North Carolina entered Super Tuesday as one of the most important states. With 110 delegates on the line, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Michael Bloomberg all put major effort into winning this purple state. However, the polls suddenly swung to Biden’s favor following his resounding South Carolina victory; by the time Super Tuesday came it wasn’t a matter of if Biden would win, but by how much.
Well, now we know the answer, and it’s a landslide victory for Biden. Biden easily won the state with 43% of the vote while Bernie finished with only 24% (down from 41% in 2016); Bloomberg finished a distant third with 13%. The tale at the county level shows a similar collapse for Sanders, who won 18 counties in 2016 but only four this time, with Biden winning all of the other 96 counties.
A key example of the Sanders decline was in Buncombe County. The major city in Buncombe, Asheville, is a liberal mecca in the middle of Trump country. Bernie won 62% of the vote here in 2016 and his campaign seemed to unite liberal activists. This time, however, Sanders won Buncombe with only 37.6% of the vote, a shocking decline.
The story of Bernie’s decline continues in several other of his mountainous strongholds. In Watauga, a college county that has a politically active and motivated youth vote, he declined from 69% of the vote to only 47%. In the fellow college county of Jackson, Bernie dropped from 57% to 32%, losing by two votes to Biden. Madison County, economically tied to Asheville, saw Bernie‘s support fall from 59% to 33%. Additionally, Sanders also lost his only two coastal counties, New Hanover and Dare, where he went from 49% to under 30%. In all of these counties it seems that much of Bernie’s support came from people who weren’t onboard with a socialist agenda but instead from those who disliked Hillary Clinton.
Orange County, which gave Sanders 50% of the vote in 2016, had perhaps the most shocking result of the night. Chapel Hill is home of the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, a major bastion of Democratic strength that makes it probably the single most liberal city in the state. Even in such a friendly environment, Sanders somehow narrowly lost to Biden, who won with only only 29% of the vote compared to 28% for Sanders. Elizabeth Warren recorded 23% of the vote and was likely a spoiler here, but this was simply an inexcusable performance from Sanders.
Additionally, Super Tuesday marked a poor performance for Bloomberg, who finished under the statewide delegate threshold. Bloomberg had relative pockets of success throughout the state and finished a distance second in several eastern counties, but he didn’t come close to winning even a single county and only secured 14% of the vote in business-friendly Mecklenburg. This was a disappointing performance for Bloomberg to say the least.
It’s fair to say that North Carolina was ground zero for the Biden surge, but it also demonstrates a big problem with the Sanders campaign: while much of his 2016 support was real, a substantial portion came from protest voters. Without Clinton on the ballot, his vote collapsed to only his core supporters, and that simply wasn’t enough to come close to victory.