Amy Klobuchar suspended her presidential campaign Monday as the Democratic Party's moderate wing coalesced further behind Joe Biden to blunt the rise of Bernie Sanders on the eve of Super Tuesday.
The U.S. senator made the decision to leave the race and endorse Mr. Biden just 18 hours before polls began opening across 14 states, including her native Minnesota, in the party's turbulent nomination fight. She becomes the third Democrat to abandon their presidential bid since Mr. Biden scored a resounding victory in South Carolina, his first of the 2020 roller coaster nomination fight.
Senator Klobuchar is flying to Dallas and plans to join Biden at his rally Monday night, according to her campaign.
Pete Buttigieg announced his exit late Sunday. He and Mr. Biden spoke late Sunday night, but it was unclear if Mr. Buttigieg planned to endorse the former vice president. The former mayor of South Bend Indiana is expected to announce his support for Mr. Biden later Monday at a rally in Dallas that Ms. Klobuchar also planned to attend, according to two people familiar with the decision who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
A shrinking group of other Democrats vowed to press on, potentially toward a contested convention.
The fast-moving developments came at a key crossroads in the Democratic Party's turbulent primary season. Fourteen states, one U.S. territory and Democrats abroad will vote on Tuesday, which offers almost 10 times as many delegates in a single day than have been awarded over the first month.
Fiery progressive Mr. Sanders remained the undisputed front-runner. But the rest of the field was decidedly unsettled, even after Mr. Biden's South Carolina blowout and the departures of Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Buttigieg, and billionaire activist Tom Steyer.
New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg in particular could create problems for Mr. Biden's establishment appeal. Mr. Bloomberg, who will appear on a 2020 ballot for the first time on Tuesday, has invested more than half a billion dollars into presidential bid and wracked up many high-profile endorsements of his own.
Yet Mr. Biden appeared to have the momentum on the eve of Super Tuesday after his blowout South Carolina victory.
The Biden campaign reported back-to-back days of $5 million fundraising hauls, by far the best 48-hour stretch of his campaign. Mr. Biden himself touted the threshold Sunday night on a call with donors, according to one person on the call.
And the Biden campaign highlights several new endorsements.
The new Biden backers include California Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, former Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, and Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif.
Virginia Rep. Don Beyer, the first member of Congress to endorse Mr. Buttigieg, said he planned to endorse Mr. Biden and expected Mr. Buttigieg to as well.
"I do think it's the most logical," Mr. Beyer said of a Biden endorsement, given his echo of the former vice president's call for civility, a mantra of the Buttigieg campaign. "I think Joe is the next best possibility."
Perhaps the most powerful endorsement would come from former President Barack Obama, who has a relationship with most of the candidates and has talked with several in recent weeks as primary voting has begun. He spoke with Mr. Biden after his South Carolina victory, but still has no plans to endorse in the primary at this point.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sanders was focused on California, the crown jewel of Super Tuesday. California alone offers 415 delegates, which is more than double the amount of delegates allocated through Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Mr. Sanders has struggled to win over many elected officials in Washington, but earned a high-profile endorsement Monday from Democracy for America, a national grassroots organization originally led by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, that boasts thousands of members across the county.
"The overwhelming support for Bernie we saw in our member vote should be a wake-up call to the broken, visionless, corporate Democratic establishment," said the organization's chair Charles Chamberlain. "Americans want fundamental change in Washington, not a return to the status quo."
The future for candidates not named Mr. Biden or Mr. Sanders appeared uncertain at best.
A handful of high-profile political strategists with ties to the former president encouraged Mr. Biden's rivals – including Mr. Bloomberg – to quit the race to allow anti-Sanders Democrats to unify behind Mr. Obama's former vice president.
“Most of them have seen the writing on the wall for at least the last week,” said Rufus Gifford, who held top fundraising posts on both of Obama’s presidential campaigns and was part of Biden’s fundraising operation. “It’s clear the Democratic alternative to Bernie Sanders is Joe Biden.”
Text messages reviewed by The Associated Press revealed an outpouring of interest in Biden from donors supporting other candidates, including Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren.
But in an example of Biden's challenge ahead, Mr. Sanders said Sunday he raised an eye-popping $46.5 million for February. That compared to $29 million for Warren and $18 million for Biden over the same period.
Mr. Sanders, who dominated the money race for much of the year even though he did not court wealthy donors, said it was not the overall fundraising haul that should impress but the enthusiasm of working people fueling his candidacy.
Mr. Biden allies conceded that the post-South Carolina fundraising surge would have little impact on Super Tuesday.
“Super Tuesday is too close,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Biden supporter. “Fortunately, Joe Biden has been on the national scene for 35 years. He has less need to advertise.”
In addition to his phone call with Mr. Biden, Mr. Buttigieg also spoke with Mr. Obama, who has been calling most of the candidates who have departed the race. Mr. Obama praised Mr. Buttigieg's campaign and his decision to step aside at this critical juncture in the Democratic primary, according to a person with knowledge of the call.
Mr. Biden's other rivals showed no interest in getting out of the race. In fact, some vowed to keep fighting no matter what happened on Super Tuesday.
Warren campaign manager Roger Lau spoke brazenly of pushing into a floor battle at the Democratic National Convention this summer if no candidate emerged from the primary season with a clear majority, which was possible even if someone had a large delegate lead.
“The convention in Milwaukee is the final play,” Mr. Lau wrote in a Sunday memo.
And Mr. Bloomberg, who this week will be on the ballot for the first time, insisted that he was not going anywhere before Tuesday’s primaries.
“I’m optimistic," he told voters in Selma, Alabama, where many of the White House hopefuls gathered for ceremonies commemorating civil rights heroism.
Mr. Biden got 48% of the South Carolina vote, Sen. Bernie Sanders got 19.9%, Tom Steyer finished with 11.3% (and promptly dropped out of the race). Mr. Buttigieg received 8.2%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren 7.1%, and Amy Klobuchar 3.2%.
Through four primary contests, the AP allocated at least 58 delegates to Mr. Sanders, including two added Sunday as South Carolina's remaining votes dribbled in. Mr. Biden vaulted past Mr. Buttigieg into second place with at least 50 delegates – shrinking Mr. Sanders' lead from what had been 30 delegates before South Carolina to eight. Mr. Buttigieg, Ms. Warren, and Ms. Klobuchar remained stuck at 26, eight, and seven, respectively.
But the first four states were always more about momentum more than math. Super Tuesday states offer a trove of 1,344 new delegates based on how candidates finish. Just 150 delegates have been awarded so far.
This story was reported by The Associated Press. Mr. Peoples reported from Washington and Mr. Barrow reported from Columbia, South Carolina. AP writers Brian Slodysko, Will Weissert, Hope Yen, Julie Pace, and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.