Millions of voters from Maine to California were casting ballots in a series of high-stakes Super Tuesday primary contests that tested the strength of starkly different visions for America’s future as Democrats hurtled toward a November rematch with President Donald Trump.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders began the day as the Democrats’ undisputed presidential front-runner, backed by a coalition of energized liberals, young voters and Latinos. The progressive was fighting to beat back the sudden rise of former Vice-President Joe Biden, who seized a wave of new support from some of his former Democratic presidential rivals just hours before polls opened in his quest to lead the party’s moderate wing.
The clash between the two men, each leading coalitions of disparate demographics and political beliefs, peaked on a day that could determine whether the Democrats’ 2020 nomination fight will stretch all the way to the party’s July convention or be decided much sooner.
Yet with voting underway across 14 states and one U.S. territory, the political world was bracing for a long night almost certain to provide new drama. The crown jewel of Super Tuesday, California, continues voting until 11 p.m. ET, with final results not expected until early Wednesday or even later.
The day was also testing the strength of another Democratic heavyweight, New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who was appearing on a presidential ballot for the first time after skipping all four contests last month.
Bloomberg banked on more than half a billion dollars in advertising and ground operations in an unorthodox and untested strategy that relied on Biden’s perceived weaknesses earlier in the year. Bloomberg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren loomed as potential spoilers as the candidates jockeyed to cross the voting threshold to secure delegates, a move that could prolong the nominating battle.
The Democratic race has shifted dramatically over the past three days as Biden capitalized on his commanding South Carolina victory to persuade anxious establishment allies to rally behind his campaign. Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg abruptly ended their campaigns and endorsed Biden, though their late departures meant their names will still appear on ballots.
Biden’s new supporters fanned out on morning television shows to praise him.
Sanders and his closest advisers pushed back against the sudden shift of the party’s establishment and donor class toward Biden.
In a Tuesday fundraising message, campaign manager Faiz Shakir declared, “The political establishment has made their choice: Anybody but Bernie Sanders.”
“The truth is, we’ve always known we were taking on the entire damn 1 per cent of this country,” he added. “But we have something they do not have: people. Lots and lots of people.”
Tuesday was the most anticipated of crossroads in the Democrats’ turbulent primary season as the party struggles to unify behind a clear message or messenger in its urgent quest to defeat Trump.