It's Your Super Tuesday Super Primer! Enjoy!
Super Tuesday is tomorrow, and although it's still early in the primary process, it's probably the make or break moment for most campaigns. Roughly a third (1,357) of all available pledged delegates are awarded during Tuesday's contests. A candidate could rack up an insurmountable delegate lead, or we could wind up with a two-person race ... or delegates are split among several candidates, which means no one would wind up with a majority. That would lead us to a contested convention. Check out the final season of "The West Wing" to see how much fun that is ... on TV.
Fourteen states and a US territory will hold primaries tomorrow. It's a demographically and regionally diverse group: California, Utah, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, and American Samoa. Democrats living abroad will start voting tomorrow through March 10.
Who's gonna win what?
We don't know! We're not fortune tellers. But there are no caucuses, so we will know eventually. California will probably take a while because it's a very large state, and with the time difference, it'll be well into Wednesday (or much later) before we have any real clarity. This has happened before. There's no conspiracy there.
The good folks at FiveThirtyEight have a fancy forecast with science-based predictions for the races. This isn't set in stone or even wet sand. It's almost impossible to tell what impact Joe Biden's decisive South Carolina victory or Pete Buttigieg dropping out entirely will have on the race at this point.
All those caveats aside, here's what FiveThirtyEight predicts: Bernie Sanders is the favorite to win California (415 delegates), Massachusetts (91), Colorado (67), Utah (29), Maine (24), Vermont (16), and American Samoa (6). Biden looks good in Texas (228), North Carolina (110), Virginia (99), Tennessee (64), Alabama (52), Oklahoma (37), and Arkansas (31). Amy Klobuchar was favored to hold her home state of Minnesota (75), but she dropped out today and is expected to endorse Biden. The former vice president was polling between 8 and 10 percent in Prince's home state. I have no damn clue how this shakes out now.
Isn't it a little more complicated than who wins what where?
Yes, it is, smarty pants! The primary races aren't winner-take-all like a common Electoral College. The goal here is to rack up delegates, and narrow wins versus curb stompings will make a difference. There are "at-large" delegates, which are allocated statewide, and there are "district-level" delegates available from each congressional district. A candidate needs to meet a "viability threshold" of 15 percent to qualify for either group of delegates. Otherwise — and it's written here, clear as crystal, in black and white — they get nothing.
This is where the shit gets real. Sanders is viable in every state Biden is favored to win. For instance, in Virginia, FiveThirtyEight has them splitting the delegate difference. The same goes for Texas, which is the biggest potential prize for Biden. He might end up with only a few more delegates than Sanders. Biden is below viability in Massachusetts and Utah. It looked like he might get shut out in California, which would've been fatal, but current polling shows him meeting the viability threshold.
Will Elizabeth Warren get Marco Rubioed in her own state?
Polls are pointing in that direction, and it's a bummer. Warren hasn't led a poll in her home state since October of last year. This is high noon for her campaign that I am personally damn proud of no matter how it ends.
Rubio himself was obviously Rubio-ed during the 2016 GOP primary when Trump crushed him in Florida. He still went on to win re-election just months later. Either Democrats took their eyes off the ball there or it's not a career-killer to lose your own state's presidential primary. Voters might still like you but just want you to remain in your current role.
What is the secret origin of Super Tuesday?
Glad you asked! According to the New York Times, it all began in 1980 as a plan to frontload some Southern states (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) so incumbent President Jimmy Carter could fend off a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy, who somehow still believed he had a shot at the White House after having left a woman to drown like a drunken coward (ALLEGEDLY, somewhat). Carter whooped Kennedy in Iowa and New Hampshire so it ultimately didn't matter. Despite the lopsided primary wins, Kennedy stuck around through June and didn't concede until the second day of the convention. That was the last contested convention, and it's an understatement to suggest the general election was a disaster for Democrats. I'm sure there were very busy and important differences between Carter and Kennedy that required that primary to drag on well after Ronald Fucking Reagan had clinched the Republican nomination.
Whatever happens on this year's Super Tuesday, let's all try to remember the lessons of 1980.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."