Maybe it was the resounding victory in South Carolina on Saturday night. Maybe it was Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg dropping out. Maybe it was Beto O'Rourke and Whataburger. Whatever it was, it worked. As late night turned into early morning in Dallas and around Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden pulled ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Texas primary, avoiding a thumping defeat that seemed inevitable as late as last Friday afternoon.
For a couple of hours after most Texas polls closed at 7 p.m. on Super Tuesday, things looked pretty good for Sanders. He held a mid-single-digits lead over Biden as early vote numbers were released. Then, the election day vote began to roll in.
Biden won the election day vote in Harris County by nearly 20 points. In Dallas County, which continued to count votes late into the night, Biden ran up a similar margin after trailing Sanders by a half-point in early voting. Of the remaining candidates in the race — Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard — only Bloomberg appeared to have a chance of winning any of Texas' statewide delegates as of late Tuesday night.
"I think it's primarily Buttigieg and Klobuchar throwing in the towel," Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said, explaining Biden's Texas comeback, "combined with the victory in South Carolina and the endorsements from Klobuchar and Buttigieg signaling that the momentum was behind Biden and not Bloomberg."
Bloomberg bombarded Texans with direct mail and TV ads. Sanders held raucous events throughout the state and outspent Biden exponentially. Warren polled like she could crack the key 15% threshold that would've guaranteed her a share of the state's delegates throughout the winter. None of it mattered.
Texas Democrats — party leaders and voters alike — ruthlessly closed ranks in Biden's favor after Biden showed he was capable of winning a primary, beating the fervor of Sanders' partisans with sheer volume. The party, inasmuch as it exists as a monolith, got what it wanted.
At Dallas County Democrats election night watch party at the Hyatt Regency downtown, Andrew Krause, a Biden voter, expressed a sentiment common among those who support the former vice president. The most important thing is getting President Donald Trump out of office, he said.
“No matter who wins — it could be a yellow dog and I’ll get behind him,” Krause said.
Disappointed Sanders supporters struck a similar tone at a watch party at Alexandre's Bar in Oak Lawn.
“I won’t be as enthusiastic as I was for Bernie, but I just cannot stand Trump and I definitely believe a Democrat needs to take him out of office, so I will support Biden if I have to. But of course Bernie is my No. 1 by a long shot,” Abigail Moussavi said a little after midnight.
Brian Scott, another Sanders supporter, credited Buttigieg and Klobuchar, in part, for Biden's success.
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“We’re surprised, we think that Bernie would’ve won it, handily. I don’t know 100% that there hasn’t been any kind of manipulation, but the other two middle-of-the-road candidates stepped out yesterday, which was a good game plan," he said.
The near-consensus among analysts of Texas politics like Jones and Democratic elected officials themselves is that Biden is the candidate best suited to help down-ballot Democrats in November. With a moderate like Biden on the ticket, Democrats could have a chance to consolidate their 2018 gains in the Texas House, Jones told the Observer in February.
Whether Biden would have a chance in the state against Trump is another story. In the latest poll of their head-to-head matchup in the state, completed by NBC News on Feb. 27, the president led the former vice president by four points.
Contributors Jacob Vaughn and Paige Weaver contributed to this report.