DALLAS — In the hours leading up to Super Tuesday, Joe Biden was having some of the best moments his campaign has had in months.
After handily winning South Carolina over the weekend, a wave of endorsements came from legislators across the country, including three former rivals for the presidency, two of whom dropped out of the race just in the previous 48 hours.
“Just a few days ago the press and the pundits declared this campaign dead, but South Carolina had something to say about it,” Biden said at a rally in Dallas on Monday night. “And tomorrow, Texas and Minnesota and the rest of the Super Tuesday states, they’re going to have a lot to say about it.”
“In all we now have 1,500 endorsements, including 36 congressmen. Mayors, elected officials, are joining the campaign, in just the last two days,” he added later.
In Iowa, and then in New Hampshire, and then in Nevada and South Carolina, Biden repeated the mantra each time that this was the state that was the real beginning of the campaign. And in each of those states, his team worked to downplay expectations as his performance in the first three of those contests stood in contrast to his frontrunner status at the launch of his campaign.
Biden’s animated performance Monday, however, alongside Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, and — at a previous event — Pete Buttigieg, spoke to an emboldened campaign coming off a decisive victory in South Carolina — thanks to the overwhelming support of older black voters.
“I cannot think of a better way to end my campaign than joining his,” Sen. Klobuchar said Monday night, campaigning for Biden for the first time since dropping out of the race that morning.
The crowd was a combination of decided Biden voters, those leaning his way, and former Buttigieg and Klobuchar supporters who turned their support to him in the past few days.
“Especially with Amy and Beto it was right on the money, it was perfect. It seems like the campaign has been energized,” said Sherelyn Roberts, 71, at Biden’s packed rally in Dallas on Monday evening, where a marching band set the scene for a campaign event with a distinctly more lively crowd than the former vice president’s events have tended to draw in recent months.
With 14 states voting and a third of the total number of delegates at play on Tuesday, Biden and Bernie Sanders have been polling close to each other in several states recently, with Sanders ahead in some — including in the delegate-rich states of California and Texas.
On Monday, Biden laid out some of the same pointed attacks on Sanders, who was an Independent for most of his time in Congress, that he has brought up in recent weeks without mentioning his name: “People don’t want the promise of revolution, they want results, they want the revival of decency, honor, and character,” he said.
“If Democrats want a nominee who’s a Democrat, a lifelong Democrat, an Obama–Biden Democrat, then join us. We can either win big or lose big, that’s a choice,” he added.
Biden praised Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and O’Rourke, casting them as the future of the Democratic Party — Klobuchar “had the grit and determination to do anything she set her mind to”, and O’Rourke was “a man who electrified this state and nation,” “a man with unlimited future.”
He reserved the highest compliment he could think of for Buttigieg — “[Buttigieg] reminds me of my son, Beau,” Biden said at an earlier campaign stop after Buttigieg endorsed him.
Buttigieg told reporters, "When I ran for president we made it clear that the whole idea was about rallying the country together to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for the values that we share, and that was always a goal that was much bigger than me becoming president and it is in the name of that very same goal that I am delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president."
Klobuchar, taking the stage at the rally to chants of “Amy!” from the crowd Monday night, appealed to Texans to “vote for dignity, vote for our heart, for our country.”
And O’Rourke, whose 2018 Senate run came within inches of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz but didn’t quite get there, was there as a sharp reminder to Texans of how close they’ve come in recent years to flipping their state at various levels.
O’Rourke called Biden “the antithesis of Donald Trump,” and said he decided to endorse Biden after seeing him at a CNN town hall in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, responding with empathy to Rev. Anthony Thompson, who lost his wife in the Mother Emanuel AME church shooting in 2015.
“He wanted to heal that man, he wanted to heal Charleston, South Carolina. But as someone who lives in El Paso, Texas … I felt Joe Biden healing us,” O’Rourke said.
For Texas Democrats, gains in recent years on both the state and federal levels have been exciting and frustrating at the same time — to come close but not quite defeat Cruz, to be nine seats away from a majority in the state House. Among Texas Democrats, there’s been a tension on how to keep that momentum moving, to either take the path of centrist candidates to win over unsettled independents and moderate Republicans, or to present bold progressive candidates to activate young and Latino voters who could represent rising political forces, as their numbers have grown in recent years.
“Por ultimo, in 2018, all of us, a lot of the people who are here on this stage, ran the greatest grassroots campaign Texas had ever seen, we won more votes than any Democrat had in Texas history,” O’Rourke said, closing out his speech, “Ladies and gentlemen, el proximo presidente de los estados unidos.”
Several of O’Rourke’s former staffers, some of whom played an instrumental role in that Senate run, are working for the Sanders campaign in Texas or have moved on to work on down-ballot races for markedly more progressive candidates than Biden.
Biden’s campaign is making the case to Texas that only a moderate candidate like himself is capable of delivering progress for their state.
“He can bring together that coalition of our fired-up Democratic base, as well as independents and moderate Republicans,” Klobuchar told the crowd in Dallas.
Several voters in the crowd said they support Sanders’ proposals in principle but said they can’t see how he’d pass them, and worry that a more progressive candidate could damage the prospects of other Democrats down the ticket, especially in Texas where Republicans still control both houses in the Capitol and officials litigiously went after Obama’s policies for years.
Immediately following Klobuchar and former Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid’s endorsement of Biden on Monday, Sanders told a rally that “the establishment” was getting “very, very nervous.”
Some voters at the Biden event on Monday said they found that suggestion condescending.
“I’m offended by somebody saying, ‘establishment’. I just want somebody who’s best for this country, and I know that’s not Donald Trump,” said Charlene Powell, 55, who voted early for Biden.
“I don’t have a card to the establishment. I’m not a card-carrying establishment member. What does that mean, ‘establishment,’ Bernie?” said her husband, Jay Powell, 62, who also voted for Biden. “We’re capable of thinking for ourselves.”
A handful of voters who spoke to BuzzFeed News at the Biden event Monday echoed what moderates and independents said in Iowa two months ago — that even if they don’t agree with Sanders on most things or would worry about his effect on down-ticket candidates, they would still vote for him in November if he wins the primary.
One Biden supporter at Monday’s rally, a former lifelong Republican who said she switched parties because of Trump and supported Buttigieg until he dropped out, said she’s excited to vote for Biden, but she, too, would vote for Bernie Sanders if it came down to it.
Judy Hockenborough, 60, was at the rally in Dallas wearing a T-shirt plastered with Buttigieg’s logo and a sign on her back that said “former Republican.”
“First I went for Beto, then I went for Pete, they’re both for Biden, so I think Biden can do it,” she said.
“I would still vote for [Sanders],” if he wins the nomination, she said, “I’m going to vote blue no matter what, because I can’t stand Trump. I feel like he’s ruined my party. I will vote for Bernie. I won’t be happy about it. I think Biden would do a much better job.”