The Democratic presidential contest increasingly looks like a two-person race

Image: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vi
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden speak during a break at the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Feb. 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. Copyright Win McNamee Getty Images
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — A lot sure has changed in the last eight days — Bernie Sanders' lopsided victory in Nevada, Jim Clyburn's endorsement of Biden, Biden's own dominating win in South Carolina and Pete Buttigieg's exit from the race.

And a lot might end up changing this week.

With the events of the last eight days, the Democratic presidential contest increasingly looks like a two-person race, especially ahead of tomorrow's Super Tuesday primaries.

On Sunday, the Sanders campaign announced raising a whopping $46.5 million in the month of February, per NBC's Gary Grumbach.

Biden's camp, meanwhile, said they hauled in more than $5 million on Saturday night, and NBC's Marianna Sotomayor reports that they raised another $5 million on Sunday.

The Super Tuesday polling — including our NBC News/Marist surveys of North Carolina and Texas — has Sanders and Biden running one and two.

And one simple exercise to measure Biden's potential ceiling in these states after South Carolina is to add up the Biden and Bloomberg percentages, even with all of the early voting.

"What's really happening here (that polls/media have been underestimating): there's a big pool of Democratic primary voters who have been waiting for something to clarify who the main alternative to Sanders is. SC was likely that event," said Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Not to short-change Michael Bloomberg, he's sitting precisely on 15 percent in our North Carolina and Texas polls — the threshold to qualify for delegates.

The question we have after his two poor debate performances is: Is that 15 percent the floor for him with all of his advertising? Or can his support go lower?

Still, after a year of campaigning, numerous debates and more candidate announcements and departures than we can remember, the 2020 Democratic race appears to have returned to where it started — with Sanders and Biden on top, as we wrote earlier this year.

It just wasn't easy for either of them.

For Pete's sake

As for Pete Buttigieg's departure from the 2020 race, you have to give credit to the 38-year-old — he came virtually out of nowhere, won Iowa, and almost beat Sanders in New Hampshire.

His problem is that he had no room to grow once the electorate became more diverse.

Buttigieg's exit puts a tremendous pressure on Klobuchar: The candidate who won Iowa and finished second in New Hampshire departs the race, but the third-place finisher from the Granite State continues?

The same holds true for Elizabeth Warren.

But also keep an eye on Warren. It's possible that Buttigieg's exit helps the Massachusetts senator as much as it does Biden.

Indeed, polling has shown that Buttigieg's second choice goes to Klobuchar, Warren and then Biden.


Tweet of the day

The coronavirus appears to have been in the U.S. longer than most realized

The Trump administration has touted its ability to keep the coronavirus out of the United States for as long as possible.

"If President Trump had not made the decision to suspend all travel from China into the United States and establish a quarantine effort for people returning to the United States, we'd be in a very different place," Vice President Mike Pence said on "Meet the Press."

The problem here: It appears the coronavirus has been in the country a lot longer than anyone realized.

"The coronavirus has been circulating undetected and has possibly infected scores of people over the past six weeks in Washington state, according to a genetic analysis of virus samples that has sobering implications for the entire country amid heightening anxiety about the likely spread of the disease," the Washington Post writes.

2020 Vision: Breaking down Biden's big win in South Carolina

On Saturday, Joe Biden won South Carolina's Democratic primary, getting 48 percent of the vote — versus 20 percent for Bernie Sanders, 11 percent for Tom Steyer, 8 percent for Pete Buttigieg and 7 percent for Elizabeth Warren.


Biden, in fact, won every single county in South Carolina.

He carried men (getting 48 percent), women (49 percent), African Americans (61 percent), whites (33 percent), those 45 and older (56 percent), those who are "very" liberal (42 percent) and those who are moderate (56 percent).

Biden also easily carried the 53 percent of South Carolina Democrats who want the next president to continue Barack Obama's policies (62 percent).

The only groups Biden didn't carry: Democratic primary voters under 45 (Sanders got 34 percent), white non-college graduates (Sanders got 30 percent), those who never attend church services (Sanders got 36 percent), and the 27 percent who want the next president to have more liberal policies than Obama (Sanders got 37 percent).

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden stumps in Houston at 2:00 p.m. ET and Dallas at 8:30 p.m. ET… Bernie Sanders holds rallies in Salt Lake City and St. Paul, M.N… Michael Bloomberg speaks at AIPAC's meeting in DC, does a Fox News town hall at 6:30 p.m. ET… Elizabeth Warren is in California… Amy Klobuchar campaigns in Utah and Oklahoma… And President Trump holds a rally in Charlotte, N.C.


Dispatches from NBC's campaign embeds

Joe Biden was feeling like a front-runner last night in Norfolk, Va., NBC's Marianna Sotomayor reports: "One month ago, former Vice President Joe Biden was attempting to fill up small event spaces with long rambles and enthusiastic supporters under the age of 60. The pulse in the room — and quite possibly his third presidential run — was flat lining. Biden received a hero's welcome at his first rally in Virginia last night though, with the help of Reps. Elaine Luria, Donald McEachin, Bobby Scott and Sen. Tim Kaine and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Biden was received by an ear-piercing cheer from over 1,500 Virginians — Biden's largest rally to date."

Meanwhile, Mike Bloomberg received a hearty warm welcome in Texas, two days before the state goes to the polls, per NBC's Maura Barrett: "He told the crowd - in a moment that seemed odd, but the crowd laughed along - about how he's spent a dozen years attempting to learn Spanish. He said, 'when I talk to the Dominicans I can't understand a word they say, but the Mexican Spanish is relatively easy for me and I'm getting this slowly.' His goal before he dies is to 'speak Spanish like a native and hit a golf ball like a professional.'" Barrett also noted that this was one of the first times she's seen Bloomberg genuinely smile - he started his event an hour early because of the crowd's excitement.

Data Download: The number of the day is … $158.4 million

$158.4 million

That's how much Tom Steyer had spent on TV and radio ads during his mostly self-funded presidential run as of Saturday — when he dropped out of the race without accruing a single delegate.

While that pales in comparison to Mike Bloomberg's ad spending, it's dramatically more than any other major candidate in the race. The candidate with the next highest ad spending after the two billionaires is Bernie Sanders, whose campaign had spent about $32 million on ads as of Saturday's South Carolina contest.


The Lid: The Obama Factor

Don't miss the pod from Friday, when one of us looked at how voters' views of Barack Obama has become a chief dividing line in the Democratic race for president.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn't miss

Alex Seitz-Wald previews the next phase of the campaign.

After Biden's win on Saturday, even more observers are talking about the idea of a contested convention.

Amy Klobuchar had to cancel a rally last night in her home state of Minnesota due to a protest.

Elizabeth Warren boxed herself in when it comes to Bernie Sanders. So what happens next?


Trump Agenda: Another coronavirus death in Washington state

There's been a second death from coronavirus in the United States.

An official at the Interior Department has been inserting language that's misleading about climate change into the agency's reports.

The Afghan peace deal is already hitting a snag.

2020: California Dreamin'

Bernie Sanders hopes that California is enough to secure him the nomination.

From the Washington Post: "How Trump and Sanders turned populist rage into political power."


Elizabeth Warren still thinks she can win. Here's how.

If Latino turnout is going to go up, it's going to have a lot to do with young voters.

The New York Times profiles Mike Bloomberg's longtime partner, Diana Taylor.

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