For months, national polls of the Democratic presidential primary showed former Vice President Joe Biden as the most popular candidate. Then he took a self-described “gut punch” in Iowa and left New Hampshire before the primary results were even delivered.
Now, after finishing fourth and fifth in the first two contests, Biden’s campaign is seeking a rebound in the next two contests in South Carolina and Nevada. But his supporters are shaken and other candidates, including former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, are seeking to chip away at his strength — African American voters.
Nowhere is Biden’s sudden struggle more clear than in Congress, where the former vice president has earned far more endorsements among Democratic candidates than any other but has not received any since Iowa — and seen potential high-profile supporters consider others.
“Obviously fourth and fifth place isn’t where you want to be,” said Virginia Rep. Bobby Scott, who has not endorsed in the primary. “His campaign is based on electability. It’s kind of hard to make that case when you’re coming in fourth and fifth place.”
It’s clear that the first two contests have helped Bloomberg, who chose not to campaign in the first four races and to instead focus on March 3 — Super Tuesday — when more than a third of the delegates are awarded. Bloomberg has appeared to show some appeal to black voters. A Quinnipiac poll released on Monday showed that Biden’s support among black voters had fallen since late January, from 48% to 27%, while Bloomberg’s support has risen from 7% to 22%. Since Iowa, seven House Democrats have announced they’re supporting Bloomberg, including members from swing districts and the Congressional Hispanic and Black caucuses.
“Nationally, Mayor Bloomberg is polling second with black voters among all Democratic candidates, and everyone knows you can’t win the nomination without our support,” said Bloomberg senior adviser Howard Franklin. “He’s earning the endorsements of black political leaders faster than anyone in the field.”
Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, who worked for a Bloomberg gun violence prevention organization after her son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012, was one of the House Democrats who recently gave her endorsement to Bloomberg. In 2018, a Bloomberg group spent millions in her race to help McBath win her fiercely competitive seat.
“He helped victims like me have a voice,” McBath told CNN.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who represents parts of Detroit, said Bloomberg has hired a diverse campaign staff and planted an office “right in the middle” of her district. Lawrence said Bloomberg and other mayors, including DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and Columbia, South Carolina, Steven Benjamin, have called her seeking an endorsement. Lawrence said she’s considering supporting another moderate Democrat — Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — but wouldn’t make her choice until after Super Tuesday.
“In the African American community, Bloomberg is gaining a lot of support,” said Lawrence. “I can tell you in Michigan, he’s earning it.”
Biden’s supporters say the former Delaware senator suffered from having to first compete in states that were overwhelmingly white. Now, the winners of the first two states — former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — and even the third place finishers — Klobuchar and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — are heading into the next phase of the primary with more momentum even though they’ve all lacked Biden’s connection with people of color.
Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo pointed to his large number of endorsements as a sign of his enduring strength.
“Vice President Biden is grateful for the 41 House Members who have endorsed him in this race, which is far more than any other candidate and includes 17 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and 5 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — also by far the most of anyone running,” Ducklo said. “The reason why is because he’s best positioned to beat Donald Trump in the swing states that will decide this election in November. That’s what electability means.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond, a national co-chairman of the Biden campaign, told CNN that Biden is building a “diverse” coalition of support, while Iowa and New Hampshire “are not diverse at all.”
“He’s going to do much better in Nevada and South Carolina than the first two states,” Richmond said. “And just think of it this way: If the first four states were in the reverse order, we would have left Nevada and South Carolina with all the momentum.”
Bloomberg is just now facing questions that could endanger his support with Democratic primary voters, including his previous support for stop-and-frisk policing practices. On Thursday, the Associated Press first reported on a comment Bloomberg made in 2008 that getting rid of “redlining,” the biased housing practice that stopped banks from providing mortgages in low-income, largely minority neighborhoods, was to blame for the economic collapse.
On ABC’s “The View,” Biden said on Thursday he’d get the chance to debate Bloomberg on “everything from redlining to stop-and-frisk to a whole range of other things.”
There’s plenty of evidence to indicate that Biden could do better in South Carolina, Nevada and some of the Super Tuesday states.
Rep. Colin Allred of Texas, who has endorsed Biden, said he had “absolutely” seen Bloomberg’s ads blanketing his state.
“When you spend that kind of money, you will get that level of coverage in the Super Tuesday states,” Allred said. “But I still think Joe Biden is the frontrunner in Texas.”
Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford, who has not endorsed a candidate, said, “People know him and he knows Nevada.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the voters of color have not cast a ballot yet,” added Horsford.
Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada said she would campaign for Biden over the weekend, going to senior centers, hotels, a rally for Hispanics and an education roundtable event. She said the Biden campaign will send about 30 people from Iowa to Nevada. “We’ve learned some lessons from the Iowa caucuses,” said Titus.
Titus said she endorsed Biden because, “I just thought he was best positioned to beat Trump.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.