A resounding victory in South Carolina has thrust Joe Biden back into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but that could all change in two days when voters go to the polls in 14 "Super Tuesday" states.
Joe Biden, fresh off his first victory in the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential race, traded barbs with front-runner Bernie Sanders on Sunday before the Super Tuesday contests that could reshape the campaign to pick the party's challenger to Republican President Donald Trump.
Strong support from African-American voters carried Biden to a resounding victory Saturday in South Carolina's nominating contest, leading the former vice president to assert himself as a viable moderate alternative to self-described democratic socialist Sanders, an independent US senator from Vermont.
Sanders' surging campaign and calls for a political revolution have rattled a Democratic Party establishment worried that he is too far to the left to beat Trump in the November 3 US election.
Strong performances by Sanders in the first three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada catapulted him to front-runner status.
On Sunday, Biden and Sanders portrayed themselves as the only candidate who could attract liberals, moderates, and independents to defeat Trump.
"I think the Democratic Party is looking for a Democrat –– not a socialist, not a former Republican, a Democrat –– to be their nominee and to bring the country together in a way that I've been able to do my whole career," Biden told the "Fox News Sunday" programme.
Sanders attacks Biden
Biden's reference to a former Republican appears to have been aimed at billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who skipped the first four state contests but has blanketed the nation with half a billion dollars in advertising.
Sanders countered that he has been voting with Democrats for 30 years in Congress and said his small-donor campaign draws support from members of all parties, including Republicans.
He attacked Biden for taking contributions from political organisations called Super PACs and billionaires, courting wealthy donors at what he said was the expense of working-class, middle-class and low-income people.
"I don't go to rich people's homes like Joe Biden," Sanders said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Biden is among the Democratic contenders set to help mark the 55th anniversary of a landmark civil rights march Sunday in Alabama, one of 14 states holding contests on Tuesday in the race to pick a challenger to face Trump on Nov.
Biden said on Sunday he can "unite this country, the whole country" and vowed he would improve his campaign operation, his fundraising haul — and even his own performance — as the race pushes toward Super Tuesday.
"I feel good," Biden said on ABC's "This Week."
"I can win and I can bring along Democratic victories."
Biden commended the airwaves with back-to-back interviews after Saturday's win, which came on the strength of African American support and at a perilous moment in his 2020 bid.
He needed an emphatic rebound after underwhelming performances this month in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.
The race now pivots to the 14 states from Maine to California that vote on Tuesday in what in effect will be a national primary in a race increasingly becoming a match-up between the two powerhouses representing divergent paths for the party.
Sanders led in fundraising hauls announced on Sunday with an eye-popping $46.5 million for February, his campaign said.
The senator said it’s not the total amount that should impress but the enthusiasm of working people digging into their pockets for his candidacy.
"No campaign out there has a stronger grassroots movement than we do," Sanders said on CBS’s “Face the Nation." "That's how you beat Trump."
Funds for candidates
Fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren brought in $29 million last month and Biden trailed with $18 million, but the former vice president said he raised $5 million in the last 24 hours, which is more than any previous day in his bumpy campaign.
Seven candidates remain in the Democrats' quest to find the strongest possible nominee to take on President Donald Trump in November.
The pressure is mounting on the trailing candidates to justify their campaigns or step aside so Biden can engage in a more direct match-up against Sanders, who heads into the coming week eager to surpass his rivals in amassing delegates for the nomination.
"It’s not for me to tell another candidate to get out of the race," Biden said on "Fox News Sunday."
Biden made his own direct attack on Sanders saying, "The people aren't looking for a revolution. They're looking for results."
South Carolina results
Biden won about three times as many delegates in South Carolina as Sanders, his nearest rival, giving a momentary respite to anxious Democrats who feared that the democratic socialist would finish February with four consecutive top finishes that would make it difficult for anyone to overtake him.
The Associated Press declared Biden the winner just after the polls closed in South Carolina. The AP based the call on data from AP VoteCast, a survey of the electorate conducted for the AP by NORC at the University of Chicago.
The survey showed a convincing win for Biden.
Even with the victory, the shortcomings of Biden's campaign remain, including a lack of robust funding and organisation, and next week for the first time he will face Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who has spent more than $500 million advertising in the Super Tuesday states. Bloomberg announced his own plan to deliver a three-minute prime-time address Sunday night on two TV networks.
He didn't say how much he paid for the air time, which is unprecedented in recent decades.
Biden is barely running any TV advertising in Super Tuesday states.
And both Sanders and Bloomberg have many more staff and volunteers.
But Biden is making an aggressive round of media appearances on Sunday in an effort to counter Bloomberg's massive spending. He's also working to secure endorsements from prominent Democrats and, shortly after the Saturday results were in, he got the backing of former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Biden downplayed the lack of an endorsement from former President Barack Obama, whose name he often invokes on the campaign trail to voters nostalgic for his administration.
Biden said on ABC he has to earn this "on my own."
The South Carolina primary was the first major test of the candidates' appeal among black voters. That courtship will continue on Sunday when many of the White House hopefuls travel to Selma, Alabama, to participate in ceremonies commemorating civil rights heroism.
A number of states that vote on Super Tuesday, including Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia, have substantial black populations.
One of the candidates who spent recent weeks wooing black voters, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, ended his campaign on Saturday after a disappointing third-place finish.
He spent more than $24 million on television advertising in South Carolina — more than all of his rivals combined — but never found a clear lane in the crowded contest.