The shock hit right at 7 p.m., when the nets were calling Virginia for Joe Biden the instant the polls closed. Two days ago, Bernie Sanders led the state in fivethirtyeight’s averages by five points. I figured Biden might eke it out after South Carolina, but I did not figure on a top-of-the-hour insta-call, and a 30-point blowout win.
Thirty points! Biden crushed Sanders in nearly every category. Black voters, of course, 71-16. But white voters, too, 49-24. Every age group except under 29s. And under 29s, by the way, constituted a paltry percentage of the overall turnout—just 13 percent. Forty-five to 64s were 40 percent, and Biden won them 59-19.
Virginia turnout was massive—1.3 million, as opposed to 783,000 in 2016. In other words, there was a candidate who dramatically increased turnout. He just wasn’t named Bernie Sanders.
I’m writing this before California is called, and California—where exit polls showed Biden at just 5 percent among voters 29 and under—will change things in Sanders’ favor. But even there, if the evening’s trends hold, Biden should top the 15 percent threshold to win delegates. And if he hits that, and especially if one or two others hit it too, then Sanders won’t walk out of California with a plus-or-minus 300 delegate bulge. Weirdly, Mike Bloomberg, who got in the race in part to stop Sanders, may end up helping him there.
Make no mistake, this was Biden’s night in a huge way. Minnesota? He had no staff on the ground in the state! Sanders held several events there, and Bloomberg spent his usual millions. Nobody thought Biden would win there, including Biden.
What happened here? The race turned upside down is what happened. Last week, all my conversations with people in Washington were, this thing’s over, it’s Bernie. Now, it practically feels like it’s over in the other direction, and Bernie is done.
Of course, it’s not that either; there’s still a long way to go, and surprises are always possible. But this race changed with South Carolina in a way I’ve never seen a race change. Polls had Biden up 5 percent there. He won by nearly 30. What the hell happened? Was it all Jim Clyburn?
The South Carolina exit polls said it was half Clyburn. So it was half something else. What?
Sanders people won’t like this, but it’s pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that the voters who are the core of the Democratic Party—black voters over 40 and professional women of all colors—decided to stop the revolution.
Sanders did terribly among women. According to the exit polls, across all the Super Tuesday states, he nipped Biden 36-35 among men. But Biden clubbed him 38-25 among women (Elizabeth Warren got 16 percent).
Let’s face it. All these results are not out of massive adoration for Biden. It’s because a majority of Democratic primary voters evidently don’t want Sanders to be their nominee.
What don’t they like? We don’t know for sure. Maybe it’s because they disagree ideologically. Maybe they think he can’t win a general election. Maybe they don’t like the fact that he’s not a Democrat. I can’t help but notice that “Democrat” keeps creeping more and more into Biden’s language, surrounded by words like “proud” and “Roosevelt” and “Obama.” It’s probably some combination of all these factors, but it’s pretty clear they don’t want him.
I mean, a lot of them really don’t want him. Biden won Massachusetts! He was close to single digits there last I looked. We have never seen voters decide so collectively and comprehensively and swiftly that they wanted to block a certain outcome.
Sanders will now frame the race as him versus the establishment—he’s already started doing it. I got an email earlier today from Our Revolution that read: “Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O'Rourke have dropped out of the presidential primary race and endorsed Joe Biden. The billionaire-funded Democratic establishment has made their move—now we need to respond.”
That has it backwards. There’s no billionaire-funded establishment pulling their strings like puppets. There were, in the first place, voters. The voters spoke last Saturday—no, they screamed—affirming that they prefer Biden. Democrats stood athwart Bernie’s revolution, and yelled stop.
Pete and Amy got the message that if they couldn’t win black votes, they couldn’t win. Winning large numbers of black votes is the only way for a Democrat to be elected president. And right now, there’s only one candidate who can.
Sanders’ speech, and its attacks on Biden and his 60 billionaire donors, showed that this is going to be a long and ugly fight. Sanders feels he had this thing in his hands and it’s now being ripped out of them. He’s right about that, but he’s not right about the culprit. It wasn’t the billionaires. It was voters. Mostly women voters and voters of color. And if you can’t win them, you’re not going to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.