(Reuters) - The field of candidates seeking the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination shrank to four on Wednesday after billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ended his campaign and said he was backing Joe Biden.
Bloomberg’s withdrawal from a field that was once more than 20 candidates allows Biden to further consolidate support of moderates in what is increasingly a one-on-one contest between him and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist.
The Republican choice will almost certainly be President Donald Trump, who has overwhelmingly won the first two contests.
Biden, who was vice president under President Barack Obama and a senator before that, built his candidacy on the argument that his more than 40 years in elected office makes him best suited to take over from Trump on Day One.
His campaign, on life support just weeks ago due to poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, was resurrected by a resounding win on Saturday in South Carolina.
He had argued that the Southern state would be a better test of his ability to assemble a diverse coalition of supporters that includes African Americans, Hispanics and working-class white voters, and his win there fueled a wave of endorsements from Democratic officials.
Biden has since emerged as a consensus champion for the moderate wing of the party, rolling to victories in nine of 14 states across the South, Midwest and New England on Super Tuesday, including surprise wins in Texas and Massachusetts.
At 77, questions persist about his age and his moderate brand of politics, which progressives contend is out of step with the leftward shift of the party.
Trump’s apparent effort to push the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, which resulted in Trump’s impeachment, appeared to boost Biden’s argument that the president views him as a threat.
The U.S. senator from Vermont with an impassioned following is making a second attempt at the presidency and had secured a position as front-runner after the first nominating contests before Biden’s surge on Super Tuesday.
Sanders won New Hampshire and Nevada, and finished a close second in Iowa to former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but well behind Biden in South Carolina.
His appeal to the most liberal wing of the party remains undeniable. Sanders’ advantage in California on Super Tuesday was such that the race was called in his favor the moment the polls closed, and he continues to hold a commanding edge with younger voters.
As in his first presidential run in 2016, Sanders, 78, has campaigned as an unapologetic, self-described democratic socialist who seeks nothing less than a political revolution.
His signature issue is government-run universal healthcare, and he has again proven to be a fundraising powerhouse, leading the field in terms of total campaign contributions.
The 70-year-old U.S. senator from Massachusetts saw her standing in opinion polls skyrocket and then fade in the months leading up to the early primary contests.
Warren did not finish in the top two in any of the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday, including her home state, and she appears to be without a plausible road to victory after Biden and Sanders split the vast majority of delegates awarded.
A fierce critic of Wall Street, Warren has based her campaign on a populist anti-corruption message and argues the country needs “big, structural change.”
Despite her liberalism, she has been criticized by some progressives for not fully embracing the “Medicare for All” healthcare plan that would eliminate private insurance in favor of a government-run plan. Some moderates, on the other hand, view her policies, which include a tax on the super-rich, as too extreme.
The Samoan-American congresswoman from Hawaii is the first Hindu to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and has centered her campaign on her anti-war stance.
Despite finishing in early primary states near the bottom of the heap, Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, has vowed to continue to campaign.
Gabbard’s populist, anti-war approach has won her fans among both the far left and the far right
Gabbard, 38, has been engaged in a public feud with 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. She sued Clinton for defamation, seeking at least $50 million in damages for suggesting last year that one of the party’s White House contenders was a “Russian asset.”
Trump is the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination, and there has been criticism among his opponents that party leadership has worked to make it impossible for a challenger. Still, the incumbent will face a rival on the ballot.
His campaign mounted a show of force in Iowa, where the incumbent won every caucus. In New Hampshire, Trump won 86% of the Republican vote.
Since his surprise win in the 2016 presidential election, Trump, 73, has become a ubiquitous political force, both through the controversies he generates almost daily and his prolific Twitter account.
Trump was impeached in the House in December for his request that Ukraine carry out investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden. But the U.S. Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, acquitted him on Feb. 5.
Trump is focusing his re-election message on the strong economy, while continuing the anti-immigration rhetoric that characterized his first campaign.
The 74-year-old former Massachusetts governor ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2016 as a Libertarian. He has been a persistent critic of Trump, saying when he began his 2020 campaign that “the American people are being ignored and our nation is suffering.”
Weld finished a distant second in New Hampshire, receiving 9% of the vote.
Reporting by Michael Martina; editing by Jonathan Oatis
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