WASHINGTON — The Bern is flaming out.
Bernie Sanders suffered another string of brutal primary losses on Tuesday, leaving his campaign further behind in the delegate count and with no clear path to winning the Democratic nomination.
In state after state, Sanders underperformed his 2016 numbers by wide margins, shrinking his support in places he needed to improve if he hoped to catch Joe Biden and putting him even further away from the nomination.
Sanders lost Michigan by a double-digit margin, a major reversal from his narrow win there four years ago. He trailed Biden by more than 25 points in Missouri, a state he’d barely lost to Hillary Clinton, with most of the state’s vote counted. Sanders didn’t have much further to fall in Mississippi from his 2016 showing — he took just 17% of the state vote then — but he somehow managed. With 84% of the vote counted at 11 p.m., Sanders sat at 15.2% of the vote and was at real risk of failing to hit the 15% threshold needed to qualify for any statewide delegates.
Tuesday’s results showed that Super Tuesday was no fluke. The rush by his former primary opponents to coalesce around Biden a week ago helped him with a huge momentum shift, but it appears he has assembled a demographic coalition of African Americans, retirees, moderate suburban voters, and blue-collar white workers that Sanders can’t rival with his coalition of young progressives and Hispanics. A majority of Democratic primary voters have, at least for now, lined up behind Biden. And barring a huge shakeup, it’s hard to see how Sanders catches him.
Washington’s switch from a 2016 caucus to a 2020 primary could hurt Sanders as well. He’d won nearly three-quarters of the state’s vote four years ago, but early returns indicated a close race in the state that wouldn’t give either candidate a major delegate bump. As of publication, Idaho and North Dakota also hadn’t been called — but neither had many delegates to offer.
All that comes just a week after Biden shellacked Sanders on Super Tuesday, the primary season’s biggest night. He beat Sanders by wide margins in the big states of Virginia and North Carolina, beating Sanders in states he’d won four years ago — Maine and Minnesota — and kept things much closer in California than Sanders had hoped.
Biden gave what sounded alot like a general election speech on Tuesday night, appealing directly to Sanders supporters while aiming directly at President Trump.
“I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion,” he said. “We share a common goal, and together we'll defeat Donald Trump.”
While Biden invited Sanders’ supporters in, Sanders decided not to speak publicly Tuesday night, a sign he knew how rough the results had been for his campaign.
Things only get harder for Sanders next week. Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona, four huge states with a major trove of delegates, are holding primaries. Sanders lost all four of them in 2016, and lost all but Illinois by double digits. Recent polling has found him trailing Biden in all four states. That includes in Florida, which Sanders lost by nearly a two-to-one margin last time around and stands at risk of losing by an even wider margin this time around.
“One week from tonight, it could come close to sealing the deal,” Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), a Biden supporter, texted VICE News Tuesday night.
As this primary season has shown, things can change very fast in politics — two weeks ago Sanders still looked like the clear favorite to win the primary. He and Biden will debate on Sunday, a potential moment to shake things up once again. But his chances of a major change are fading.
It’s unclear what Sanders will do next. He decided to stay in the primary race against Clinton long after it was clear he couldn’t catch her in the delegate fight, and has signaled he’s in this race for the long haul.
But even if he stays in the primary, it’s unclear whether that will matter going forward.
Cover: A box full of Democratic presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' merchandise is pictures as vendors pack to leave Huntington Center in Cleveland, Ohio after the rally was canceled for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) concerns on March 10, 2020. (Photo: MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images)