Joe Biden staged a Super Tuesday comeback to win at least nine states in a dramatic night which saw the contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee turn into a two-horse race between him and Bernie Sanders.
Mr Biden swept to crucial victories in Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia to reinvigorate his campaign after a stuttering start last month.
But while Mr Sanders did not make the gains he had been hoping for, the Vermont senator did win the night’s biggest prize of California, whose 415 delegates represent the largest haul in the nominating contest.
Super Tuesday LIVE: Follow updates from 14 states
The night’s second biggest prize – Texas – with 228 delegates, was a tightly fought contest and Mr Sanders was widely expected to win there too, but Mr Biden emerged the surprise victor.
Officials said Maine was still too close to call.
“For those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign,” said Mr Biden, who had performed poorly in the first three nominating contests.
“We are very much alive,” the former vice president, told his cheering supporters in Los Angeles, after positioning himself as front runner in the 2020 democratic race.
More from Joe Biden
America’s first openly gay presidential candidate quits race
Biden is back: Sleepy Joe’s South Carolina win could be game changer
Joe Biden wins South Carolina Democratic presidential primary – exit polls
Joe Biden calls voter a ‘lying dog-faced pony soldier’ at New Hampshire rally
Michael Bloomberg: Former New York mayor expected to enter presidential race
Trump impeachment inquiry: Top US diplomat changes tune while giving evidence
Mr Sanders has admitted that the two are now “neck and neck” in the race to take on Donald Trump in November.
“What this campaign is increasingly about is which side are you on,” he said.
“Our campaign is unprecedented. As we come into the last several months of this campaign, what I hope very much is what we we can focus on is an issue-oriented campaign.”
It comes after Mr Biden won in South Carolina on Saturday.
The victory rescued the 77-year-old’s campaign, as until a week ago he had trailed Mr Sanders.
The 78-year-old, a self-described democratic socialist, told his supporters: “We’re going to win the Democratic nomination and we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country.”
Mr Sanders later said that while he thought his main rival was a “very decent human being”, the pair “have a very different voting record and vision for this country”.
As well as California, Mr Sanders, the one-time front-runner who had hoped to take a big step toward the nomination, won Colorado, Utah and his home state of Vermont.
Fourteen states and the US territory of American Samoa were voting to decide who will run against Mr Trump in the presidential election in November.
It was a disappointing night for former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of America’s richest men and a late entrant in the race, whose sole victory was in the territory of American Samoa.
He has since ended his campaign and announced that he will be backing Mr Biden.
Mr Bloomberg may soon be followed in exiting the race by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who suffered the embarrassment of being beaten in her home state by Mr Biden.
One of her campaign aides said she was “talking to her team to assess the path forward”.
Mr Trump has mocked the pair on Twitter after their poor results, calling each candidate the “loser of the night”.
The biggest loser tonight, by far, is Mini Mike Bloomberg. His “political” consultants took him for a ride. $700 million washed down the drain, and he got nothing for it but the nickname Mini Mike, and the complete destruction of his reputation. Way to go Mike!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2020
Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, other than Mini Mike, was the loser of the night. She didn’t even come close to winning her home state of Massachusetts. Well, now she can just sit back with her husband and have a nice cold beer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2020
Mr Biden played on one of Mr Sanders’ lines on Tuesday night, telling his supporters: “People are talking about a revolution. We started a movement.”
Back in Burlington, Vermont, Mr Sanders swiped back: “You cannot beat Trump with the same-old, same-old kind of politics,” he said, ticking down a list of past policy differences with Mr Biden on social security, trade and military force.
“This will become a contrast in ideas.”
A total of 1,344 delegates to the Democratic Convention in July were up for grabs on Super Tuesday. A candidate needs to secure at least 1,991 to secure the party’s nomination.
Sky’s Greg Milam in Los Angeles said it was probably the end of the race for billionaire Mr Bloomberg, who injected half a billion dollars of his own money into his campaign.
“He always thought he needed to be in this race because Joe Biden looked too frail and weak and wasn’t doing the business, and that’s where he thought his gap was. A resurgent Joe Biden has put that to bed,” he said.
“He was another moderate. Where do his votes go?”
The next contests on 10 March will be in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington state.
Votes in another six states will follow by the end of March, by which nearly two-thirds of the delegates will have been allotted.
Those still in the race are Mr Biden, Mr Sanders, Ms Warren and the Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is currently bottom of the delegate rankings.
Listen to Divided States on Apple podcasts, Spotify, and Spreaker
Analysis: Joe Biden is back – and he has the momentum
By Amanda Walker, US correspondent
Joe Biden is back. The candidate who had won only one state in three floundering presidential bids, has managed to position himself as front runner in the 2020 democratic race.
His late surge came hot off a big win in South Carolina and a burst of endorsements from former rivals. Suddenly Joe Biden had what voters had been yearning for, coalescence and a sense of faith that he could be the one do what he’s always claimed he’s best positioned to do – beat Donald Trump.
Ten days ago Senator Bernie Sanders was the front runner with Biden’s campaign seemingly in free fall. Mike Bloomberg and his millions muscled their way into the race as the saviour of the moderates. Biden’s performance tonight means Bloomberg’s services are no longer required.
The first knockout blow to Bloomberg came courtesy of Senator Elizabeth Warren who pummelled him in the Las Vegas debate. She had a devastating night – losing her home state of Massachusetts to Joe Biden who hadn’t even set foot there.
Moderates in what’s set to be 10 Super Tuesday states have made their choice, pinning their hopes on Barack Obama’s vice president. The landscape of the democratic race has shifted dramatically but the man now in the lead has not. Joe Biden is still gaffe-prone and often lacks clarity. He shows his age and his campaign events can lack fire and energy. But what’s in no doubt is Biden’s humanity and to-the-core decency. That’s when he’s at his most engaging and authentic – speaking from the heart about stuff he cares about.
Super Tuesday showed Biden’s strength among black voters. He led Bernie Sanders among African-Americans by huge margins in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. His performance also countered the idea that Sanders is the one who can ensure more people come out and vote. Biden had a comfortable win in Virginia, for example, where turnout in 2016 was 800,000. This time it was 1.3 million.
Bernie Sanders has been challenged but his popularity and loyal supporters are still a force to be reckoned with. He is also on course to win California, the biggest delegate prize of the night. But tonight was his chance to knock out Biden and emerge as the uncontested front runner. That didn’t happen and its now very clear that Biden not only has momentum but also the backing of the Democratic establishment which views democratic socialist Sanders as unelectable.
The powers that be have clearly decided that the best way to stop Sanders is to unify around Biden. But there’s every chance that could rile the so-called “Bernie bros” even more. His supporters are calling coalescence around Biden a coup – another attempt, just like in 2016 to rob their guy of the Democratic candidacy.
2016 was all about the establishment versus a popular movement – led by Donald Trump. This time Democrats are banking on the idea that people are ready to return to a status quo and that Joe Biden is the man to bring it.