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Biden win, Buttigieg exit make path to stop Sanders clearer, but for who?

Pete Buttigieg, right, hugs his husband, Chasten Buttigieg,

Pete Buttigieg, right, hugs his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, before announcing the end of his Democratic presidential campaign Sunday in South Bend, Ind. Credit: AP / Michael Caterina

Lost weekend at Bernie's

Joe Biden's convincing comeback win in South Carolina's primary has recast the race for the Democratic nomination. It exposed Bernie Sanders' weakness with black voters and turbocharged a push from the party's center to coalesce around their best hope.

Tom Steyer, whose threat to Biden in South Carolina fizzled, got out Saturday night. On Sunday, Pete Buttigieg decided he wouldn't be able to go all the way, and so he got out of the way. Unsettled, however, is who will get to ride in the driver's seat of the beat-Bernie bandwagon.

Biden's claim to the role will be challenged by Mike Bloomberg's in the Super Tuesday primaries this week. Sanders' polling strength so far in the states with the biggest delegate prizes, California and Texas, could blunt moderate momentum. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren also were hanging in despite poor showings in Nevada and South Carolina on successive Saturdays.

A central argument from each of the top remaining rivals on Sunday was electability against Donald Trump and, more widely, Republicans. During interviews on Sunday talk shows, Biden said Sanders would doom Democrats' chances for wins in the Senate, House and local legislative races, and big rallies don't necessarily mean big turnout. "Enthusiasm does not necessarily translate into votes," the former vice president said.

Sanders said the question is, "Which candidate can reach out and bring new people into the political process, who can create the excitement and energy for young people to come in? I think that’s our campaign."

Bloomberg, on a CBS' "60 Minutes" segment airing Sunday, said he decided to run because the other candidates "had ideas that made no sense to me whatsoever. Donald Trump is gonna eat ’em for lunch."

Biden's often-anemic fundraising got a $5 million online boost after his South Carolina win, but Sanders' February haul was $46.5 million and Bloomberg's campaign treasury is bottomless. Warren's $29 million — much on the strength of her debate dissection of Bloomberg — could back up her boast of a campaign "built for the long haul" and bet that the nomination won't be settled before the July convention. For more on developments in the Democratic race, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.

Buttigieg bows out

When he got into the race last April, few expected a young, openly gay mayor from the smallish city of South Bend, Indiana, to go as far as he did. But Buttigieg's thoughtful and articulate manner impressed enough to run strong in the early going, including a delegates win in Iowa.

"Hardly anyone knew my name, and few could pronounce it," he told cheering supporters in his hometown Sunday night. "We were never supposed to get anywhere at all." However, he didn't get nearly far enough with black and Latino voters to show strength in states with more diverse populations.

"I will no longer seek to be the 2020 Democratic nominee for president, but I will do everything in my power to ensure that we have a new Democratic president, come January," Buttigieg said. He didn't indicate whether he will endorse another candidate, but he has criticized Sanders as "polarizing."

His crowd figured the 38-year-old has a political future. They chanted, "2024, 2024!"

Generation Dem

With the departure of Buttigieg and 62-year-old Steyer, Biden at 77 is the youngest male candidate left in the Democratic field. Sanders and Bloomberg are 78.

Supe's on

Newsday's Tom Brune details five things to watch for on Super Tuesday: Will Sanders resurge? Will Biden's bounce-back continue? Will Bloomberg bloom? Will Klobuchar and Warren win in their home states? Will any more "also-rans" call it quits?

A third of the delegates needed to clinch the Democratic nomination are up for grabs as voters in 14 states cast ballots.

Janison: Hedge those bets

With 2020 even more volatile than 2016, it would be wise to be wary of predictions on who would run the strongest races in November, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

National party committee members express skepticism that Sanders, as unapologetic a leftist as Hillary Clinton was a self-styled centrist, can win the general election. But some of them surely don't want him nominated, regardless of whether he can beat Trump.

Another wild card is that for a president who has been blessed with a strong economy, a united party and no new wars, Trump gets remarkably below-average presidential approval ratings.

