Biden's banking big on South Carolina, but his real challenge is Super Tuesday

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to guests during a campaign stop at the Winyah Indigo Society Hall on Feb. 26, 2020 in Georgetown, South Carolina.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to guests during a campaign stop at the Winyah Indigo Society Hall on Feb. 26, 2020 in Georgetown, South Carolina.Scott Olson / Getty Images

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden has enjoyed, easily, his best week of 2020 — a second-place finish in Nevada, a relatively strong debate performance, Jim Clyburn’s endorsement and polling showing him poised to win South Carolina on Saturday.

His challenge comes after South Carolina, since his campaign is hardly a player in the 14 Super Tuesday states, which vote just three day later on March 3.

The Biden camp just announced a six-figure ad buy in the Super Tuesday states targeting African-American voters.

But Michael Bloomberg has already spent $172 million in TV and radio ads in these same states; Tom Steyer has spent $35 million; and Bernie Sanders’ $11 million, per data from Advertising Analytics.

And when it comes to boots on the ground, NBC’s Ben Kamisar and Jeremia Kimelman say the Biden camp has roughly 500 staffers on the payroll, according to the personnel estimates from January’s FEC report.

That’s compared with about 1,300 for the Warren camp, 1,000 for Team Sanders and 950 for Bloomberg (though his campaign says he has way more now).

Even look at today’s campaign schedule: Biden, once again, spends his day in South Carolina.

But Bernie Sanders also hits North Carolina and Virginia; Michael Bloomberg makes stops in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas; and Amy Klobuchar makes stops in the Tar Heel State.

“He hasn’t been here. Of all the campaigns, the least organized in Arkansas is Biden,” the chair of Arkansas’ Democratic Party told the New York Times.

Biden is banking on a big victory in South Carolina on Saturday, which could give his campaign momentum heading into Super Tuesday.

And he could very well get it.

But any momentum might be offset by a lack of preparation, manpower and spending ability when Super Tuesday arrives just days later.

Tweet of the day

The coronavirus buck stops with … Mike Pence?

“President Donald Trump on Wednesday tried to ease growing fears over the spreading coronavirus, saying at the White House that his administration has the situation under control and is ‘ready to adapt’ if the virus spreads,” per NBC News.

“Trump, speaking from the Brady Briefing Room, said he was putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of his administration's response to the potential pandemic.”

The Hill’s Reid Wilson says this is a huge risk for Pence.

“The decision to hand Pence authority – and responsibility – for what could be the most significant crisis of Trump's three years in office reflects both the president's aversion to bucks stopping on his desk and his level of trust in a partner he had viewed with skepticism at the beginning of their relationship,” he writes.

“[I]f the virus does begin spreading widely within the United States, Pence risks taking the blame,” Wilson adds.

Trump is trying to Purell his political hands from the virus.

Data Download: The number of the day is … at least a year to 18 months

At least a year to 18 months.

That’s how long it will likely take for a vaccine for the coronavirus to be developed into a final product, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci added during a news conference at the White House yesterday that the vaccine is in rapid development now, but that it takes months to complete trials to determine that vaccine works and is safe to use.

2020 Vision: Cease and desist

“Former President Barack Obama is demanding that a pro-Trump group stop airing a ‘despicable’ ad that uses a recording of Obama's voice to attack former Vice President Joe Biden — a rare intervention in a race that Obama has largely avoided so far,” NBC’s Mike Memoli and Dareh Gregorian write.

“The ad from the Committee to Defend the President, which aired on a South Carolina CBS affiliate multiple times before and during Tuesday night's debate, borrows from an Obama audiobook to suggest that the former president is criticizing his VP.”

