Dramatic twist in US presidential race
THERE has been a dramatic twist in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with two high profile candidates dropping out and throwing their support behind former vice president Joe Biden.
Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar will join Mr Biden at a rally in Texas today, where both are expected to publicly endorse him.
It's a significant moment. Until this week, Mr Buttigieg and Ms Klobuchar were competing with Mr Biden, but the former vice president's massive win in South Carolina led them to conclude they no longer had any realistic path to the nomination.
Their decision to drop out and endorse Mr Biden is a sign that moderate Democrats are coalescing behind him as the only viable alternative to left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders, with just hours remaining until 14 states vote at once on Super Tuesday.
Speaking to supporters in South Bend yesterday, Mr Buttigieg said he was getting out of the race for the same reason he initially got in - because he believed it was the best way to help the Democratic Party beat President Donald Trump in November's general election.
"We have a responsibility to consider the effect of remaining in this race any further," he said.
"Our goal has always been to help unify Americans to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for our values. And so we must recognise that at this point in the race, the best way to keep faith with those goals and ideals is to step aside and help bring our party and our country together."
Ms Klobuchar has yet to speak publicly about her decision, but her logic will be the same.
Democratic moderates are worried that Mr Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, will lose to Mr Trump if he is selected to be the party's nominee.
Mr Sanders became the undisputed frontrunner for that nomination over the last month, racking up victories in New Hampshire and Nevada as the moderate vote remained fractured between Mr Biden, Mr Buttigieg and Ms Klobuchar.
Tomorrow, billionaire Michael Bloomberg will also be on the ballot for the first time, having skipped the first four states.
Today, when he was asked about the prospect of Mr Biden consolidating moderate support, Mr Sanders said he was not surprised or particularly concerned.
"Look, it is no secret - The Washington Post has 16 articles a day on this - that there is a massive effort, trying to stop Bernie Sanders. That's not a secret," he told reporters.
"The corporate establishment is coming together. The political establishment is coming together, and they will do everything.
"They are really getting notice that working people are standing up.
"By the way, when we talk about South Carolina, and we talk about other states, we are winning working class voters by big numbers. So they're nervous that working class people are standing up for decent wages. They're nervous that we're prepared to take on the fossil fuel industry to try to save this planet. They're nervous that more and more Americans understand that health care is a human right, not a privilege.
"So it doesn't surprise me."
Mr Sanders' claim to have won working class voters by "big numbers" in South Carolina is dubious. Exit polling did show him winning among white voters with no college degree, but when African-Americans were added to the mix, Mr Biden was way ahead with a margin of 50 per cent to 22 per cent.
It is true, however, that Mr Sanders outperformed Mr Biden significantly in the previous three states.
Mr Buttigieg and Ms Klobuchar's simultaneous endorsements of Mr Biden come on the eve of Super Tuesday, which promises to be the most important day so far in the presidential race.
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina all voted one-by-one over the course of a month. Tomorrow, 14 states will vote at once. And among them are the two most populous states in the country, California and Texas.
To understand the full significance of those contests, you need a quick crash course on how the nominating process works.
Candidates are not just competing for votes; they are competing for delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which is being held in July. That is where the party's nominee will officially be chosen.
Every state in the country has a certain number of delegates to dole out. Perform well in a state, and you earn a bunch of its delegates. Do poorly, and you risk getting none.
The goal is to go the convention in July with a majority of delegates already pledged to support you. The magic number to reach a majority is 1,991.
The four states that voted before Super Tuesday awarded 155 delegates, combined. On Super Tuesday, California alone awards 415, and Texas awards 228. It marks a dramatic acceleration in the primary process.
Once the other 12 states are taken into account, an entire third of the delegates on offer throughout primaries will be won and lost in a single day.
And that is why Super Tuesday matters so much. It could be the moment when Mr Sanders surges to an unassailable lead. Or it could leave him neck-and-neck with Mr Biden, setting up a long, bitter fight for the nomination.
The consolidation behind Mr Biden is particularly significant because it sets this year's Democratic primaries apart from the Republican ones four years ago.
In 2016, Mr Trump was in a similar position to Mr Sanders. Despite being very much an outsider, he had surged to the front of the Republican field.
The party establishment was terrified of nominating Mr Trump, believing - wrongly, it turned out - that he would lose to Hillary Clinton.
But most of Mr Trump's serious rivals for the nomination stubbornly refused to drop out of the race. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all stayed in for far too long, splitting the anti-Trump vote between them as he coasted to victory.
All three thought the Republican establishment should unite behind them. Instead, they ensured it never united behind anyone.
Mr Buttigieg in particular could have decided to stay in this year's Democratic race, having won Iowa and come a strong second in New Hampshire.
But he and Ms Klobuchar appear to have learned a crucial lesson from Republicans' failure to coalesce behind Mr Cruz, Mr Rubio or Mr Kasich.
The symbolism of them appearing together to support Mr Biden is particularly strong, as they have spent months attacking each other on the campaign trail and during debates.
Ms Klobuchar repeatedly accused Mr Buttigieg of being too inexperienced to run for president, having only served as the mayor of a mid-sized city.
In return, Mr Buttigieg derided her record as a senator in Washington D.C., suggesting Americans wanted a president with a different kind of experience.
Both are now putting their previous hostilities to one side.
Mr Buttigieg appeared alongside Mr Biden before today's rally to officially announce his endorsement.
"When I ran for president, we made it clear that the whole idea was about rallying the country together to defeat Donald Trump, and to win the era for the values we share," Mr Buttigieg said.
"That was always a goal that was much bigger than me becoming president. And it is in the name of that very same goal that I am delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president tonight."
Mr Biden then heaped praise on the former mayor, saying he reminded him of his beloved son Beau, who died in 2015.
"I don't think I've ever done this before. But he reminds me of my son Beau. And I know that may not mean much to most people, but to me it's the highest compliment I could give any man or woman," said Mr Biden.
"I look over at Pete during the debate and I think, 'You know, that's a Beau.' Because he has such enormous character, such intellectual capacity and such a commitment to other people. I can't tell you how much it means to me that he would step up and endorse me."
He urged Mr Buttigieg to stay engaged in politics, saying there was "no limitation on what he could get done" and the only reason his presidential run had failed was his relative anonymity on the national stage.
"If Pete had been around another six years, I wouldn't be standing here. Pete would be standing, and I'd be endorsing Pete," Mr Biden said.
He indicated he would give Mr Buttigieg a role in his administration, should he become president.
Joe Biden says Pete Buttigieg "reminds me of my son Beau. That may not mean much to most people, but to me, it's the highest compliment I can give any man or woman." pic.twitter.com/tZ34vqEK2k— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 3, 2020
Mr Biden said Ms Klobuchar was "also a great talent".
The two former candidates are not the only establishment figures uniting behind Mr Biden.
Beto O'Rourke, a popular Texas Democrat who dropped out of the race in November, is also expected to endorse him at today's rally.
And Barack Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice endorsed the former vice president today, labelling him "the strongest candidate to take on and defeat Trump".
"Joe Biden will bring dignity, integrity and normalcy back to the White House, restoring the soul of American and faith in our leaders and institutions," Ms Rice said.
"He is smart, strategic and more experienced than any candidate in the field. No one is better prepared and more trusted than our allies to repair the damage Trump has done."
The only way we beat Trump is through a politics that reflects the decency of the American people. It’s what we sought to practice in my campaign—and it’s what @JoeBiden has practiced his whole life.— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) March 3, 2020
I'm proud to stand with the VP and help make him our next Commander-in-Chief. pic.twitter.com/Y9SqDLZS0g