By STEVE PEOPLES, MEG KINNARD and BILL BARROW, Associated Press
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Joe Biden said Sunday he can “unite this country, the whole country” after scoring a thundering victory in South Carolina’s Democratic primary that could force moderate rivals out of the race and blunt the rise of progressive leader Bernie Sanders.
Biden vowed he would improve his campaign operation, his fundraising haul — and even his own performance — as the race pushes toward Super Tuesday, making the case he is the candidate that can win up and down the ballot and in states beyond those voting next week.
“I feel good,” Biden said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I can win and I can bring along Democratic victories.”
Biden commanded 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 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.”
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.
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 revolution. They’re looking for 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 organization, 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 television networks. He didn’t say how much he paid for the air time, which is unprecedented in recent decades.
Biden is barely running any television 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 Gov. 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.
Trump weighed in on Twitter early Sunday, taunting Bloomberg — as he often does potential rivals. The president suggested the billionaire’s advisers are simply on a “gravy train” leading him down a “dark and lonely path” without hopes of winning the nomination.
Aides to Bloomberg’s campaign said earlier they still believe the former New York mayor can win in a handful of states that vote on Super Tuesday, including Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Virginia and North Carolina.
Lower performing candidates including former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Warren, the Massachusetts senator, are showing no signs they would exit before Tuesday.
Buttigieg said Sunday his campaign will be “assessing at every turn” not only his own standing but the best steps for defeating Trump. “Our country can’t take four more years of this,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Through four contests, Sanders has a healthy, but shrinking, delegate lead.
The AP has allocated at least 56 delegates to Sanders with a few more expected as South Carolina’s remaining votes dribble in. Biden vaulted past Buttigieg into second place with at least 48 delegates and he’s likely to get several more. Buttigieg, Warren and Klobuchar remain stuck at 26, eight and seven, respectively.
Trump was paying close attention to the Democratic race.
“How could you be easier to beat than Joe? That guy can’t put two sentences together,” Trump told attendees Saturday of the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Washington. “But you know he is more down the middle. Everyone knows he’s not a communist and with Bernie there a real question about that.”
Biden won 63% of the votes cast by African Americans. He also did well with older voters, women, moderates and conservatives and regular churchgoers, according to AP VoteCast.
Sanders earned the support of roughly 14% of African American voters, while billionaire businessman Tom Steyer won 15%.
There was also evidence that Biden’s status as Obama’s two-term vice president helped him win over African Americans.
VoteCast found that 45% voters in South Carolina wanted to return to the politics of the past, compared to about a third in Iowa and New Hampshire. That includes the 51% of African American voters who said they want a Democratic presidential nominee who would emulate the Obama presidency.
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez cautioned Democrats that it’s still early in their presidential primary.
Speaking at a North Carolina Democratic Party fundraising gala, Perez noted that to win the nomination, a Democrat must win 1,991 delegates — and only a fraction of those have been allocated in the party’s first four primaries.
“We have a long way to go,” he said.
Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville, Hope Yen, Brian Slodysko, Will Weissert and Seth Borenstein in Washington, Thomas Beaumont in Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, and Alexandra Jaffe in Charlotte, North Carolina, contributed to this report.