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden stumps in Conway, S.C., with Viveca Fox… Tom Steyer also is in the Palmetto State, hitting Orangeburg and Summerville… Bernie Sanders holds rallies in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina… Amy Klobuchar spends her day in North Carolina, stopping in Greensboro and Raleigh… Pete Buttigieg meets with the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus in DC before campaigning in South Carolina… Elizabeth Warren stumps in San Antonio with Julian Castro… Mike Bloomberg stumps in Houston, Oklahoma City and Arkansas… And Tulsi Gabbard is in Virginia.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Mike Bloomberg faced his first real questions from voters during his first televised town hall, NBC’s Maura Barrett reports. Bloomberg said he disagreed with the premise of supporting the Democratic nominee regardless of who they were: “I always thought it's ridiculous to say I will support the candidate no matter who it is because you might not agree with him. That's how we got Donald Trump. The party supported him no matter how bad he was. They shouldn't have done that. It's easy to make the commitment to support any of the Democratic candidates if they get the nomination. But it's easy to do it because the alternative is Donald Trump, and that we don't want.”

And Bloomberg had to answer for why Democrats should trust him to lead the party when he served for several years as an elected Republican: “Bloomberg defended himself, saying he’s spent a lot of time working on Democratic causes, but also said that he comes from ‘Massachusetts where there are no Republicans, so I was a Democrat there for sure. I moved to New York City, where there are no Republicans, so I was a Democrat there.’”

Talking Policy with Benjy

The Bloomberg Edition: If you’ve watched the last two Democratic debates, you probably heard a lot about Michael Bloomberg’s unprecedented campaign spending and his record as mayor and CEO. What’s often left out of the conversation, though, is what he actually says he'll do as president.

NBC’s Benjy Sarlin takes a look at his policy proposals so far and finds there’s a reason the Bloomberg 2020 platform hasn’t gotten much attention: Bloomberg's ideas are pretty conventional by 2020 Democratic standards. On most issues, they tend to mirror center-left Democrats in the race like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar. His health care plan, for example, is roughly the same as Buttigieg’s – add a public option, increase Obamacare subsidies, and restrict how much health care providers can charge for their services. And while rivals have bashed his mayoral record on race and policing, his 2020 plans consist of now-standard Democratic ideas like ending cash bail, increasing oversight of police, and decriminalizing marijuana.

Bloomberg used to be a Republican and later an independent, and he’s changed his position (or at least his rhetoric) on a variety of issues for his 2020 run. Once a critic of minimum wage increases, he’s now on board with typical Democratic calls for a $15 an hour floor. Once a critic of Obamacare, he now wants to build on it. Once a critic of President Obama’s Wall Street regulations, he now wants to enforce them even harder and slap a tax on financial transactions.

There’s nothing unusual about a candidate “evolving” toward party consensus and even left-wing stalwart Sen. Bernie Sanders acknowledged some “bad votes” at Tuesday’s debate. But part of Bloomberg's 2020 message is that his vast fortune makes him immune to pressure from donors and interest groups. So it’s maybe worth asking why his policy proposals look a whole lot like his rivals who are taking donations and courting interest groups.

The Lid: Winner winner, chicken dinner

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at new data about which Americans feel like they’re “winning” these days.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

SEIU is launching a $150 million campaign to help defeat Trump.

Five people and the gunman are dead after a shooting at the Molson Coors headquarters in Milwaukee.

What the heck is Tom Steyer’s plan?

House GOP leaders want to force a vote on Bernie Sanders’ comments about Cuba.

Trump Agenda: CDC, yeah you know me

Trump’s CDC chief is coming under increasing criticism as the coronavirus story develops.

The House has passed an historic anti-lynching bill.

2020: Pelosi and Bernie

How is Nancy Pelosi dealing with the idea of a Sanders nomination?

The GOP Senate primary fight in Georgia is giving Republicans heartburn.

The New York Times wonders if Bloomberg’s huge ad blitz will pay off.

The Arizona Republic says it’s done with making endorsements.

And the ACLU is sending out mailers to seniors in South Carolina with this message: “We asked presidential candidates ... Will you commit to significantly expand the total number of persons with a disability who can access home and community-based services as part of your health care plan?... Joe Biden failed to respond.”