SELMA, Ala. (Reuters) – Joe Biden, fresh off his first victory in the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential race, traded barbs with front-runner Bernie Sanders on Sunday before the Super Tuesday contests that could reshape the campaign to pick the party’s challenger to Republican President Donald Trump. FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice
SELMA, Ala. (Reuters) – Joe Biden, fresh off his first victory in the 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential race, traded barbs with front-runner Bernie Sanders on Sunday before the Super Tuesday contests that could reshape the campaign to pick the party’s challenger to Republican President Donald Trump.
FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with supporters at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
Strong support from African-American voters carried Biden to a resounding victory Saturday in South Carolina’s nominating contest, leading the former vice president to assert himself as a viable moderate alternative to self-described democratic socialist Sanders, an independent U.S. senator from Vermont.
Sanders’ surging campaign and calls for a political revolution have rattled a Democratic Party establishment worried that he is too far to the left to beat Trump in the Nov. 3 U.S. election. Strong performances by Sanders in the first three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada catapulted him to front-runner status.
On Sunday, Biden and Sanders portrayed themselves as the only candidate who could attract liberals, moderates and independents to defeat Trump.
“I think the Democratic Party is looking for a Democrat – not a socialist, not a former Republican, a Democrat – to be their nominee and to bring the country together in a way that I’ve been able to do my whole career,” Biden told the “Fox News Sunday” program.
Biden’s reference to a former Republican appears to have been aimed at billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who skipped the first four state contests but has blanketed the nation with half a billion dollars in advertising.
Sanders countered that he has been voting with Democrats for 30 years in Congress and said his small-donor campaign draws support from members of all parties, including Republicans.
He attacked Biden for taking contributions from political organizations called Super PACs and billionaires, courting wealthy donors at what he said was the expense of working-class, middle-class and low-income people.
“I don’t go to rich people’s homes like Joe Biden,” Sanders said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Biden is among the Democratic contenders set to help mark the 55th anniversary of a landmark civil rights march Sunday in Alabama, one of 14 states holding contests on Tuesday in the race to pick a challenger to face Trump on Nov. 3.
Biden, Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar will commemorate the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when civil rights marchers were beaten by state troopers and local police while crossing a bridge in Selma.
The South Carolina win resurrected Biden’s struggling campaign in the state-by-state battle for the Democratic nomination, but he lags Sanders in fundraising and organization in Super Tuesday states and beyond.
Biden called the nomination battle a “marathon” and said he was in for the long haul.
“Super Tuesday’s not the end, it’s only the beginning,” Biden said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sanders planned to campaign on Sunday in heavily Democratic California, the biggest prize on Super Tuesday. Sanders leads opinion polls in California, where 3 million early votes have already been cast.
Biden won overwhelmingly in South Carolina, drawing 48% of the votes cast compared to 20 percent for Sanders. Edison Research exit polls showed Biden with 61% of African-American support there to Sanders’ 17%. After a third-place finish in South Carolina, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer exited the race.
Biden reported raising $5 million (£3.90 million) in the past 24 hours and his campaign on Sunday added to a growing number of endorsements from establishment Democrats, including U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former Democratic National Committee chairwoman.
Biden got another boost before the march with the endorsement of Selma’s mayor, Darrio Melton.
Sanders leads in the overall national delegate count with 56 and Biden is second with 51, with another seven South Carolina delegates yet to be allocated. A candidate will need at least 1,991 delegates to win the nomination outright at the party’s convention in July.
The Sanders campaign quickly tried to get back the momentum after South Carolina, announcing it had raised $46.5 million from more than 2.2 million donations in February, a huge sum that dwarfed what any other Democratic candidate had raised last year in any three-month period.
Biden’s February haul was $18 million. Warren, who struggled to a fifth-place finish in South Carolina, raised more than $29 million in February.
The Sanders campaign announced a new wave of television advertisements in nine states that will hold primary contests on March 10 and March 17.
Following his South Carolina victory, Biden was endorsed by Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and former Democratic National Committee chairman, and Bobby Scott, an influential African-American U.S. congressman from Virginia.
At least five states – Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Virginia – have big blocs of African-American voters that could help Biden.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, continues to spend. He purchased three minutes of commercial air time during on broadcast networks CBS and NBC on Sunday evening to address the coronavirus outbreak.
Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham