The first two poll closings in Super Tuesday states were Vermont and Virginia, both at 7 p.m. ET. Networks called both instantly based on exit polls. One of those was expected: Bernie Sanders, of course, is winning his home state with a comfortable majority of the vote. Perhaps the only interesting thing there is that Elizabeth Warren is leading Michael Bloomberg for third place, behind Sanders and Biden. But the decisive immediate call for Biden in Virginia is a bit of a surprise, and an early confirmation that the surge in his direction everyone observed since his big South Carolina win and his endorsements by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar was very real.
Per CNN, the exits showed Biden at around 48 percent of the total vote, with Bernie Sanders at around a fourth of the vote, and then Bloomberg and Warren battling for third place with just over a tenth of the vote. A mid-February poll from the highly regarded Monmouth outfit had Sanders and Bloomberg tied for the lead at 22 percent, with Biden at 18 percent and Warren way down at 5 percent. So by that yardstick Biden has more than doubled his vote (as has Warren, from a much smaller base); Sanders has more or less held steady, while Bloomberg has dropped by half.
Among the African-American voters that Sanders and Bloomberg were both showing signs of progress in tearing away from the former veep, Biden did especially well, winning an estimated 63 percent as compared to 18 percent for Sanders and 10 percent for Bloomberg. Sanders did win his customary majority (58 percent) among under-30 voters, but Biden trumped that by winning an amazing 71 percent among seniors, who represented nearly twice as large an element of the primary electorate as Bernie’s kids.
This has to be a bitter disappointment for the former New York mayor, who has been investing heavily in Virginia Democratic politics for years, as the Washington Post observed a few days ago:
With a history of electing moderate Democrats, Virginia is emblematic of the states that Bloomberg is counting on to bolster his centrist campaign on Tuesday as his name appears for the first time on ballots across the country.
Over the past decade, he has poured more than $10 million into Virginia’s political wars, helping Democrats win a majority last year in both chambers of the state’s General Assembly for the first time in a generation.
“It wouldn’t have happened without his help,” said former governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who received $1.7 million from Bloomberg’s political action committee when he ran for governor in 2013.
McAuliffe was one of a host of Virginia Democrats — including senator and former governor Tim Kaine — who endorsed Biden in the last few days. Aside from his years of spending in the state, Bloomberg poured $18 million into ads in the Commonwealth for his own candidacy. All, it seems, to no avail.
If Virginia is a bellwether for Super Tuesday, Biden may succeed in his key strategic objective of becoming the clear-cut “moderate alternative” to Sanders, and perhaps the front-runner in the race.