The Super Tuesday Strategy Guide

By Christopher Beam and Chadwick Matlin 

Feb. 5, 2008, aka Super Tuesday, will be utter electoral chaos. On the Democratic side, 22 states hold their primaries, awarding a total of 1,681 pledged delegates, or 52 percent of all those awarded. (“Pledged” delegates don’t include the 796 “superdelegates”—members of Congress and other party leaders—who attend the national convention.) Republicans have 975 pledged delegates at stake—41 percent of the total number—in 21 states. So, with a little more than a week to go before the polls open, the candidates will have to allocate their resources carefully. Here’s a quick primer on what obstacles each candidate faces and how they should spend their time.

Note: Delegate counts below include both pledged delegates and superdelegates.  

The Democrats

Unlike the Republicans, the Democratic National Committee awards all delegates on a proportional basis. That means Hillary and Obama are likely to pick up delegates in each of the 22 states. Edwards, meanwhile, is a wild card. He’ll only receive delegates in a state if he clears the 15 percent viability threshold. If that happens, look for the tight race between Hillary and Obama to get even tighter, since they’ll have trouble winning by huge margins. In which case, the contest is likely to extend well beyond Feb. 5.

Hillary Clinton: The proportional-delegate system doesn’t help the national front-runner because she can’t rack up a commanding delegate lead. So, for Clinton, Feb. 5 is about maximizing her advantage in states that already favor her. She owns the tristate delegate behemoth of New York , New Jersey , and Connecticut (468 delegates total). Plus, Arkansas (47) still remembers her as their First Lady before she became the country’s. She polls favorably—and Obama polls poorly—among Latinos, which means that Arizona and New Mexico (105 delegates total) are friendly states thanks to their 25 percent-plus Hispanic population, but Obama won’t cede those votes. The Latino-factor also helps her in California (441) where she already polls well , but she’ll need to spend considerable time there to fight back against Obama’s made-for-Hollywood life story.

States to tackle: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Massachusetts
States to ignore: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York

Barack Obama: Nationwide, Obama hopes to combat Hillary’s name-recognition with his own star power. Besides blitzing the national media, he’ll probably start with his home base, Illinois (185 delegates), and focus on states with caucuses like Kansas (41) and Minnesota (88), where he might repeat his Iowa victory, and open primaries in which Independents and Republicans can vote as well. Obama should also tackle purple states in which Democrats normally fare poorly, such as Colorado (71) and Missouri (88), to draw out Hillary-hating indies. Independents can also vote in the day’s biggest prize, California (441), although Hillary has an edge in Golden State polls. The other grand prize, New York (281), is also Clinton country, but Obama will likely try to foment an uprising in the Big Apple—a victory there would make for giddy headlines—and leave the boonies to Hillary.  

States to tackle: Illinois, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, California, New York
States to ignore: Arkansas, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Delaware  

John Edwards: Assuming John Edwards stays in the race through Feb. 5, he’ll have to find a way to play kingmaker with his delegates. That means concentrating on states where he can pull in at least 15 percent of the vote, which is the Democrats’ threshold to receive delegates. He should concentrate on the South to capture the white vote that Obama doesn’t grab and Clinton doesn’t compete for. He already has roots in Georgia and could do well in Alabama and Tennessee (248 delegates total). From there, he can look to his strong second-place finishes in 2004 for inspiration. Missouri , Oklahoma , and Utah (164 delegates total) all leaned toward Edwards in 2004, and could do so again. There probably won’t be room for him in California or New York (722 delegates total), but squeezing any delegates out of those two would add a few jewels to the crown.

States to tackle:
Alabama , California, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah
States to ignore: Arkansas , Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey

The Republicans

For the GOP, Tsunami Tuesday’s influence depends on how many people are still in the race. If Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee stick around after Florida, both could run regional campaigns in the Northeast and South, respectively, that could keep the race muddled. But if it becomes a two-way race, the Republicans’ winner-take-all delegate rules mean that John McCain or Mitt Romney could hold a commanding, but not invincible, lead moving forward.

Rudy Giuliani : For Rudy, Feb. 5 is everything. He took a gamble by ignoring the earliest primaries and focusing on Florida. If he wins there, media coverage will carry through the Super Tuesday states and he’ll look like a genius. If he loses—which is likely—he enters the Big 2-5 without a single victory to his name and he’ll look like a fool. Either way, he should focus on big coastal primaries like California and New York (274 delegates total), where John McCain is putting up a fight . Nearby winner-take-all states like New Jersey , Connecticut , and Delaware (100 total) are also must-wins. He’ll likely pick up a few delegates in states that award them proportionally ( Massachusetts , Illinois ) and the caucuses ( Colorado , Maine ), but those contests are unpredictable. Keep in mind: An ailing economy hurts Rudy. As recession looms/hits, Romney’s perceived business acumen translates to electoral strength, while Giuliani’s national security chops lose relevance, especially against an energized McCain.

States to tackle: Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York
States to ignore: Arizona, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee

John McCain: McCain’s success on Feb. 5 relies heavily on his ability to get Republicans to trust him—which is what went wrong against George Bush in 2000. Polls show him competing with Giuliani in New York , Connecticut , and New Jersey (183 delegates total), and Giuliani’s likely third-place finish in Florida on Tuesday should allow McCain to command the national security vote nationwide, including the Northeast. All three of those states have closed primaries, which means McCain won’t be allowed to rely on his usual trump card—Independents. There aren’t many open primary states, and many are down South ( Alabama , Georgia , and Tennessee 175 delegates total), which means McCain may have to tussle with a regional-minded Huckabee. Out West, McCain’s home state of Arizona (53) will back him, but he’ll have to contest Romney’s Reagan rhetoric in California (173). If he really wants to stick it to Romney, he can campaign in Massachusetts (43), where a Romney defeat would be embarrassing, if not devastating.

States to tackle: California , Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York
States to ignore : Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, Utah

Mitt Romney: First thing first—Romney shouldn’t have to set foot in Utah (36 delegates), where the majority of the population is Mormon and he’s a local hero for saving the Olympics. If he runs on his fiscal record, he should compete well in industry-heavy Delaware , Illinois , Missouri , Oklahoma , and West Virginia (217 delegates total). His nobody-noticed win in the Wyoming caucuses implies he may have some success in other Great Plains states like Montana and North Dakota (51 total). Also, his Reagan-coalition message (and Reagan looks) could help him grab the biggest delegate prize, California (173 delegates), which would be a coup over McCain, who currently leads in the polls .

States to tackle: California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee
States to ignore: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Utah

Mike Huckabee: Huck hasn’t won a contest since Iowa, but he’s far from toast. Of the 21 states holding GOP elections on Super Tuesday, about half are Southern and Midwestern states with lots of religious conservatives—in other words, electoral goldmines for Huckabee. Oklahoma ’s winner-take-all primary will likely furnish Huck with its 41 delegates, and Arkansas (34 delegates) belongs to him. But it’s the Southern states like Georgia and Tennessee (127 total), which award most or all of their delegates proportionally, that will constitute the bulk of his winnings. Whereas Giuliani needs a handful of big wins, Huckabee should shoot for a barrage of small victories. Problem is, he’s running low on money, which makes national retail campaigning difficult. Look for more cheeky Web videos and other free media gimmes.

States to tackle: Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia
States to ignore: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, New York