Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the easy winner of the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary, faces an immediate new challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders when 14 states vote Tuesday in party contests across the country.
Biden, in three runs for the presidency, had never won a state primary nominating election until Saturday. But pre-election surveys show that Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, is handily leading in California, where the most delegates to the party's mid-summer national presidential nominating convention are at stake in the next round of voting. The polling shows Biden ahead in seven of the states with Tuesday contests, Sanders in six and Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the lead in her home state of Minnesota.
"It's going to be very hard to make up ground in California," Biden acknowledged Sunday on ABC News's "This Week." But he said, "I feel very good where it's going" in other states, adding that he's "not even certain" that he will be trailing Sanders in the overall convention delegate count after the Tuesday voting.
Biden declared that he can beat Republican President Donald Trump in November's national election and "bring along [Democratic] candidates and win the Senate" that is now controlled by Republicans.
A third of the pledged delegates to the July convention in the Midwestern city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are at stake in the Tuesday voting, when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's name will appear on the ballots for the first time.
Sanders said on ABC that Biden "did well" in South Carolina. "We'll see what happens Tuesday, but we have an excellent chance to win some of the largest states," he said.
Some national Democratic figures have voiced concern that Sanders, who has called for a government-run national health care system and an end to the private insurance plans now used by most Americans to help pay their medical bills, would turn off voters with his left-wing political views and lead to Trump's re-election to a second White House term.
Sanders called Biden "a decent guy" and said that both of them of would support the eventual Democratic nominee against Trump. But Sanders said that he, and not Biden, would bring new voters to the Democratic party to defeat Trump, whom he called "a fraud, a liar who has undermined the democratic process" in Washington.
The mounting count of delegates to the national party convention is all important. The state-by-state Democratic primary contests award national convention representation based on the vote counts in the primary elections and caucuses, but candidates only win any delegates if they reach a 15% threshold in a given state.
Current projections show Sanders possibly reaching the national convention with a plurality of the delegate votes, but not a majority on the first ballot.
Sanders has argued that if he is close to a majority, the other Democratic candidates should unite behind his candidacy, while Biden and other presidential aspirants have contended that the convention should then move to a second ballot where superdelegates (mostly party officials and elected Democratic officials) would be allowed to vote, allowing them to possibly deny Sanders the nomination.
Bloomberg, whose business information company has made him the 12th richest person in the world, has spent upwards of $400 million of his own money on his campaign. But by choice he skipped the voting in the first four primary contests.
Polling shows Bloomberg has some support for the Democratic presidential nomination race heading into the Tuesday voting, but often trailing both Sanders and Biden.
Other contenders are also looking for a breakthrough in the new contests, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar, all of whom have had key moments in the spotlight during a lengthy run of debates among the Democratic challengers. But current polling shows none of the three would reach the Milwaukee convention among the leaders in the count of pledged delegates.
In the South Carolina vote, Biden won nearly 50% of the vote. Sanders was in a distant second place, with 19%. Tom Steyer, a billionaire and philanthropist who has invested substantial time and money campaigning in South Carolina, was in third place, with 11% of the vote, but after the result became known, ended his campaign.
Trump congratulated Biden after the South Carolina vote, but disparaged Steyer and Bloomberg's candidacies.
"Tom Steyer who, other than Mini Mike Bloomberg, spent more dollars for NOTHING than any candidate in history, quit the race today proclaiming how thrilled he was to be a part of the the Democrat Clown Show. Go away Tom and save whatever little money you have left," Trump said on Twitter.
Trump added, "I would find it hard to believe that failed presidential candidates Tom Steyer, or Mini Mike Bloombeg, would contribute to the Democrat Party, even against me, after the way they have been treated - laughed at & mocked. The real politicians ate them up and spit them out!"