SALT LAKE CITY — The news about Amy Klobuchar and Harry Reid broke in Utah just before Bernie Sanders took the stage. “Let me tell you something,” he yelled into the mic, backdropped by a sweep of mountains and snow. “The establishment is getting very, very nervous.”
Past a crowd of more than 5,800 at an outdoor rally in Utah, in the open area set up for members of the press, his deputy campaign manager, Ari Rabin-Havt, arrived to insist that the building number of endorsements for Joe Biden’s presidential bid had changed nothing for the 78-year-old Vermont senator ahead of Super Tuesday contests here and in 14 other states and territories.
Did Bernie know about Klobuchar and Reid’s support for Biden, a reporter asked.
“Yes,” said Rabin-Havt.
Was he freaked out?
“No,” said Rabin-Havt.
“He also knows about the Nation endorsing us and Democracy for America,” he said, two progressive institutions that recently announced their support for Sanders. “We believe regardless of all this, we are still the strongest campaign coming into Super Tuesday.”
In a matter of hours, Biden’s presidential campaign has rapidly consolidated support from establishment and moderate Democrats, with two candidates dropping out to endorse his campaign and longtime party leaders jumping off the sidelines to back him before Super Tuesday.
After wins in New Hampshire and Nevada last month, Sanders looked to be on a path to gaining at least a plurality of delegates with a strong performance in states like California and Texas this week. But Biden’s blowout victory in South Carolina last weekend — coupled with growing establishment fears about what a Sanders ticket would mean for the party’s chances both against Donald Trump and in House and Senate races this fall — has altered the race.
Sanders typically celebrates any evidence of "establishment backlash" — framing it, in speeches and interviews, as proof his movement is working — but the news of moderates moving so quickly to halt his path could be a genuine concern for his chances this spring.
Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who surged to best Biden in New Hampshire, ended her own presidential campaign Monday to back the former vice president. Former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, a longtime party titan in Nevada, endorsed Biden on Monday, saying he is the candidate “best able to defeat Donald Trump and enact the policies we all care about.” A slew of former Pete Buttigieg endorsers joined, as did former Obama-era officials like Susan Rice.
Buttigieg, who suddenly bowed out of the race Sunday night, endorsed Biden just ahead of a campaign event in Dallas.
"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, Buttigieg said with Biden at his side at a Dallas restaurant. "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'm delighted to endorse and support Joe Biden for president."
Beto O'Rourke, who ran for president until late last year, is also reportedly expected to endorse Biden on Monday.
The remarkable turn of events has shrunk the presidential race to five candidates after more than a year of a sprawling and at times unruly Democratic field.
Thousands of voters have already cast their ballots early in states that vote Tuesday, like Texas and California, where Sanders is poised to net delegates on Tuesday. But in a two-man race against Biden, he would face tougher odds in states later this spring where voters view him less favorably, such as Florida and Georgia.
Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, who previously worked for Reid, responded to the wave of news after Klobuchar’s decision with disappointment.
Buttigieg’s exit from the race Sunday night triggered the stampede to Biden. Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia — the first member of Congress to endorse Buttigieg’s campaign — quickly shifted his support to Biden. Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin and another early Buttigieg backer, also moved to Biden. Both Virginia and Texas are Super Tuesday states.
On Twitter, Biden’s aides essentially spiked the football. Staffers cheekily began tweeting their own endorsements of their boss and celebrating actual endorsements in real time while bragging about the speed at which they were coming.
“DISCLAIMER: Not a comprehensive list,” a Biden spokesperson posted at the beginning of a thread that went on for 12 tweets.
On Monday afternoon, Sanders largely ignored the news.
“The fact is after watching this campaign unfold, after watching 10 debates, there is no way you can rationally believe that Joe Biden is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump,” said Rabin-Havt, the Sanders adviser, at the rally in Salt Lake City.
“Look, in fact, we did not expect to get the support of Democracy for America today,” he said of the progressive group, which made its surprise endorsement on Monday over Elizabeth Warren.
“That is actually a big deal.”
Compared to private and public discussion around the Biden campaign, when it became clear over the last two weeks that Sanders could rack up a delegate lead on Super Tuesday that would make it increasingly difficulty for a single candidate in a crowded field to catch up, there has been scant talk among progressives about an effort to consolidate support among voters on the left.
On Sunday morning, two days before Super Tuesday, Warren's campaign manager Roger Lau vowed to compete in the rest of the March caucuses and primaries, where hundreds of delegates will be awarded in 13 states and territories this month after Super Tuesday.
“In the road to the nomination, the Wisconsin primary is halftime, and the convention in Milwaukee is the final play,” Lau wrote.
Warren has yet to win a state and still faces significant hurdles with voters of color. In the memo, Lau predicted that while she may not win a Super Tuesday contest outright, she would collect delegates from "nearly every state." On Monday, after Klobuchar dropped out, Warren received the endorsement of EMILY’s List, a leading Washington group that supports pro–abortion rights women.
Before his rally here on Monday, in a press conference at a DoubleTree in downtown Salt Lake City, Sanders dismissed questions about Warren's campaign and her future in the Democratic primary.
“I can't speak for Sen. Warren,” he said. “She will do what she wants.”
And reports of moderates moving in private to push Buttigieg out of the race to try to blunt Sanders’ chances?
The Vermont senator threw up his hands in mock amazement.
“I am shocked by that!”