On paper, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders should have the upper hand on Super Tuesday. He’s ahead in the polls nationally and across the biggest states voting Tuesday, from California to Texas to Virginia. The night was shaping up as his springboard to the nomination.
That all changed on Saturday night, when Joe Biden used his commanding win in South Carolina to effectively consolidate the Democratic establishment, long wary of Sanders, behind him. New donations and high-profile endorsements flooded in over the weekend, while moderate rivals Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg suspended their campaigns.
Three others will be on Super Tuesday ballots. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren may win delegates on Super Tuesday, but their paths to the nomination are unclear. And Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard hasn’t placed higher than seventh in the first four contests.
Here’s a look at what each candidate needs to do to have a good night on the biggest voting day of the primary season so far:
Sanders is well-positioned to scoop up hundreds of delegates on Tuesday. He’s poised to do well in delegate-rich California and pick up others across the country.
He out-raised his competitors in February, announcing a $46.5 million haul, by relying on an army of small-dollar donors that he can go back to again and again. His fund-raising success over the last year also allowed him to organize in Super Tuesday states early, which could pay off due to delegate allocation rules.
“They opened offices in places where people have never seen a campaign office,” said California political consultant Steve Maviglio.
There are 1,357 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday — more than half the 1,991 needed to win the nomination outright. Sanders could easily come out of Super Tuesday with more than 500 delegates and possibly get more than 700 if he has a great night.
If he wins by large margins in the eight states where he’s ahead, he could start to build an insurmountable lead in delegates.
Biden, who is second in total delegates after his victory in South Carolina Saturday, has quickly become the Democratic establishment favorite to counter Sanders. His campaign got a last-minute infusion of cash and a slew of high-profile endorsements from former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Klobuchar, Buttigieg and others in the hours leading up to Super Tuesday.
But he’ll have to quickly make up ground among late-deciding voters. His surge may be too late in many states, including California, that have early or mail-in voting. His strength appears to be in the southern states that, like South Carolina, have a large pool of black voters.
He’s counting on momentum to change voters’ minds, and the pattern in the early states was that voters often made up their minds late. Biden’s hope is that anyone who voted for Klobuchar or Buttigieg will now vote for him. On the other hand, there was a reason all those people weren’t voting for him already through the early contests, so it’s not clear how much that support will gravitate to him.
Where he’s ahead: Arkansas
Bloomberg jumped into the race in November amid signs of weakness by Biden, who started to fall behind Sanders in national polls in January.
The case for his candidacy has been weakened by poor debate performances and renewed questions about his record on policing minority communities as mayor and the climate he created for women in his business. But the bigger problem is that Biden’s resurgence undercuts the rationale for his campaign.
Bloomberg’s primary map looks similar to Biden’s, although he has much less support with black voters. He could end the night in third place with more than 200 pledged delegates.
Still, the billionaire’s most formidable asset is his pocketbook, and he focused all his firepower on Super Tuesday states, spending more than $538 million on advertising around the country, much more than his rivals.
(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)
Where she’s ahead: None of the Super Tuesday states
Warren acknowledged this week that she cannot win enough delegates to secure the nomination. But, she argued, neither can the others.
It’s possible that she will finish Super Tuesday without winning a single state — including her home state of Massachusetts — but she may still collect more than 100 delegates in states as diverse as California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Texas, where she is above the viability threshold.
Her allies argue that neither Sanders or Biden will arrive at the convention in Milwaukee with a majority of delegates, and she could then put her name in contention as a unity candidate who can bring together the moderate and progressive wings of the party.
Like Sanders, Warren is raising money from small-dollar donors that she can keep tapping, and she got a boost in February, raising $29 million, second only to Sanders, as she went on the offensive against Bloomberg. That also makes her less vulnerable to the whims of major donors and appeals from the establishment. As long as her supporters continue donating, she can stay in as long as she wants.
Where she’s ahead: None of the Super Tuesday states
Where she’s above 15%: None of the Super Tuesday states
Gabbard, a congressional representative from Hawaii, entered the race in January 2019 on a platform centered on keeping U.S. military forces out of international conflicts, but never got widespread traction.
Her campaign operates on a shoestring. She has spent only $5.3 million in television and digital advertising through the entire campaign. Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, has not received more than 3% support in national polls since entering the race, and her campaign gets most of its attention through appearances on Fox News.
She did not win any delegates in the first four contests. Gabbard continued to hold town halls and other events in Super Tuesday states, but she is still not expected to win any delegates.
That hasn’t held her back so far, so she may stay in the race past Tuesday.