TAMARAC, Florida—Former Vice President Joe Biden’s political longevity depends on days like this.
Days when the party appears to be lining up behind him, when he appears strong, energized, and ready to take on President Trump and his monster political and fundraising organization.
Biden’s cycle of good news in the wake of his massive South Carolina victory began Sunday night with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s decision to leave the race. By day’s end Monday, Biden had Buttigieg’s support, along with onstage endorsements at a rally in Dallas from former 2020 rivals Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who ended her own presidential run Monday, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.
Klobuchar joked it was wonderful to be standing next to Biden on stage like this instead of facing off in a debate.
“Amy won all the debates,” Biden told the crowd later. “And I’m sure glad I wasn’t on stage debating you again, Amy.”
The younger generation that tried to beat Biden had come around to finally joining him.
“Folks, this is a team. We need your help,” Biden called to the crowd after Klobuchar and O’Rourke had sung his praises.
Optimism has reigned in Biden’s campaign as he launched from the South Carolina victory, a sense of direction that pushed past Super Tuesday states and into the delegate-rich state of Florida.
The winnowing of the field continues Biden’s recent resurgence. But it also cuts into former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s case to voters. Biden’s struggling frontrunner campaign presented Bloomberg with an opportunity to enter the race at the eleventh hour last year. The billionaire may now be the last moderate rival Biden has to box out in the fluid 2020 race.
As the day began, some voters in Florida remained undecided as they waited to make their voices heard. Biden’s performance in South Carolina largely swayed 71-year-old Bruce Nathanson to the Democrat’s side. That support is soft, however, and he’s left room to back Bloomberg just in case. He wants to support the guy who’s going to get the most votes on the moderate side, he said.
“If it’s a super blowout for Bloomberg, I probably would go Bloomberg,” Nathanson said of Super Tuesday.
In Florida, television advertising and the strength of Bloomberg’s massive campaign operation could loom large. But Biden’s campaign appears to be betting that getting Democrats like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) off the sidelines will shore up the support he needs to be the final centrist counterprogramming to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) progressive revolution.
Speaking at an organizing event in Broward County, Wasserman Schultz echoed what has become Biden supporters’ consistent message of late: He knows you, he’s struggled. He cares about health care and he knows about heartbreak.
“The resilience of this man is striking,” Wasserman Schultz told a crowd Monday morning. “It really is.”
Whether that will be enough to win out over a Bloomberg barrage aimed at the same crowd of moderate voters could serve as a case study in whether a national profile can contend with freewheeling campaign spending.
“I don’t know that the Democratic Party is one where you can just put a lot of ads out and spend a lot of money,” said 53-year-old Biden supporter Jennifer Martin, a moderate Biden supporter. “I don’t think that’s the message that Democrats believe in.”
The prospect of a contested convention remains, and Florida's 219-delegate haul is a substantial store of support for the few candidates likely to make it to the state’s March 17 primary.
Leslie Sills, a 62-year-old executive chef and pastry chef, already backs Biden and voiced his anger at Trump as he stood outside the Biden campaign’s Monday morning event.
But Bloomberg spending his wealth on the race didn’t bother Sills in the slightest.
“If I had the money Bloomberg [has], I’d be going for president myself,” he said.
Bloomberg will be in Florida on Super Tuesday, campaigning in West Palm Beach as he waits to see if his unique approach of ignoring the first four states in favor of a major Super Tuesday push is indeed the kind of standards breaking political move his campaign has trumpeted it to be.
His campaign touted its Florida operation in a press release Monday morning, boasting that the former mayor’s state campaign is “stronger than ever.”
“No other campaign has a bigger footprint in Florida,” Bloomberg’s 2020 Florida state director, Scott Kosanovich, said in the release. “We have had organizers on the ground for months, knocking thousands of doors weekly, talking to voters about Mike’s record on climate change, gun safety, and health care. Floridians know Mike is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump.”
Even at the Biden organizing event Wasserman Schultz spoke at on Monday, Bloomberg continued to be an enticing option for some. The hunger to beat Trump is as ferocious as ever, and discomfort over the frontrunner Sanders from some in the moderate base of the party is evident.
Amma Asantewaa, a 75-year-old undecided voter, said she’s struggling to decide between Biden and Bloomberg. The former mayor may have a better chance in Florida's general election, she said.
“He was a Republican, and Florida’s a Republican state,” she said.
Other more enthusiastic Biden supporters have already had enough of Bloomberg. In one case, a volunteer mirrored an attack on the former New York City mayor that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) used to raise her campaign’s profile in the debate held just before the Nevada caucuses.
“Basically Bloomberg is just a different Trump,” Ali Giammarella, a 62-year-old Biden volunteer, said.