South Carolina is Biden's last chance to stop Bernie Sanders

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Image: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden gestures to the crowd during Sunday services at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston
Joe Biden gestures to the crowd during Sunday services at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 23, 2020.Randall Hill / Reuters

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — After Bernie Sanders steamrolled through Nevada, after Joe Biden (finally) finished second in the Silver State and after Pete Buttigieg took third, this coming Saturday’s contest in South Carolina is shaping up to be Biden’s final stand if he wants to win the nomination.

And it could also be Sanders’ opportunity to put the whole thing away — in less than a month.

The good news for Biden is that NBC’s Craig Melvin is reporting that influential South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., will endorse the former vice president on Wednesday. This comes after Clyburn said on “Meet the Press” that he would be endorsing — but wouldn’t reveal that choice.

The bad news for Biden, however, is that he’s been losing ground in the Palmetto State: An online CBS/YouGov poll showed the former vice president at 28 percent in South Carolina — followed by Sanders at 23 percent, Tom Steyer at 18 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 12 percent and Pete Buttigieg at 10 percent.

Back in November, the same poll had it Biden 45 percent, Warren 17 percent and Sanders 15 percent.

And Steyer appears to be peeling away African-American support from Biden: Steyer gets 24 percent of the African-American vote in the new CBS/YouGov survey — compared with Biden’s 35 percent and Sanders’ 23 percent.

Here’s the thing about final stands: They rarely turn out well for the candidate who’s making it one.

Remember Rudy Giuliani and Florida in 2008? Or Ted Cruz and Indiana in 2016?

And even if Biden hangs on in South Carolina, will he have the momentum (and money) to compete with Sanders on Super Tuesday?

Is it already too late to stop Sanders?

Say goodbye to the Dems’ 2018 playbook?

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, Bernie Sanders, if he becomes the Dem nominee, can win the general election.

2016 proved any party’s presidential nominee has — at least — a puncher’s chance.

But what Sanders as the Dem nominee would mean is that the party is giving up on the political playbook it used against Republicans in 2018. Pre-existing conditions. Referendum on Trump. Outsider candidates.

Indeed, it remains noteworthy that none of the Democratic candidates who flipped districts or states ran under the Bernie Sanders banner in 2018.

And those who did lost — like Andrew Gillum in Florida and Ben Jealous in Maryland.

One other thing: Sanders still doesn’t have an endorsement from a single Democratic politician who represents a swing congressional district, or a senator/governor representing a battleground state.

Tweet of the day

Russia, if you’re listening ...

Beyond the results out of Nevada, the other big news from late last week concerned Russia and the 2020 election.

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that intelligence officials warned House lawmakers that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to try to get Trump re-elected — “a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him.”

On Friday, the Washington Post followed up that Russia was attempting to help Bernie Sanders, too.

And here’s how the Trump White House spun the news: “Well, there are these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president. That's no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow. President Trump has rebuilt the American military to an extent we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan. So, I don't think it's any surprise that Russia or China or Iran would want somebody other than President Trump,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told ABC.

2020 Vision: Breaking down Bernie’s big win in Nevada

After Bernie Sanders’ narrow victory in New Hampshire, what stands out from his performance in Nevada on Saturday was how well he did across the board in the Silver State.

He won among men (getting 38 percent), per the entrance poll. He won among women (30 percent).

He took 29 percent of the white vote, 27 percent of the African-American vote and a whopping 51 percent of the Latino vote.

He also won 49 percent of “very” liberals and 29 percent of “somewhat” liberals.

And he even tied Biden among moderates/conservatives.

That’s an impressive showing. Oh, and Sanders appeared to have won big among rank-and-file Culinary workers.

But here’s where Sanders underperformed: He got just 11 percent among seniors, 22 percent among moderates and 23 percent among white women with college degrees.

On the campaign trail today

The campaign activity turns to South Carolina: Joe Biden hits Charleston… Elizabeth Warren also stumps in the city with Ayanna Pressley… Pete Buttigieg holds an event in Arlington, Va., before stumping in Charleston and doing a town hall in CNN… And Buttigieg, Warren and Tom Steyer all speak at a “First in the South” dinner in Charleston.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

As Bernie Sanders becomes the cemented Democratic front-runner, he’s starting to test a unity message in Texas, NBC’s Gary Grumbach reports: “Sen. Bernie Sanders focused on unity [Sunday] during a rally in Houston, Texas, one day after winning the Nevada caucus by what appears to be a considerable margin. ‘Understand that we are in this together,’ Sanders said. ‘There is no family in America, no family, you think you're alone--you're not. There's no family in America that does not have its share of problems, trust me, alright? You think you're the only family, you're not. Every family has a problem and what America must be is an understanding that my family has got to care about your family. Your family has got to care about my family. And that as human beings we share a common humanity that we are in this together.’”

Meanwhile, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports on Joe Biden from Sunday: “Biden would not say if he was concerned about whether Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wins in two of the three first [nominating] states could hurt him in South Carolina. But he did agree that Sanders was definitely coming in with momentum. However, Biden was quick to slow that momentum by pointing out key differences between them both, including their support for former President Barack Obama. ‘You know, Bernie wanted to primary Barack in 2012. You know, I've had his back the whole time. Bernie wanted to primary him,’ he said. ‘So I mean the idea that all of a sudden everybody's real good buddies and real supportive of our agenda when we were president and vice president is kind of being exposed.’”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $14.7 million

$14.7 million.

That’s the amount of money, per Advertising Analytics, that Tom Steyer spent on TV and radio ads in Nevada, where he finished in fifth place in delegates (with 96 percent in).

That $14.7 million was eight times more than the second-biggest advertiser in Nevada — Bernie Sanders. Here’s the ad spending breakdown:

  • Steyer: $14.7 million
  • Sanders: $1.8 million
  • Warren: $1.5 million
  • Biden: $1.4 million
  • Buttigieg: $1.2 million
  • Klobuchar: $851,000
  • Persist PAC (pro-Warren): $796,000
  • Vote Vets (pro-Buttigieg): $598,000
  • Democratic Majority for Israel (anti-Sanders): $520,000
  • Unite the Country (pro-Biden): $470,000
  • Vote Nurses Values (pro-Sanders): $175,000

The good news for Steyer: His 18 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll of South Carolina qualifies him for Tuesday’s debate in South Carolina, NBC’s Ben Kamisar reports.

The Lid

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we did a deep dive into how our sample of black voters feels about the 2020 field.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

It’s official: Biden nabbed second place in Nevada — and Rep. Jim Clyburn will endorse him in South Carolina.

Warren finally criticized Sanders — but is it too late?

Tom Steyer will make the next debate.

Pete Buttigieg wants another look at “inconsistencies” in the Nevada results.

Don’t miss this from over the weekend: “National security adviser Robert O'Brien said he's seen ‘no evidence’ that Russia is seeking to aid President Donald Trump's re-election, but he said reports that Russia is trying to boost Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign were ‘no surprise.’”

Trump Agenda: In India

The U.S. and India will sign a $3 billion defense deal.

Legal immigration is beginning to plunge under Trump.

Roger Stone asked a judge to recuse herself from a potential new trial. She wasn’t interested.

2020: Buttigieg slams Sanders in South Carolina

Pete Buttigieg has two new ads up slamming Sanders in South Carolina.

Bernie Sanders will skip AIPAC again.

Tom Steyer is taking more heat for how he’s spending in the black community during his presidential run.

POLITICO describes the Democratic establishment as being in “panic mode.”

How is Sanders doing so well? He’s bringing in a diverse coalition across racial and ideological lines.