ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Only three minutes after the first polls closed on Super Tuesday, Joe Biden took a lead in the delegate race in the Democratic presidential primary — thanks in large part to Virginia.
For the second time in three days, a contest was called in favor of the former vice president immediately after polls closed. Biden, who waged an impressive comeback after a massive South Carolina win on Saturday helped him quickly coalesce a fractured moderate wing, won so convincingly in the Commonwealth on Tuesday that he picked up new congressional endorsements only one minute after polls closed in Virginia.
Biden drew nearly 400,000 more votes than distant second-place finisher Bernie Sanders. He received more votes than Barack Obama did in Virginia's 2008 primary, as turnout surged over the last two elections and nearly doubled from 2016. In Alexandria, where Biden's northern Virginia campaign held an election-night watch party, he won 52% of the vote, a margin that closely mirrored Biden's performance statewide. (Biden had 53% of the vote to 23% for Sanders, 11% for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and 10% for former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg.) He is projected to beat Sanders in the state by a wider margin than Hilary Clinton did in 2016.
"It was a wake-up call for all of the Biden supporters," Joey Ma, a supporter who attended the Alexandria watch party, said of his strong showing Tuesday. "We have to get behind him, and we have to be a grassroots, and we have to raise funds, and we have to show up."
Ma explained that she was so nervous ahead of Super Tuesday she was unable to sleep but ended Election Day "certainly happy." Going forward, Ma said, she fears Sanders may play spoiler with a third-party run, "if it is close enough."
Other Biden supporters at Java Grill in Alexandria, a suburb of Washington were less willing to predict looming troubles with Biden's biggest competitor. Some just didn't want to be bothered by talk of future fights on a night of celebration.
"This is fun. I like winning; winning feels a lot better," one supporter told me.
Most, including Ma, seemed confident that the divide between Sanders and Biden supporters can be bridged before the general election.
"In America, there are effectively only two choices you have," said Roy Halley, a Biden supporter visiting the U.S. from Norway. "If you are not voting for the Democratic candidate you are helping Donald Trump be re-elected for another four years."
The Biden crowd at the Alexandria watch party was younger and whiter than his voting coalition thus far — the older black voters in South Carolina who reshaped the entire nomination contest over the weekend. About 75 people crowded into this the small café to chant, "Fired up! Ready for Joe!" at the top of each hour, as CNN called more states for Biden throughout the night.
Biden, who didn't come close to winning any of the three presidential contests before South Carolina, only had one field office in Virginia. But with major congressional endorsements from several Democratic lawmakers, he was able to secure the overwhelming support of voters who told exit pollsters that their main priority in selecting a candidate was beating Trump.
"I'm thrilled to be part of the Biden bandwagon," Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., told the crowd on Tuesday. A supporter of former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg for the past year, Beyer cited Biden's South Carolina win as evidence he can beat Trump.
"He will beat Trump and take us into the future we all want," Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a moderate Democrat who beat a Republican incumbent in this northern Virginia district in 2018, said of Biden. "We are in a battle for the soul of America."
While Tuesday's watch party was certainly a victory celebration, a nervousness abounded that underlines Wexton's point. The battle for the Biden campaign comes before he can even face Trump. The Democratic Party is headed into another bitter fight that will force Biden into the limelight of scrutiny. Despite Tuesday's big wins, his campaign must now scale up.
"Fired up," the few remaining Biden supporters chanted at midnight. "Ready for Joe!"