(CNN)Joe Biden just pulled off the biggest, fastest and most unexpected comeback in modern political history.
Nothing about the former vice president’s electoral history, hitherto lackluster campaign and the dynamics of this presidential race suggested his Super Tuesday rampage.
The former vice president’s three White House campaigns were a punchline until Saturday. It took the 78-year-old 33 years to win a single nominating contest. Now he’s suddenly turned into a primary machine, reeling off 10 wins in a span of four nights.
Heading into Saturday’s South Carolina primary, Biden — with lame finishes in the first three nominating contests — was facing a last stand. Now just three days later, he’s the candidate with momentum and has become, for now at least, a political giant.
“We have seen, in that 72-hour period, Joe Biden go from being a joke to a juggernaut,” said CNN commentator Van Jones.
Biden shattered all expectations by racking up nine primary wins on Tuesday. He transformed the race, possibly halting the march to the nomination for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in some pre-voting scenarios could have emerged from the night with an all-but-unassailable lead in critical convention delegates.
No presidential candidate of recent times has rescued a failing campaign in such spectacular fashion. In 2008, Biden’s late friend, Sen. John McCain, performed his own famed comeback — but it unfolded over weeks, culminating in his victories in the Republican primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Former President Bill Clinton defined himself as the “comeback kid” after placing second in the Granite State in 1992, despite a flurry of scandals. Before then, Richard Nixon rebuilt his brand after losing the 1960 presidential race and a California gubernatorial election. But the rebirth that took him to victory in the 1968 election took years of careful choreography.
Biden’s took only three days.
In a harbinger of Biden’s bumper night, CNN called Virginia as soon as polls closed at 7 p.m. ET. Then he went on a roll through the South, before setting his sights on states the pundits had already penciled in for Sanders, including Massachusetts, Minnesota and then, incredibly, Texas — a state Sanders’ team had confidently predicted would embrace his democratic socialism.
There was simply no reason to think any of this was possible.
Biden had no money, no advertising blitzes, no organization and didn’t even make a campaign stop in half the states he won.
His hope on Super Tuesday would have been to keep Sanders close to provide a rationale for a prolonged campaign and a possible bid to wrest away the nomination at the convention in July.
As it turned out, and even though Sanders looks set to come top in California, the biggest delegate prize, the former vice president and his liberal rival look sure to be closely matched in the cumulative delegate count coming out of the most important day of the 2020 election so far, with Biden owning momentum.
So what led up to this political lightning strike?
A combination of fast shifting factors appear to have opened a previously unforeseen path towards Biden’s triumph.
First, Biden’s thumping win in South Carolina conferred the aura of a winner, and his dominant showing with African American voters transferred into a run through the South.
The forces that took him to that victory were stirred during a CNN town hall when Biden consoled a pastor who lost his wife in the Charleston massacre, in a gesture that showed his humanity and faith. Then, the late-in-the-day embrace by South Carolina political icon Rep. James Clyburn became the rare case of a political endorsement actually delivering.
Tasting victory in the Palmetto State, Biden stopped acting like a confused, past-his-prime senator shuffling towards his umpteenth term and came across as a winner. In his victory speech, the former vice president hit emotional heights that framed him as an empathetic, decent and unifying figure that voters burned by three tumultuous years could see as an antidote to Trump.
In those moments, Biden’s campaign finally reflected the man himself. He is someone who endured through multiple personal tragedies and political reversals, always getting up off the canvas in the end.
As he roared in a victory speech in Los Angeles on Tuesday night: “For those that have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign. Just a few days ago the press and the pundits declared the campaign dead!”
“We are very much alive