Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders did remarkably well in the Democratic primaries and caucus held in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada in February. Joe Biden, the former Vice President under Obama, candidacy appeared to be fading. Many on the left hoped that after Sanders’ string of early primary victories he would poll strongly in South Carolina and possibly derail the Biden campaign permanently.

But then came Joe Biden’s crushing win in South Carolina on February 29 where sixty percent of the Democratic electorate is African American. Roughly 61 percent of African Americans voted for Biden. Within days, his victory united the corporate wing of the Democratic Party — and Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg all dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. Their support cemented the growing consensus among corporate Democrats that Biden is the best positioned candidate to stop Bernie.

Then on “Super Tuesday” March 3, Biden’s political life was truly resurrected with an impressive string of primary victories in ten states including the second largest state in the union, Texas. While Bernie captured four states including the largest in the U.S., California, his path to the nomination has narrowed.

In the space of a week, the campaign of often-doddering Joe is now on track to possibly secure the nomination on the first ballot at the July 13–16 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His ascendance was further confirmed on March 10 when Biden won four out of six state primary contests including the state of Michigan which was especially symbolic because of its large African American vote and because Sanders won the primary there in 2016. Sanders only won North Dakota and leads in Washington by a narrow margin.

The present delegate count is 861 for Biden and 710 for Sanders with 1991 needed to secure an outright majority and first ballot nomination at the DNC convention.[1]

There are several factors that explain this dramatic turnaround[2]:

  1. The African American vote. President Obama remains immensely popular in the Black community and by extension his former Vice President Biden is seen a team player who can continue Obama’s legacy. Exit polls showed that Black voters believe that at this moment in history their main enemy is Donald Trump. Because their community faces the racist backlash spearheaded by Trump’s horrible administration, they prioritize the candidate who they believe can defeat him. Black voters make up a significant portion of the Democratic Party base and helped determine Biden’s victories in many of the March 3 and March 10 primaries.[3]
  2. Neoliberal media assault and corporate unity behind Biden. The news media has been attacking Bernie Sanders and his mildly social democratic reforms since the primary season began. All the corporate moderates lined up behind Biden in a bid to stop Bernie. The decision by billionaire Michael Bloomberg to suspend his campaign after March 3 and offer up his personal fortune and political ground organization to Biden was the final showing of corporate unity.[4],[5]
  3. Bernie Sanders’ fixed base of support and concerns about beating Trump. Going into Super Tuesday, Bernie’s biggest challenge was to extend his base beyond the 18–29 age group, and the progressives and Latinos who had powered him to strong showings in the early primaries and caucuses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Again, exit polls showed that many moderate and conservative older voters were still uncomfortable with Sanders’ social democratic policies and saw Joe Biden as the best chance to defeat Trump.[6]
  4. Young voters have not turned out. An expected voter surge among younger voters did not materialize and Bernie paid the price on March 3 and 10! Sanders has based much of his strategy on the hope that he could turn out large numbers of young voters. The decline is not only bad news for him, it will also make it more difficult for future-focused issues like climate change to gain political traction. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics, while raw turnout is up in all 12 of the states with competitive elections, the youth vote has only risen in four states, and is flat in two other states. Of the 14 states that held primaries on Super Tuesday, participation by voters younger than 30 didn’t exceed 20% in any state, according to exit poll analyses.[7]

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose campaign echoed many of the anti-corporate social programs and policies of the Sanders campaign, dropped out of the running on March 5 after placing third behind Biden and Sanders respectively in her home state. Warren appealed to many highly educated upper income liberals who were intrigued with her intellect and detailed policy proposals. Unfortunately, American elections are not a race for the leadership of Mensa International, and Warren failed to break out of this elite, college-educated demographic. Her supporters remain crucial to Bernie’s success going forward and certainly to the essential “popular front” needed to defeat Trump.

Warren’s exit from the presidential race heightened speculation that she could be a vice-presidential choice.

“The nomination of the vice president is about building unity and a partnership that can best govern,” said Larry Cohen, past president of the Communications Workers union and now chairman of Our Revolution, the organization that emerged from the Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. “The women who sought the nomination and others easily meet both criteria.” [8]

Where is the labor movement?

In 2016, Sanders garnered the support of six national unions and over one hundred union locals. In 2020 with the support of Labor for Bernie, only three of the national unions that endorsed Bernie last time supported him again and only about 30 local unions have endorsed him.[9] Joe Biden has picked up the support of six major national unions while in 2016 Hillary Clinton was endorsed by almost all major unions including the very powerful public sector unions, NEA, AFT, SEIU and AFSCME.[10]

In 2016, many union leaders felt the outrage from their members because of these early Clinton endorsements. With a very crowded field of candidates up until Super Tuesday, most leaders have had a “wait and see” attitude for the 2020 primary season. Many unions have also established a more participatory and open process for making their endorsement decisions. For example, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) had internal voting by members on endorsements in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Sixty-six percent of the membership identified as Democrat and the vote was 36 percent for Biden and 26 percent for Sanders (other candidates polled at much lower numbers). An alarming 34 percent of the membership identified as Republican, all of whom went for Trump.[11]

