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Joe Biden just got an important win over Bernie Sanders in the North Carolina primary

Biden looks strong again in the South while beating his top rival for the Democratic nomination.

Joe Biden takes selfies with the crowd after he spoke at Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina, on October 27, 2019.
Bryan Cereijo/Raleigh News & Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Joe Biden won the North Carolina Democratic primary election on Super Tuesday, as he looks poised to regain ground in the delegate race after falling behind in the early states.

The former vice president secured a victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who had looked like the other two strongest candidates in the state ahead of Election Day.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, meanwhile, is fighting to keep pace in the primary. The future of the campaign should be much clearer after so many delegates are won and lost on Super Tuesday; more than 1,300 delegates out of nearly 4,000 total are up for grabs.

Before voters went to the polls on Tuesday, North Carolina had looked like a three-way race among Biden, Bloomberg, and Sanders.

Biden always seemed likely to do well here, given his strength with black voters. About two in five primary voters in the state are black, according to FiveThirtyEight. He had just pulled off his first win of the primary, beating Sanders and the rest of the field in South Carolina by an impressive margin while running up the margins with black voters. He needed a strong performance across the South and elsewhere on Super Tuesday to cement himself as the top alternative to Sanders.

Sanders had been climbing in North Carolina polls since the start of February. He actually took the lead briefly in the FiveThirtyEight polling average after his wins in New Hampshire and Nevada. By primary day, though, Biden was surging back into first place after a decisive victory in South Carolina, and he carried that momentum to a big win on election night.

A strong Super Tuesday performance would have made Sanders the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. A weaker one could mean a long slog to the convention this summer.

Bloomberg appeared to spend his way to relevance, reportedly dropping $16.4 million on television ads in the state as of mid-February. He also received the endorsements of some of the top Democrats in North Carolina, though Gov. Roy Cooper didn’t endorse anybody. But as we saw in other nearby states, like Virginia, the votes didn’t materialize at the ballot box despite Bloomberg’s spending.

For the former New York City mayor, Super Tuesday was the key moment for his whole campaign strategy. He spent a lot of money to move up the polls in the 14 states voting, and he needed a big delegate haul to justify it.

North Carolina awards 122 delegates for the nomination. Overall, there are more than 1,300 delegates to be won across the Super Tuesday states. That’s about one-third of the nearly 4,000 that are up for grabs through the primary campaign. A candidate needs to win an outright majority of those delegates in order to win the nomination.

If no candidate wins a majority, the nomination may need to be decided at the convention. For now, FiveThirtyEight gives Biden the best chances (31 percent) in the field of winning a majority of delegates, but it’s more likely (61 percent) that no one will.

Sanders trails him at 8 percent; no other candidate has better than 1-in-100 odds.

Super Tuesday was also a critical moment for Warren. It was her last, best chance to prove viability outside of the early states.

She could certainly stay in the race even if she has little shot at a delegate majority. The prospect of a contested convention gives candidates an incentive to stick it out.

But those odds might be shrinking with Biden, off his wins in North Carolina and several other states on Super Tuesday, looking stronger than ever.

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