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Biden’s Lazarus-like return from the dead

The former vice president turns the Democratic race on its head.

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks during a Super Tuesday event in Los Angeles Tuesday night.FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden is far too old to be a Comeback Kid, and even though he had a monster night on Tuesday, comparing him to Victor Frankenstein’s reanimated creation wouldn’t be kind.

So let’s label him Lazarus, a candidate back from the near-dead of just four days ago. Super Tuesday was a resurrection for the former vice president. All in all, he won Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Texas. Though as of early Wednesday morning votes were still being counted in Maine, Biden was ahead there, too.

“I am here to report we are very much alive,” declared the self-same Lazarus, well before the full extent of his revival was apparent.


Yes he is. The man who many thought was on his last legs after anemic showings in Iowa and New Hampshire and a distant second in Nevada, has made this a two-person race on almost a moment’s notice. The sensible center-left, which is focused like a laser on beating President Trump, is reasserting itself.

It’s now Senator Bernie Sanders who has gone from emerging front-runner to candidate back on his heels. The winner in Colorado, Utah, and his home state of Vermont, and the leader in California, Sanders remains a contender, but a substantially weakened one, a man whose campaign simply isn’t living up to its hopes or its claims. Or to Sanders’ theory of primary-campaign and general-election victory or presidential agenda-driving ability. For all his talk about building “an unprecedented grass-roots, multi-generational, multi-racial movement,” that coalition so far has been conspicuous mostly by its absence. Yes, he showed some appeal with Latino voters in Texas and California, but Biden’s strength with Black voters was far more impressive. Further, the most impressive boosts in turnout seemed to come in several of the states Biden won.


Certainly Biden built impressively on his base of Black Democrats, whose votes particularly buoyed him in Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Sanders, contrariwise, did not show any persuasive ability to expand his base.

Stranger still was Sanders’ insistence that he would win the Democratic nomination because “people understand that is it our campaign, our movement, that is best positioned to beat Trump.” In fact, it was the polar opposite perception that drove the Super Tuesday dynamic: a fear that having the self-declared democratic socialist atop the Democratic ticket would lead to an electoral disaster for Democrats, from top to bottom.

That trepidation helped trigger an astonishing coalescing around Biden in the space of three short days. On Saturday, South Carolina gave Biden a strong win and a big boost. There, Representative Jim Clyburn’s endorsement, which helped galvanize the state’s large Black community, proved hugely influential. That win persuaded billionaire Tom Steyer, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to drop out. The latter two flew to Texas to endorse Biden. Together, that let the former vice president rally the center-left vote in a historical hurry.

Some of that reflects genuine affection and respect for Biden, of course, but again, much of the catalyst for the hyperkinetic consolidation was fear of Sanders. Biden may not be particularly inspiring, but he is as comfortable and familiar as an old shoe.

On Wednesday, the consolidation continued, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose campaign had spent millions but achieved little beyond providing an economic stimulus for TV stations and a Works Progress Administration program for political consultants, quit the race and backed Biden. Senator Elizabeth Warren was also reassessing her campaign after suffering a devastating night, which included a third-place finish in Massachusetts, the state she serves, and a fourth-place showing in Oklahoma, the state of her birth. Pre-results, Warren’s plan had been to stay in and see if she could reenergize her campaign at least somewhat by being the only woman on the debate stage with two white men in their late 70s. But Tuesday’s dreary results made that highly unlikely.


So Biden is back and riding high. That said, Sanders can find some solace in the fact that the only thing predictable about this campaign so far has been its unpredictability. If past is prologue, there are still some turns and plunges left on this rollercoaster ride.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.