Candidate Sanders remains the clear choice for labor based on his proposed policies for comprehensive labor law reform, fair trade agreements, Medicare for All, and his legacy of vigorous support for organizing and contract campaigns. Election results so far show that Sanders wins Democrats in working class districts. According to the New York Times, “Polling throughout the campaign has shown Mr. Sanders drawing some of his strongest support from voters with household incomes under $50,000; his numbers taper off as incomes rise. A month ago, when he was leading in the polls, people with household incomes of $50,000 and under supported Mr. Sanders twice as much as any other candidate.”[12]

Yet despite his strong base of support in the working class and despite a number of opinion polls showing Sanders beating Trump, many U.S. unions believe that Biden is the best candidate to defeat him.[13] Exit polls coming out of Super Tuesday showed voters siding with Sanders on policy, but voting based on whom they believed could beat Trump.[14]

After his poor showing in Michigan on March 10, the path for Bernie to achieve the nomination now looks unlikely. Hopefully Sanders will continue his campaign, if not for the Democratic presidential nomination, then for a party platform that represents labor’s issues and for the appointment of the top officials who reflect his values. Progressives working on his campaign will continue our fight for the signature issues so well-articulated by Senator Sanders as the Democrats nominating convention approaches in July.

But clearly, if Biden is the nominee, then the vast majority of progressives and most union members will pivot to support him to defeat Trump.

“I’ve said throughout this entire process that what is so important is that we ultimately unite behind who that Democratic nominee is,” said Alexandra Occasio Cortez, Congresswoman from New York who is seen as a leader and rising star of the left wing of the Democratic Party.

The basis of that unity will be the subject of intense negotiations. As Larry Cohen has repeatedly said, “Going forward, we must keep building on our base while finding a way for the two wings of the Democratic Party to work together. If the corporate Democrats are determined to just be anti-Bernie, it will mean a Trump victory. Millions of voters, particularly young voters, are demanding a different United States; they know it’s time we joined the rest of the democracies of the world. We are going to continue to fight for real change in our health care system and real change to address the climate crisis. We won’t surrender our values in the campaign to defeat Donald Trump.” [15]

This article was coauthored with Peter Olney and first appeared in Italian in “Sinistra Sindicale” (a publication of the CGIL) and in English on the Stansbury Forum’s website.

[1] “Live results: March 11 primaries,” https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-presidential-delegates-tracker/

[2] For excellent post Super Tuesday Analysis see “Organizing Upgrade,” https://organizingupgrade.com/make-a-hard-nosed-assessment-adjust-strategy-and-fight/. Particularly incisive is the analysis of the African American vote by Libero della Piana.

[3] “Exit polls from the 2020 Democratic Super Tuesday contests,” by Brittany Renee Mayes, Leslie Shapiro, Kevin Schaul, Kevin Uhrmacher, Emily Guskin, Scott Clement and Dan Keating, March 4, The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/exit-polls-2020-super-tuesday-primary/

[4] “Corporate Democrats Are Already Punching Left Ahead of 2020,” by Norman Solomon, Truthdig, Dec. 26, 2018, https://www.truthdig.com/articles/corporate-democrats-are-already-punching-left-ahead-of-2020/

[5] “Mike Bloomberg is suspending his presidential campaign, says he’s endorsing Biden,” by Amy B Wang and

Michael Scherer, The Washington Post, March 4, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mike-bloomberg-drops-out-of-presidential-race/2020/03/04/62eaa54a-5743-11ea-9000-f3cffee23036_story.html

[6] “Exit polls from the 2020 Democratic Super Tuesday contests,” by Brittany Renee Mayes, Leslie Shapiro, Kevin Schaul, Kevin Uhrmacher, Emily Guskin, Scott Clement and Dan Keating, March 4, The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/exit-polls-2020-super-tuesday-primary/

[7] “The youth vote goes missing in 2020 Democratic primaries,” by Bryan Walsh, Axios, Mar 7, 2020, https://www.axios.com/youth-vote-2020-democratic-primaries-db5dbbf3-1295-44ae-9d2a-2283c06fbf02.html

[8] “Democrats Eye a Vice-Presidential Consolation Prize for Women,” by Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, New York Times, March 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/us/politics/democrats-women-vice-president.html

[9] See www.LaborforBernie2020.org

[10] For an up-to-date list of union endorsements see:https://intercom.help/unionbase/en/articles/3782859-who-has-endorsed-who

[11] “Joe Biden Wins Endorsement of Machinists Union After Rare Rank-And-File Vote,” by Dave Jamieson, HuffPost, March 9, 2020, https://www.yahoo.com/huffpost/joe-biden-endorsement-machinists-union-163609983.html

[12] “The People Who See Bernie Sanders as Their Only Hope,” by Jennifer Medina and Sydney Ember, New York Times, March 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/09/us/politics/bernie-sanders-voters.html

[13] “Biden expands support among unions,” by Alex Gangitano, The Hill, 03/10/20, https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/486723-biden-expands-support-among-unions

[14] Bernie Sanders Vows To Keep Fighting For Democratic Nomination,” by Amanda Terkel and Tara Golshan, 03/04/2020, HuffPost Politics, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-super-tuesday_n_5e5ff8dcc5b6985ec91a5a7f

[15] Author interview with Larry Cohen on March 10, 2020 and comments made in an interview “After Super Tuesday, What Is the State of The Democratic Primary?” by Meghna Chakrabarti and Anna Bauman, On Point, NPR Radio, March 04, 2020, https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2020/03/04/super-tuesday-state-of-the-primary