A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

Biden’s big turnaround upends campaign narrative

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden points as reporters ask questions Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Los Angeles.

Dear reader:

It’s hard to believe that just five days ago, political reporters were writing stories about Joe Biden’s “last stand.” While many believed the former vice president was likely to win South Carolina, no one predicted the kind of comeback his victory on Saturday would launch.

Last night, Mr. Biden absolutely smashed expectations, turning the entire campaign narrative on its head. Heading into Super Tuesday, pundits were estimating the best-case scenario for him would be to trail Sen. Bernie Sanders by some 60 delegates. Instead, Mr. Biden is now well ahead in the projected delegate count.

Why We Wrote This

The former vice president’s Super Tuesday victories have given him a lead in the delegate count and make him the frontrunner once again.

“This is his nomination to lose,” declared former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe this morning on MSNBC.

It wasn’t just the size but the speed of Mr. Biden’s turnaround that was so stunning. “I’ve never seen a race move 15 points basically overnight,” tweeted Addisu Demissie, the former campaign manager for Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential bid. “Let alone 15 separate races doing it in concert, from coast to coast, almost regardless of demographics.”

That sudden, dramatic swing was in part spurred by a Democratic electorate that had been paralyzed with indecision for much of the campaign. At the last minute, Mr. Biden’s South Carolina win – followed by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropping out and endorsing him – helped clarify things.

In today’s online-all-the-time, interconnected world, timing is everything. The rosy news cycles Mr. Biden got out of South Carolina were worth more than Senator Sanders’s grassroots organizing or Michael Bloomberg’s wall-to-wall advertising.

Those same factors still contain warnings for Mr. Biden. Many voters had been undecided because the former vice president – the frontrunner for much of the campaign – has performed so unevenly on the trail. And if a strong news cycle can lead to positive electoral outcomes, a few bad ones could do serious damage.

But on the single biggest day of the primary campaign, Mr. Biden met the moment. “We were told, ‘Well, when you got to Super Tuesday, it would be over,’” an almost giddy Mr. Biden declared last night. “Well, it may be over for the other guy.”

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