A Quick Hit Friday for a Super Tuesday

Next week we’ll be obsessed with Iowa. The week after that will be all about New Hampshire. Then Nevada and South Carolina will have their turn in the primary’s limelight. So before our infatuation with the early states usurps our time, let’s take a Quick look at Super Tuesday, now just 40 days away.

The candidates are essentially hoping their early state success will make them a winner on Super Tuesday, because it’s Super Tuesday that picks nominees. Check out this chart on Super Tuesday results since 1988:

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In every instance, the Super Tuesday winner became the delegate leader and then the eventual nominee of the party. That’s the last 16 consecutive primaries, including the 13 that were contested, across three decades of presidential politics. Even in competitive primaries, most notably the 2008 Democratic Primary, whomever emerged as the Super Tuesday winner never relinquished their delegate lead. Super Tuesday is everything.

With that in mind, we should take a closer look at 2020’s Super Tuesday. Before we do, however, let’s first understand what, exactly, Super Tuesday is.


Party rules mandate what the first four primary states are. This year, the early state contests will be held in February. Here they are, each with their pledged delegate counts:

Date Name of Caucus Pledged Delegates
February (155 total)
3 Mon. Iowa caucuses 41
11 Tue. New Hampshire primaries 24
22 Sat. Nevada Democratic caucuses 36
29 Sat. South Carolina Democratic primary 54

Super Tuesday is then, as it frequently is, on the first Tuesday in March. (This year that falls on March 3, a special day at PPFAHQ.) According to national party rules on both sides, that’s the earliest a state can hold its primary or caucus without incurring a penalty on its delegation size. Therefore, a bunch of states schedule their contests on this earliest-possible date in the hopes of raising their prominence in the overall primary.

This year, 16 contests are scheduled for that day:

Mar 3. ((Super Tuesday)) ((1357))
Alabama primaries 52
American Samoa Democratic caucus 6
Arkansas primaries 31
California primaries 415
Colorado primaries 67
Maine primaries 24
Massachusetts primaries 91
Minnesota primaries 75
North Carolina primaries 110
Oklahoma primaries 37
Tennessee primaries 64
Texas primaries 228
Utah primaries 29
Vermont primaries 16
Virginia primaries 99
Democrats Abroad primary (3/3-3/10) 13

With 1357 delegates up for grabs, this day is worth about nine times as much as the higher-profile early states combined. The early states are only important insofar as how they affect Super Tuesday. That’s why Iowa is as important as it is unpredictable. I believe Bernie Sanders to be a near lock to win New Hampshire and Joe Biden a near lock to win South Carolina. The Sanders-Biden showdown in Iowa could well determine who wins Nevada, which means one of the two candidates can claim victory in February, which in turn helps them win on March 3.[1]

Interestingly, both major camps — the Biden and Sanders campaign — act as if they’re holding stronger Super Tuesday cards. The Sanders Campaign, for example, think it has an ace-in-the-hole with the gargantuan California Primary. Thanks to the state’s huge population and strong Democratic presence, its 415-person pledged delegation towers over that of every other state. It’s a progressive state, so Sanders can indeed hope to win it, particularly if Warren drops out and he absorbs her support.

But he wouldn’t be the favorite in many more Super Tuesday states beyond California. The Biden team’s Southern Strategy expects that a South Carolina win just three days before Super Tuesday propels him to win all those southern states with big African American populations, ultimately winning many more contests on that day than Sanders, and those winning margins will gradually compile to rival Sanders’s California haul. The math checks out; if one starts to add those southern states together, they eventually eclipse that California number. Among those states he expects to win big is Super Tuesday’s second largest contest and third largest contest overall (after California and New York) — Texas and its 228 delegates. (In the only poll done there since November, Biden was up 20 points.) Meanwhile, just like Sanders subsumes Warren support, Biden would logically pick up Buttigieg and Klobuchar support, which combined nearly match Warren’s numbers.[2]

Even if the two candidates do have comparable delegate totals coming out of Super Tuesday, as long as Biden comes away with more — even if it’s just a little bit more — he’ll surely point to the sheer quantity of states he won as a sign that he’s the strongest candidate standing. February can scramble all of this, but, as of now, Super Tuesday is one more reason Joe Biden remains the least unlikely nominee of the party.

But enough about March. First things first. In January’s last week, all we care about is February.

See you then.


FOOTNOTE:

[1]What follows is an assumption that it’s a Biden-Sanders race for the long-haul, which, though it’s the most likely scenario, is far from certain. Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, and Amy Klobuchar all have a competing theory as to how this might go. (I suppose the others do, too, but they’re all super long shots.)

[2]Huge wild card here: does Bloomberg move out of Biden’s way in the moderate lane if Biden and Sanders are neck-and-neck? Or does he remain in the race and limit Biden’s delegate count, which makes Sanders look stronger compared to Biden? If it’s the latter — and if Bloomberg starts clear 15% thresholds — we could be looking at a… no, I won’t say it. (But I’ll link it.)

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