WASHINGTON — Fresh off his Super Tuesday victories, Joe Biden picked up more momentum on Wednesday with the endorsement of Mike Bloomberg, who dropped out of the race, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders trained his fire on the former vice president in what quickly has narrowed into a two-person race.
As Biden and Sanders appeared headed for a protracted showdown for the Democratic presidential nomination, the future of the only other remaining top candidate was unclear. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren retreated to Cambridge, where an aide said she met with close advisers to assess her path forward after a poor performance in Tuesday’s 14 primaries, including a disheartening third-place finish in her home state.
“The Joementum is real,” Biden’s campaign said in an e-mail to supporters as he prepared to attend a fund-raiser in Los Angeles Wednesday night. “The American people have spoken. And Joe Biden is sprinting towards the Democratic nomination.”
But Sanders showed he was prepared to put up a fight after his disappointing Super Tuesday, noting he and Biden would likely be roughly tied in convention delegates once the results from California are fully tabulated and launching two new ads attacking his rival in upcoming primary states.
“I think we go forward basically neck-and-neck,” Sanders told reporters in Burlington, Vt.
The next phase of the battle is likely to pit Biden’s momentum — and backing by the Democratic Party establishment — against Sanders’ voter mobilization efforts as the race moves to primaries in general election battleground states such as Michigan, Arizona, and Florida. Biden may have the edge in these states after he swept districts across Texas and the South on Tuesday, powered by support from older Black and Latino voters, as well as moderate white suburbanites and women, according to exit polls.
But Sanders stayed close behind by mobilizing the young, communities of color, and white working-class voters. Without either candidate building an insurmountable lead in delegates Tuesday, the contest is shaping up to be a long one, political strategists said.
"The race is essentially tied, and it’s going to be a tough fight,” said Matt Bennett, a cofounder of the center-left think tank Third Way.
Biden won Super Tuesday’s second-biggest prize, Texas, and primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia, according to projections by the Associated Press. Exit polls from The Washington Post showed he had the most sway with voters whose main desire is to defeat President Trump. He also performed better with those who cast their ballots late in eight states.
The excitement and trust in Biden among older, Black voters was palpable from Virginia to Dallas and Houston.
“People are seeing the importance of the African-American vote and the importance of African-American women voting and how we always go to the polls,” said Jacqueline Barksdale, 53, of Charlotte, N.C, who attended a Biden watch party on Tuesday night at a cidery in Charlotte.
But Sanders’ supporters attempted to remain optimistic, if somewhat shaken by the lower-than-expected turnout. Long waits reported at polling stations in low-income and communities of color in California and Texas only made it harder. Still, Sanders won Colorado, Utah, and his home state of Vermont. And he was projected by the AP to win California, the state with the largest number of delegates, largely boosted by young and Latino voters, as well as the most liberal.
“I want everyone to give me a call back after California’s numbers are fully in, so we can do an actual postmortem,” said Natalia Salgado, political director for the progressive Center for Popular Democracy network. Salgado pointed to hard-fought efforts by the Sanders campaign to reach out to young and new voters. Yet, she conceded, “In some ways we saw the pay off, and we also saw there needs to be a deepening of sorts of those efforts.”
Biden’s surge began with his landslide victory in South Carolina. Within the next 72 hours, two of his moderate rivals — former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar — suspended their campaigns and endorsed him.
The support continued to build Wednesday. Bloomberg, the former New York city mayor, dropped out after failing to win any state primaries, with his only victory coming in the caucuses in American Samoa. The billionaire businessman spent more than $500 million after skipping the early contests to focus on Super Tuesday states. He quickly got behind Biden, saying he was leaving the race for the same reason he got in: to defeat President Trump. It’s unclear whether his support for Biden could translate into more campaign dollars or staff. But addressing supporters on Wednesday, Bloomberg signaled his campaign for a stronger and more united America would continue.
“I’ve always believed that defeating Donald Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it," Bloomberg said in New York. “After yesterday’s vote, it is clear that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden.”
Sanders, who narrowly won Michigan during his 2016 presidential bid, could hold on to his edge there and other union states across the Midwest. He argued Wednesday that Biden would have to explain his votes to authorize the Iraq War and “disastrous trade agreements" that devastated the region, as well as his desire to maintain what Sanders called a “dysfunctional and cruel” health care system.
“I like Joe, I think he is a very decent human being,” Sanders said. “Joe and I have a very different voting record. Joe and I have a very different vision for the future of this country. And Joe and I are running very different campaigns.”
Sanders launched new TV ads hitting Biden for his Iraq war vote as well as past comments about freezing spending on Social Security. And the senator announced campaign events in Michigan and Mississippi, which hold primaries next Tuesday, as well as Arizona and Illinois, which vote a week later.
Biden’s campaign rolled out endorsements from current and former elected officials in several of those upcoming states as he and Sanders prepared to go head-to-head.
“It is a different race now,” said Representative Mark Pocan, a progressive Democrat from Wisconsin. “You’re not like, ‘Oh, I kind of like Pete, I kind of like whoever’… Now you’ve got a contrast.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal, a progressive Democrat from Washington state, noted that many voters Tuesday made up their minds at the last minute and that Sanders performed well with some key voting blocs.
“You saw with Latino voters … a real push towards Sanders,” she said. “Just like we can’t diminish Joe Biden’s success last night, we also can’t diminish Senator Sanders’ success in California with young voters, with Latino voters.”
The most interesting outcome on Super Tuesday was in Texas, which felt the pull of the South and the West and the generational divide of the Latino voter bloc. Young and Latino voters, particularly along the border, bolstered Sanders, but older and more moderate Latinos helped deliver Biden a narrow victory in the state with the second-most delegates.
“Joe Biden owes his victory in Texas to Latinos voters,” said Kristian Ramos, a Democratic consultant with the Washington, D.C.-based consulting shop Autonomy Strategies. “If his share of the Latino vote had been consistent with what he got in California, he would have lost. But he was able to close the margin with this group considerably to form the coalition to win.”
Those dynamics will be at play in Florida, where Dwight Bullard, political director for the New Florida Majority, a statewide progressive grass-roots network with 3,500 members, was preparing for a day of phone calls and video conferences to decide whether their members and volunteers should continue to back Warren, mobilize for their second choice — Sanders — or stay neutral. Florida, he said, was a “mixed bag" because the state is home to two key populations.
“We have a large population of young Black and Latinx voters excited about Sanders, we have a large population of large older, Black voters who might be drawn toward Biden,” he said. “We are keeping a close eye toward where those lines are drawn."
Laura Krantz of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Syd Stone contributed to this report.