last Saturday and the closing hours of Super Tuesday. His campaign had improbable wins, unexpected endorsements, and changing dynamics. It all began with his victory in South Carolina. Many of my fellow supporters were hopeful he would win by double digits. But 28 points? I know no one who predicted that. The timely endorsement from James Clyburn lit a fuse for voters, as exit polls showed nearly half were influenced by that key announcement.

That night, Tom Steyer withdrew from the race, setting up a rapid domino effect. The next night, Pete Buttigieg announced his withdrawal from the race. Amy Klobuchar followed the very next afternoon. Then by dusk on Monday, both Buttigieg and Klobuchar decided to finish their campaigns and endorsed Biden in Texas. It had now become the incredible shrinking Democratic field. In 72 hours, Biden revived his candidacy, consolidated the moderates, and lit the afterburners. This morning, Michael Bloomberg bowed out to endorse him. A week ago, Biden was written off by pundits.

Today, they are rewriting their analyses. How did it come to this? Part of it was to be expected. In January, his campaign manager Greg Shultz told me that demographic disadvantages in Iowa and New Hampshire would depress Biden and boost Bernie SandersBernie SandersHillicon Valley: Tech companies lead way on WFH forever | States and counties plead for cybersecurity assistance | Trump weighing anti-conservative bias panel Biden wins Hawaii primary Warren to host high-dollar fundraiser for Biden MORE. But, he added, the path beyond offered a rebound opportunity. The plan was to come in first or second in Nevada, win South Carolina convincingly, and reset the political narrative.


The day after a dispiriting New Hampshire primary result, a conference call of Biden supporters was convened. The former vice president and his wife spoke first. Shultz gave a realistic assessment of what would happen in the next primary in Nevada. The call lifted the spirits of the participants. For all of the challenges to the campaign, it seemed to have a solid plan.

Biden was boosted by the strong streak of pragmatism coursing through the blue veins of Democratic voters. They do want the best candidate to beat Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE in November. They may have been dispirited by the early underperformance of Biden and flirted with other candidates, but when he showed signs of strength they returned to him. As David Plouffe, a former campaign strategist for Barack Obama, has said, it is easier to get back voters who left you than to get voters who were never with you.

The problem for Biden was that poor results in Iowa and New Hampshire were tamping down donor enthusiasm. Sanders and Bloomberg had built expansive field operations in Super Tuesday states, and Biden could not compete with them. But his South Carolina victory and the cleverly timed frontloading of endorsements created a massive free media blitz that had changed assumptions on the ground all across the Super Tuesday states.

Then there is what changed in the candidate himself. Until Saturday, he at times seemed to be buying into the dour punditry that was writing him off. But when Biden decisively thumped Sanders in South Carolina and sensed a changing dynamic, he was validated. He refound his voice and his spirit. His campaign held those two essential features of a path and a purpose.

You could sense it in his victory speech after the South Carolina primary. “For all those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign,” Biden declared. He was talking about the Democratic voters, but also about the candidate himself. A man whose entire career was always about fighting for the middle class found the fight for himself.

We still have a lot of races to run with more primaries and caucuses in a volatile and uncertain political environment. There does remain a strong possibility that no candidate locks the number of delegates necessary to win in the first ballot in Milwaukee. But if Biden prevails, it will be one of the greatest political revivals since Harry Truman beat Thomas Dewey.

Steve IsraelSteven (Steve) J. IsraelThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats slam Trump for threatening to hold Michigan funds Biden faces hard lift in winning over hard left MORE represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.