Will it matter? It depends in large part on who will face Trump and how successfully Republicans can paint the Democrat, even if it turns out to be a moderate like Biden, as the spearhead of a dangerous radical agenda.

Bloomberg looks for ray of sunshine

Super Tuesday will provide Bloomberg's first test with voters after his record half-billion-dollar spending spree. His steady rise in polls sputtered after he bombed in his first debate on Feb. 19, writes Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Of the 14 states voting Tuesday, polls in only Oklahoma and Arkansas showed Bloomberg in the lead, along with a tie for first in Virginia with Sanders. Biden's South Carolina win puts more pressure on Bloomberg to make his case that he'd be the strongest candidate for Democratic moderates. Part of his rationale for running was that Biden wouldn't be able to go the distance.

Bloomberg already is looking farther down the road, to Florida, which votes on March 17, The Associated Press reports. He has showered the state with attention, both in advertising and campaign infrastructure, and looks for a boost from ex-New Yorkers who have relocated there.

Virus calls not perfect

Trump's credo is to never apologize, but as his coronavirus response team sought to reassure the public during Sunday talk show appearances, there were acknowledgments of room for improvement.

Vice President Mike Pence conceded the United States has lagged behind other countries in the manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 coronavirus testing kits. Several governors had raised the issue with him and it was a "fair question," Pence said. "We’re addressing it; we’re leaning into it," he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the federal government is “ramping up testing” in the United States for coronavirus and is looking to vastly increase its screening effort.

Azar also sought to explain why Trump erroneously said the first U.S. death from coronavirus had been a woman. The patient was a man. Azar said Trump initially was given inaccurate information from health officials on the Washington state fatality in what was a “very fast-moving situation.”

Pence, echoing Trump, accused Democrats of politicizing the crisis. He was asked about comments from Donald Trump Jr. that Democrats "seemingly hope" that the virus in the U.S. "kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump's streak of winning." Pence's response? "Responding to the kind of things that have been hurled is understandable." For more, see Newsday's story by Figueroa.

The fog of peace?

A deal signed with the Taliban of Afghanistan on Saturday has raised the strongest hopes ever of ending America's longest war after more than 18 years. But it's iffy whether the agreement will stick.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said Sunday he will not free thousands of Taliban prisoners ahead of the all-Afghan power-sharing talks set for next week, disagreeing with a timetable laid out in the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

GOP critics on Capitol Hill zeroed in on the planned prisoners release and what they called the lack of mechanisms to assure Taliban compliance. U.S. "concessions that could threaten the security of the United States,” said Wyoming's Rep. Liz Cheney, a House Republican conference chairwoman.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on CBS' "Face the Nation," said "this deal doesn't depend upon trusting anyone." Trump said Saturday he would meet with Taliban leaders "in the not-too-distant future," but Pompeo said no details were in place.

What else is happening:

  • Local political opposition led Trump to cancel a plan last week to house quarantined coronavirus patients in Anniston, Alabama, but a rumor mill has festered, fueled by social media, polarized politics and a lack of clear communication, The Washington Post reports.
  • Trump didn't say what set him off on his latest hate-the-media tweet, but coronavirus coverage is as good a guess as any. Calling out The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC and CBS, the president tweeted that people "no longer believe what they see and read, and for good reason. Fake News is, indeed, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!"
  • A Washington-based federal judge ruled Sunday that Trump's appointment of Ken Cuccinelli as acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. One result of the decision was to suspend two policies on asylum-seekers that Cuccinelli put in place.
  • Voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary called health care the top issue facing the country, according to an AP VoteCast survey of 1,499 who cast ballots. Close to 9 in 10 said a strong leader is a very important quality in a nominee, followed closely by the ability to beat Trump and caring for people like them.
  • A group of at least nine churchgoers Sunday turned their backs to Bloomberg as he addressed a black church audience in Selma, Alabama, to protest policing policies he pursued as New York City mayor. Several Democratic candidates went to Selma for the 55th anniversary of the historic civil rights march there, including Biden, who was welcomed warmly.

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