WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A resurgent Joe Biden was projected to win seven large states on Tuesday, and front-runner Bernie Sanders captured two states with several others too close to call on the biggest day of voting in the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating race.
Edison Research and the main television networks declared Biden the winner in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama based on exit polls on Super Tuesday, when Americans in 14 states voted for a Democratic challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Fox News projected Biden would also win Oklahoma. The Associated Press projected he would also win Arkansas and Minnesota.
Sanders was projected to win in Colorado and his home state of Vermont, expected outcomes for the self-described democratic socialist and independent senator who hopes to take a huge step toward winning the nomination on Tuesday.
More than one-third of the delegates who will pick the eventual nominee at a July convention are up for grabs in primary elections on Tuesday that could provide some clarity at last in a muddled race for the White House.
Early results showed Sanders holding a narrow lead over Biden in Texas, while Biden had a narrow lead in Massachusetts and Minnesota.
The rush of early results left Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor who spent more than half a billion dollars on advertising, largely out of the running, with his only victory coming in the US territory of American Samoa.
NBC News reported that Bloomberg would reassess whether to stay in the race on Wednesday, but a campaign official said it was inaccurate to suggest his White House bid could end on Wednesday. The official said the campaign reassesses everyday.
Biden, former President Barack Obama’s vice president, has enjoyed a burst of momentum since a blowout win in South Carolina on Saturday, which led to endorsements from a flood of prominent party officials and former rivals.
BROAD BIDEN COALITION
He entered Super Tuesday hoping to muscle aside Bloomberg and consolidate support from moderates in Tuesday’s voting, turning the race into a one-on-one contest against Sanders.
Biden’s showing in the Super Tuesday states was fueled by strong support among a broad coalition of voters including women and men, white and black, those with or without college degrees, and those who considered themselves liberal or moderate.
With 100% of the precincts reporting in Virginia, Biden was winning more than half of the votes in that southern swing state, well ahead of Sanders. In Alabama, he was winning 69% of the vote, and in North Carolina he was winning 34%.
Edison Research forecast a record turnout of 1.3 million voters in Virginia, well ahead of 986,203 in 2008 and 785,041 in 2016.
Early exit polls by Edison Research showed Biden was winning large majorities of African-American voters in the South, including 72% in Alabama, 71% in Virginia, 63% in North Carolina and 62% in Tennessee.
In Virginia, Biden won the votes of more than four of 10 white college educated women, compared to about two in 10 each for Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts.
Bloomberg was a wild card heading into the voting, as he joined the competition for the first time. In early results, he was winning more than 15% of the vote, enough to pick up some delegates, in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Colorado and Arkansas.
The moderate Bloomberg skipped the first four contests and bombarded Super Tuesday and later voting states with ads, but saw his poll numbers slip after coming under fire during Democratic debates over past comments criticized as sexist and a policing policy he employed as New York’s mayor seen as racially discriminatory.
Biden is trying to build a bridge between progressive Democrats’ desire for big structural change and more moderate Democrats yearning for a candidate who will be able to win over enough independents and Republicans to oust Trump.
That effort gained fresh momentum on the eve of Tuesday’s voting as moderate presidential rivals Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, endorsed Biden after withdrawing from the race.
The pace of the Democratic race begins to accelerate after Super Tuesday, with 11 more states voting by the end of March. By then, nearly two-thirds of the delegates will have been allotted.
Sanders headed into Tuesday with 60 delegates to Biden’s 54 in the state-by-state nominating fight. Sanders managed a virtual tie with Buttigieg in Iowa and wins in New Hampshire and Nevada.
Besides leading in polls in California, Sanders also is ahead of Biden by a smaller margin in polls in Texas. Sanders’ strength with Hispanics should pay dividends in that state, where Latinos comprise one-third of the Democratic electorate.
Biden, whose South Carolina win affirmed his popularity with black voters, hoped to win five states where African Americans make up at least a quarter of the Democratic electorate: Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Democrats living abroad began voting in a primary set to run until March 10. The last polls will close in California at 8 p.m. PST (0400 GMT on Wednesday).
The next contests, on March 10, will be in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington state.