Biden grabs the delegate lead, and it's going to be hard for Sanders to catch him

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Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden accompanied by his wife Jill Biden, speaks during a Super Tuesday event in Los Angeles on March 3, 2020.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

We mapped out yesterday morning what we thought might be a super Super Tuesday for Joe Biden. We just didn’t realize how great for him it would actually be.

Biden won nine states (Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) versus three for Bernie Sanders (Colorado, Utah and Vermont), with two states still not called by NBC News (California and Maine).

More significantly, Biden has won — so far — 87 more delegates than Sanders from yesterday's contests, according to NBC’s Decision Desk. And even when all of the California delegates eventually get allocated, we still believe Biden will emerge as the delegate winner from Super Tuesday.

And here’s why that’s a problem for Sanders: The future contests don’t get any easier for him.

On March 10, the Democratic presidential race moves to Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington state.

On March 17, it heads to Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

And on March 24, Georgia holds its primary.

While Sanders could conceivably win Michigan, Washington, Arizona and Ohio that could help him cut into Biden’s delegate lead, Florida and Georgia — combined — could conservatively net Biden 100 delegates.

So any Sanders gains could be quickly erased — and more — by states in the South.

The Vermont senator’s best path to the nomination was building a 200 or 250 delegate lead on Super Tuesday and holding on.

Instead, it was Biden who got the delegate lead on Super Tuesday, and that’s a much tougher place for Sanders.

The good news for Sanders is that every time we seem to think we have the Democratic presidential race figured out — “Sanders is the frontrunner!” “Biden won South Carolina but might not have the organization or money to compete on Super Tuesday!” — we get quite the surprise.

Tweet of the day

Sanders stuck (mostly) in the 20s

Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire last month with 26 percent of the vote.

He got 20 percent in South Carolina.

And last night, he took 26 percent in Massachusetts, 25 percent in Oklahoma and Tennessee, 24 percent in North Carolina, 23 percent in Virginia, 22 percent in Arkansas, and 16 percent in Alabama.

While Sanders did get 36 percent in Colorado, 33 percent (so far) in California, and 51 percent in his home state of Vermont, he isn’t growing his base.

In fact, it seems quite the contrary — see below.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 35 points

35 points.

That’s the difference between the share of the vote that Bernie Sanders got in his home state of Vermont in 2016 (86 percent) and what he got there last night (51 percent).

Yes, it’s a more crowded field, but it’s also a signal of how Sanders hasn’t expanded his base in the last four years.

Here’s how those vote shares from 2016 and 2020 stack up in the other states that voted last night.

Alabama

  • 2016: 19 percent
  • 2020: 17 percent

Arkansas

  • 2016: 30 percent
  • 2020: 22 percent

California

  • 2016: 43 percent
  • 2020: 33 percent

Colorado (Was a caucus in 2016, now a primary)

  • 2016: 59 percent
  • 2020: 36 percent

Maine (Was a caucus in 2016, now a primary)

  • 2016: 64 percent
  • 2020: 33 percent

Massachusetts

  • 2016: 49 percent
  • 2020: 26 percent

Minnesota (Was a caucus in 2016, now a primary)

  • 2016: 62 percent
  • 2020: 30 percent

North Carolina

  • 2016: 41 percent
  • 2020: 24 percent

Oklahoma

  • 2016: 52 percent
  • 2020: 25 percent

Tennessee

  • 2016: 32 percent
  • 2020: 25 percent

Texas

  • 2016: 33 percent
  • 2020: 30 percent

Utah (Was a caucus in 2016, now a primary)

  • 2016: 79 percent
  • 2020: 35 percent

Vermont

  • 2016: 86 percent
  • 2020: 51 percent

Virginia

  • 2016: 35 percent
  • 2020: 23 percent

2020 Vision: Bloomberg’s bust

As we noted yesterday, Michael Bloomberg spent $198 million on TV and radio ads in the Super Tuesday states, per our ad trackers at Advertising Analytics.

And as of this morning, Bloomberg has picked up just 18 delegates from the Super Tuesday contests.

That’s $11 million per delegate.

On the campaign trail today

Biden is expected to deliver remarks in Los Angeles.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

A fired-up Joe Biden celebrated a victorious Super Tuesday night in California, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports: “’It's a good night, and it seems to be getting even better. They don't call it Super Tuesday for nothing,’ Biden immediately told the crowd of several hundred gathered at a Los Angeles recreational center. A boisterous Biden reminded the crowd that many predicted weeks ago that his campaign would end on this exact night. Instead, it appears that it will end in an upset for his opponents, which has surprised Biden campaign expectations. ‘Well, it may be over for the other guy,’ Biden said in an apparent jab to his opponents. ‘I'm here to report, we are very much alive.’”

And the haul for Biden last night may have Mike Bloomberg reassessing, NBC’s Josh Lederman, Maura Barrett and Julia Jester report from last night: “Publicly, the Bloomberg campaign is projecting confidence tonight, with campaign manager Kevin Sheekey saying on Tuesday night that they are “’absolutely not”’ worried about Bloomberg being a spoiler and that their internal polling showed Bloomberg being viable in most, if not all, the states at play. But privately, Bloomberg campaign officials are far less optimistic. They are acknowledging that Joe Biden is poised to do extremely well and their data showed that a large number of voters made up their minds last-minute, which almost surely helps Biden. Bloomberg officials are acknowledging that Bloomberg will re-assess on Wednesday whether to stay in the race.”

The Lid: The waiting is the hardest part

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we noted that some of the delegate allocations from Super Tuesday might take a lot longer than you think.

Shameless plug: Late night ToddCast!

The First Read Team stayed up late parsing everything we learned from the Super Tuesday returns. Check out a special edition of the Chuck ToddCast here.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Joe Biden sure found his mojo last night, writes Jonathan Allen.

Mike Bloomberg is meeting with advisers to “reassess” his candidacy.

What was going on with those long lines in California and Texas?

Team Trump may not be saying it publicly, but they’re privately concerned about what Joementum might mean for their candidate.

It’s a runoff between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville in AL-SEN (which means: No Roy Moore.)

Here’s the latest on the Cuellar/Cisneros race in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune.

Trump Agenda: Misinformation

The Trump administration’s efforts to address coronavirus keep getting undermined by misinformation.

Vice President Pence says every American can get a coronavirus test.

Can the president fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? The Supreme Court is split.

Here’s what’s up with the FISA dispute in the Senate.

2020: Gabbard gets a delegate

Tulsi Gabbard now has a delegate.

Things aren’t looking very sunny for Elizabeth Warren.

The state of New York won’t hold a Republican primary.

Pierce Bush (of, yes, that Bush family) failed to make the runoff in his Texas House bid.