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Biden takes command of Democratic race, leaving Sanders with difficult questions

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: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks during a primary night speech at The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa, on March 10, 2020.Brendan McDermid / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Halfway through the primary contests, more Democratic voters have made it abundantly clear that they want Joe Biden’s restoration over Bernie Sanders’ revolution.

That’s the message from last night’s decisive Biden victories in Mississippi (where he’s ahead 81 percent to 14.8 percent), Missouri (60 percent to 35 percent), Michigan (53 percent to 37 percent) and even Idaho (49 percent to 43 percent).

NBC News’ Decision Desk says that Washington state is “too close to call” (where Sanders is ahead by 2,000 votes with 69 percent in), and NBC just projected Sanders the winner of North Dakota’s caucuses.

So in the 20 Democratic contests beginning with Super Tuesday last week, African Americans, older voters, moderates and voters who call themselves somewhat (but not very) liberal overwhelmingly broken for Biden — and many of those are the most reliable voting blocs for Democrats.

That’s compared with younger voters, very liberals and Latinos who have sided with Sanders.

In Mississippi, Missouri, Michigan and Washington state, strong majorities of Democratic voters – once again – said their top priority was a candidate who could beat President Trump, versus a candidate who agrees with them on most issues.

“Our very democracy is at stake in this election,” Biden said last night from Philadelphia. “As I said from the moment I announced not far from here, that I believe we're in the battle for the soul of this nation. With Donald Trump as president, our core values, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America is truly at stake.”

And with Biden now leading Sanders by 150 delegates per NBC’s latest count (double the 77-delegate edge he had going into last night’s contests), much of the party is already starting to coalesce around the former vice president.

Guy Cecil, who heads the Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA, tweeted: “The math is now clear. Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee for President and @prioritiesUSA is going to do everything we can to help him defeat Donald Trump in November.”

Another Dem group, American Bridge, did the same.

It all raises important questions for Sanders: How does he go forward, especially with the upcoming contests later this month (Florida, Georgia) on even more unfriendly terrain for him?

If he stays in the race, how does he campaign against Biden, especially with Trump waiting in the wings?

And what message does he send to his young, progressive and Latino-heavy supporters – particularly since the Dem nominee is going to need them to win in November?

Tweet of the day

Breaking down where Sanders has been weaker than he was in 2016

Part of the story of the Democratic primary season has been Joe Biden’s overperformance – especially since South Carolina.

But the other part of the story has been Bernie Sanders’ underperformance.

He’s now lost several states he won in 2016, including Michigan and Idaho from last night.

The white non-college Democrats who sided with him over Hillary Clinton in places like Michigan went to Biden.

And even in Sanders’ home state of Vermont, his winning percentage went from 86 percent in 2016 to 51 percent this year.

Sanders’ best performances of 2020 have been in the Latino-heavy states of California and Nevada.

But outside of those two states, his candidacy is weaker than what it was four years ago.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 18 points

18 points.

That was Joe Biden’s margin over Bernie Sanders with voters linked to labor unions in Michigan’s Democratic primary, per exit polls.

Among the 30 percent of primary voters who said that they or someone in their household belonged to a union, 55 percent supported Biden, while 37 percent supported Sanders.

In Sanders’ narrow win over Hillary Clinton in the state four years ago, Sanders won union voters by 3 percentage points.

Biden’s win with union voters in Missouri last night was even more decisive. The former vice president won union-affiliated voters there, 63 percent to 33 percent.

2020 Vision: Troll Tide in Alabama

“President Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed Jeff Sessions' rival in the Alabama Senate race,” per NBC News.

“‘Coach Tommy Tuberville, a winner, has my Complete and Total Endorsement,’ Trump said of the former Auburn University football coach. ‘I love Alabama!’”

“The president tweeted that Tuberville ‘was a terrific head football coach’ and ‘a REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down!’”

The Sessions-versus-Tuberville runoff is on March 31.

On the campaign trail today

There are no public events scheduled for today after last night’s were canceled over fears of public safety amid coronavirus.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

After Joe Biden’s multiple victories last night, Bernie Sanders chose not to address the press, NBC’s Gary Grumbach reports.

But Biden did — and he tried to sound like a presumptive nominee, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor: “Biden saw tonight’s victories as consequential as his last several wins in South Carolina and Super Tuesday states. But unlike those nights, he projected confidence—and at one point full acceptance—that he could be the party’s nominee. ‘This campaign is taking off, and I believe we're going to do well from this point on.’ Biden said. He also thanked Sanders for the race he has run thus far in remarks that sounded similar to ones delivered by past nominees whose opponents had conceded the race. ‘I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion. We share a common goal, and together we'll defeat Donald, we'll defeat him together.’”

But of course, Sanders has not conceded the party’s nomination. While he hasn’t addressed last night’s results, his press secretary tweeted that she is “excited” about this week’s Democratic debate and that America will get “to see Biden defend his ideas, or lack thereof, on Sunday.”

The Lid: Primary colors

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at how Sanders’s 2016 success was largely built around his dominance in caucuses — and what the demise of those contests in favor of primaries has meant for his chances in 2020.

ICYMI: New clips you shouldn’t miss

Sahil Kapur has these key takeaways from last night’s primaries — and they’re not good news for Sanders.

Gabby Giffords is backing Joe Biden just days before the Arizona primary.

There won’t be a live audience at the Sunday debate amid coronavirus concerns.

President Trump is proposing an elimination of the payroll tax through the end of the year (and through his reelection campaign).

Trump Agenda: (Tele)work it out

The Trump administration is preparing to move hundreds of thousands of federal workers to telework amid the coronavirus scare.

Sonia Sotomayor is recusing herself from a Supreme Court case involving the electoral college.

There’s a new FISA deal. Here’s how it would work.

Democrats aren’t happy with Kevin McCarthy’s tweet about the “Chinese coronavirus.”

2020: About last night

Bernie Sanders had a week to change the narrative after Super Tuesday. He couldn’t.

Not very many people expected a short primary — but we may be on the brink of one.

POLITICO notes that Sanders doesn’t have many bright spots left in the campaign to look forward to.