Politics

After Mayhem Monday, It’s Super Tuesday!

How will the dropouts affect the big showdown?

Bernie Sanders addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, on March 2.
Bernie Sanders addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Salt Lake City on Monday. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Just a few days ago, forecasting Super Tuesday state wins and delegate projections seemed straightforwardly doable. Bernie Sanders, coming off of a half-win in Iowa, followed by a narrow win in New Hampshire and a blowout win in Nevada, would build up a large, if not insurmountable, delegate lead on March 3, when 14 states hold primaries accounting for one-third of all pledged delegates in the primary season. He would do so on the strength of his comfortable lead in California, and by either winning other states or earning a healthy share of delegates across the board. His field of rivals, meanwhile, would only have splintered the opposition and cleared this path for him.

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The case is so different today that it seems foolish to even speculate about how the day will play out, since news altering the shape of the race is breaking by the minute. Joe Biden’s dominating performance in the South Carolina primary prompted three of the top six candidates—Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer—to drop out within about 36 hours of each other. Two of those candidates, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, along with other top Democrats like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have endorsed Biden in an effort to consolidate the center-left of the party around him, and to stop Sanders.

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Though there’s been some promising insta-polling for Biden since South Carolina, there won’t be enough time for forecasters to capture the full extent of the past three days’ events in their models. That leads us to a very strange position heading into the most consequential day of the Democratic primary thus far: We’ll have to just watch results come in and see what happens, like it’s the 1950s or something. The horror!

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Two of the states that will be the least affected by sudden news breaks are the two largest: California (415 pledged delegates) and Texas (228). Vote-by-mail balloting began in California on Feb. 3, the same day as the Iowa caucuses, while Texas held an early voting period from Feb. 18 to 28. Somewhere north of 40 percent of Californians may have voted already—and some of them wish they could revote, which is definitely not allowed—while over 1 million people had already voted in Texas’ 10 largest counties. The difficulty for Biden, here, is that during the majority of these days, his campaign had been left for dead, and no one likes voting for a dead loser.

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That doesn’t mean that all is naught for Biden in these states. The true doomsday scenario for Biden and other non-Bernies in California was that they wouldn’t meet the 15 percent threshold to be viable for delegates, either statewide or in many of the congressional districts that award them. That could have led to Sanders, as the only candidate viable just about everywhere, earning a far higher percentage of delegates than his plurality percentage statewide. With Buttigieg, Steyer, and Klobuchar gone, Biden, Michael Bloomberg, and Elizabeth Warren are much more likely to pick up delegates, preventing Sanders from running away with too much of an advantage.

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The potential for Biden in Texas is much higher than simply constraining Sanders’ haul. It’s not purely a coincidence of timing that Klobuchar and Buttigieg chose to endorse Biden at his rally in Dallas on Monday night. Though Sanders has maintained a polling lead, it’s narrow—and narrowing. There are plenty of new, moderate Democratic voters in the suburbs of Dallas and Houston for whom a Stop Bernie, center-left consolidation might be just what they were looking for. It’s a state that Biden could win, providing him a crown jewel of his own on the night to compete with Sanders’ expected win in California.

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Biden’s remaining strong states are strewn throughout the South, where he hopes the overwhelming support he enjoyed among moderates and older black voters in South Carolina materializes again: Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

Though, for the reasons stated above, it’s difficult to forecast these races with too much accuracy, we will be bold and predict that Sanders will win the Vermont primary, winning nearly all of its 16 delegates. The home-state principle does not, however, extend to predicting that Warren will comfortably win Massachusetts. Sanders opened a narrow polling lead on Warren’s turf over the past couple of weeks, and went for a direct knockout blow to her campaign by hosting two rallies in Massachusetts late last week.

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The most that can be said for Warren and Massachusetts is that it looks like the only state she could plausibly win on Tuesday. It’s also a state where anything could happen, what with everyone dropping out of the race the day before to endorse Joe Biden. The other home-state race, Minnesota, is no longer a home-state race given Klobuchar’s suspension of her campaign, but it had been a tight contest between Klobuchar and Sanders. The move, then, should clear the way for a Sanders victory there—but Biden could also pick up delegates where he had been previously locked out. Colorado, Maine, and Utah will also be three of Sanders’ strongest states.

There are two other big prizes on Tuesday: Virginia (99 pledged delegates) and North Carolina (112). These two had, before all of the Latest News Stuff (LNS), been showing three-way races between Sanders, Biden, and Bloomberg—as the tycoon ex-mayor makes his debut on actual ballots after weeks of extremely expensive publicity. If the LNS has the effect of consolidating the center-left around Biden, he would drain Bloomberg’s share of the vote down and help eliminate what’s left of the megabillionaire’s rationale for staying in the race.

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And that’s about all you can say! Sanders will win a whole bunch of delegates, Biden will win a whole bunch of delegates, and Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren will win some number of delegates. Dead candidates, like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, might also win some delegates based on either early voting tallies or people who don’t watch the news. Tulsi Gabbard, who is still in the race, will probably not win any delegates. The rest, though, is all unknown. It is unusual in 2020 that an election’s happening, and we don’t have fancy computer systems (all named “Nate”) to tell us where the chips will land. Enjoy watching the public answer the questions, by voting, as it happens.

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