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How Super Tuesday Could Affect The 2020 Presidential Race


It's been a dizzying few days in the presidential race. On Saturday, Joe Biden won big in South Carolina. Then he got the backing of two rivals who dropped out, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Now the remaining candidates are competing in the most consequential day on the primary calendar, including Bernie Sanders, Mike Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren. It's Super Tuesday, with voters casting ballots in 14 states. To walk us through what today could mean for the campaign, we're joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: So the nomination cannot get decided tonight, but what could we learn from how the results go?

LIASSON: One thing we're going to find out tonight is the relative power of three things - money, movement and momentum. Bloomberg has the money. He spent it at a pace never been seen before. So we're going to find out whether it gets him more than a few delegates, any actual victories. In terms of movement, Bernie Sanders has built an incredible grassroots organization with a lot of grassroots money. He has a devoted base not unlike Donald Trump. He's leading a left-wing populist movement. And then there's Joe Biden, who has momentum but only in its most ethereal form because there's basically no infrastructure for him to build on. He - in one state, California, which is the biggest state at stake tonight, he has one field office.

SHAPIRO: So if Biden had little time and few resources to help him capitalize on his big win in South Carolina, what did he get from that victory?

LIASSON: Well, he got a lot of free media coverage. He got a ton of endorsements. None of those things cost any money. But, of course, he had no time between South Carolina and Super Tuesday to build on any of those things, raise money, put together an organization. You know, one of the unintended consequences of making Super Tuesday so close to the first four states - the DNC wanted to accelerate the process to get a nominee as soon as it could. Little did they know that they were giving a breakout candidate - in this case, Biden - so little time to capitalize on his win. And then the other question, which still isn't answered, is Biden's performance. We've now seen him perform very well in South Carolina and Dallas, give a crisp coherent speech - in one case, from a teleprompter, didn't go down any rhetorical rabbit holes. Can he stick to that new discipline and make up for the months and months where he squandered a big lead in the polls and couldn't build a national campaign?

SHAPIRO: As we mentioned, some other moderate candidates threw their support behind Biden. One who did not is Mike Bloomberg, and he was asked about that today. He said Joe Biden is taking his - Bloomberg's voters and added this.


MIKE BLOOMBERG: Have you asked Joe whether he's going to drop out?


BLOOMBERG: When you ask him that, then you can call me.

LIASSON: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Mara, how do you see Bloomberg's position heading into tonight?

LIASSON: Well, this is great irony of Bloomberg. He didn't get into the race in the beginning because he, like most of the Democratic Party, thought Biden was a strong candidate. It was only when Biden looked like he was collapsing and the left-wing candidates, which Bloomberg didn't think could beat Trump, were surging that he got in. Here he is hundreds of millions of dollars later. And like most self-made billionaires who are masters of the universe types, he's very competitive. When he gets into something, he's in it to win it. So, of course, he's feeling peevish when people ask him, should he drop out? But what we don't know is after tomorrow - you know, Bloomberg has said no matter who is the nominee, whether it's him or someone else, he's committed to spending whatever it takes in the general election to defeat Donald Trump. And he has not wavered from that other mission.

SHAPIRO: The front-runner in this race since people started casting votes has been Bernie Sanders. And that's clearly pushed moderates together. Here's how Sanders framed it yesterday.


BERNIE SANDERS: The corporate establishment is coming together. The political establishment is coming together. And they will do everything. They are really getting nervous that working people are standing up.

SHAPIRO: Whether or not they're actively conspiring against him, tell us about the pressures that Sanders faces today.

LIASSON: Right. Well, you know, before South Carolina, we thought we'd seen this movie before. Remember in 2016, Republicans couldn't coalesce around one alternative to Donald Trump. It sure looked like Democrats were going to have the same problem with Bernie Sanders. But now we're watching a new movie, where Democrats are acting more like a mature party - at least the center-left portion of the party - willing to make individual sacrifices to boost what they think is best for the party. That was led by Pete Buttigieg, who all along was the one to most clearly articulate the goals for the Democrats. But one thing that's extremely clear now - you've got a clear choice between Biden and Bernie Sanders - Sanders' political revolution and Biden saying, we need a reformer that can get progressive results and heal the divisions of Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks a lot.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.