By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
A few weeks ago following the New Hampshire Primary on Feb. 11, I was prepared to write Joe Biden’s political epitaph in this column.
I had it all figured out; I’m a student of history and I’m a student of Muhammad Ali, so I was going to combine the two in a pithy goodbye to Biden.
Allow me to explain.
In the mythic “Thrilla in Manilla” October 5, 1975, the transcendent third fight in the epic Ali-Frazier trilogy, it was Smokin’ Joe who couldn’t answer the bell for the 15th round of perhaps the greatest heavyweight championship battle in boxing history. But, to be 100 percent clear it wasn’t that Frazier couldn’t answer the bell in the 15th, it was his legendary cornerman Eddie Futch, who loved Frazier like a son, who wouldn’t allow his finished fighter to answer the bell.
In fact, after absorbing a merciless beating at the hands of Ali for 14 rounds (Frazier’s face was a contorted pulp, with a massive hematoma over his right eye, which was swollen shut, his lip was split open causing the fighter to spit copious amounts of blood), Futch told Frazier he was stopping the fight. Frazier rose from his seat in protest saying, “I want him boss!” And that’s when Futch placed his hand firmly on Frazier’s shoulder and simply said, “The fight’s over Joe.”
And that was going to be my headline for Joe Biden after Super Tuesday, based on the results in New Hampshire: The Fight’s over Joe.
After all, it was Biden who finished a distant 5th place in New Hampshire behind Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, garnering a measly 8.4 percent of the vote, and no delegates. The end seemed nigh.
Then Black people had their say in South Carolina.
After a distant second place finish in the Nevada Caucus (20-plus points behind Sanders), the Biden campaign was essentially on life support with little money. And the former vice-president’s political firewall in South Carolina appeared to be crumbling; some polls suggested Sanders may be making significant end roads with the Black community and gaining ground on Biden in the Palmetto State.
Enter Rep. James Clyburn, highest ranking Black elected official in America and arguably the most powerful political kingmaker in South Carolina, Black or White.
“We know Joe. But, more importantly Joe knows us,” said the 79-year-old House Majority Whip, on Feb. 26, as he announced his endorsement of Biden at the Trident Technical College in Charleston, S.C.
Clearly, the message resonated with Black South Carolinians, who make up about 60 percent of the Democratic Party in that state. And they showed up and showed out for Biden three days later on Feb. 29.
In a stunning reversal from his abysmal performance in New Hampshire, Biden rode a resplendent Black wave of voter enthusiasm (propelled greatly by Clyburn’s heartfelt endorsement), garnering 48.7 percent of the vote (and about 60 percent of the Black vote). Biden not only won every county in South Carolina, he received a larger percentage of the overall vote than Sanders, Tom Steyer (who spent a fortune and a lot of time in South Carolina), Buttigieg and Warren (46.4 percent) combined.
Biden, super-charged by his resounding win in South Carolina, pulled off an implausible string of victories on “Super Tuesday,” winning nine states including Texas, the most stunning victory of them all. Biden didn’t just sweep the South, he demolished Sanders in Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee; many of those states Biden spent no money or time in leading up to the Super Tuesday primaries.
Biden supporters believed if Biden could finish Super Tuesday just 100 or 150 delegates behind Sanders it would be a big win for their man. Instead, it appears it will be Biden who will lead in delegates after all the votes are counted after Super Tuesday. Not even Biden’s most die-hard supporters could have predicted that a couple of weeks ago or a couple of days ago.
It seems clear Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden wasn’t just meant for Black South Carolinians; he was transmitting his message all the way to the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee in July.
The message is this: Biden is the man to rid this country of Donald John Trump.
To be continued…
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.