Joe Biden took the lead over left rival Bernie Sanders early in the Super Tuesday competitions to select a democratic challenger against US President Donald Trump with three planned victories in Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama.
When the first wave of results came in the 14 votes in the states, it seemed that the centrist's former vice president's remarkable recovery from a failed campaign was picking up speed.
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who wanted to transform the American economy, was supposed to win in his home state of Vermont.
The 78-year-old senator has a passionate voter base and should still bring together a large number of delegates in the largest states of the night, Texas and California, where the polls should close at 4:00 a.m.GMT.
But for Biden, 77, the first signs were that he had a good night's sleep to put American politics back at the center after four years of Trump's right-wing populism.
"You haven't buried me yet, I'm not dead. I'm back," he said in Los Angeles. "There is a real feeling of dynamism."
As Virginia and North Carolina carry more delegates, Alabama confirmed the strength of Barack Obama's former vice president among African Americans – an important element in the coalition of a Democratic presidential candidate.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (78) and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren were the other big names on the ballot.
Even though the billionaire media entrepreneur Bloomberg spent record amounts of his own money on advertising, he appeared to be heading for an ugly night – despite a consolation gain in tiny American Samoa in the Pacific.
Stop the Sanders campaign
The 14 nomination competitions across the country gave the dwindling field of democratic hopes a huge number of potential delegates in their marathon struggle to win the nomination – and started seriously campaigning against Trump.
Many in the Democratic Party are desperately interested in stopping Sanders' strong urge to win this delegate race. They say the senator will be destroyed in general elections where Trump has signaled that he will brand him as a socialist who wants to end the American way of life.
Biden was practically counted after a stumbling early campaign, but recovered last Saturday with a landslide victory in South Carolina.
This was followed by the coordinated decisions of two other moderate candidates – Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar – to withdraw and support their former rivals.
Bloomberg faces several demands within the Democratic Party to exit the race and not to share the centrist vote.
The New York billionaire refused and said, "We're going to win it."
But a poor performance on Super Tuesday would increase this pressure. Experienced political analyst Larry Sabato commented on Bloomberg's poor results in Virginia and asked, "A clue to say goodbye?"
Sanders fans convinced
Biden makes his third offer to the White House after failed runs in 1988 and 2008. He argues that he can return to "decency" after the turbulent, scandal-ridden Trump era.
Sander's fans are convinced that only he can take on Trump, who also defied the establishment and moderate wing of his party four years ago to achieve a surprising victory against democratic heavyweight Hillary Clinton.
"We need energy. We need excitement. I think our campaign is this campaign," said Sanders.
Supporter Jamison Hanning, a 45-year-old plastics industry technician, said he was "fairly confident" despite Biden's setback.
"I mean, it's just people in the establishment who are afraid things will get mixed up," he said.
Sander's supporters say it was time to fight populist fire instead of repeating the 2016 mistake when steady but uninspiring Clinton fell on Trump's dramatic, insurgent campaign.
Sanders went on Super Tuesday hoping to gain an almost insurmountable lead for delegates and may have delivered a knock-out blow well before the Milwaukee convention in July.
A total of 1,357 delegates were at stake on Tuesday – a third of the nationwide total. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to finally win the nomination.
Democrats will also look for voter turnout and other signs of enthusiasm in a country deeply divided by Trump.
California voter Brian Waters, 43, a former English teacher who is now a brewer, said he voted for Sanders because of his position on general health care.
But he added: "I would vote for a burning dumpster over Trump."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)