Unpacking South Carolina — and on to Super Tuesday

It took 32 years, but Joe Biden finally won a presidential primary. On Saturday night, he won South Carolina, and he won it big.


Let’s get right into some answering some questions coming out of this primary and heading into the biggest primary day of the year — Super Tuesday.

How did PPFA do?

Pretty good again! On the individual contest level, I’ve had just one miss with each state, and that happened again on Saturday. I had all seven candidates again in their correct finishing order with the exception of switching Buttigieg and Warren in fourth and fifth place. (They’re separated by 1.1%.)

Hey, don’t bury the lede. How is PPFA really doing?

On the overall primary level, my initial prediction for this year’s nomination process is, like Joe Biden, looking increasingly viable. It acknowledged the following:

  1. Sanders was favored to win the first three states, but that wouldn’t put the primary away like in other years.
  2. Biden would pick up momentum in Nevada and South Carolina, which would create a “Comeback Joe” narrative to fuel his campaign.
  3. Biden winning South Carolina would be a huge boon to a southern Super Tuesday strategy.
  4. As the field narrows, Biden would be in position to pick up more support than Sanders.

So far, 1 & 2 have happened, and we’re in the midst of seeing whether 3 will. If 3 does, next up is 4.

Back to South Carolina. What happened, and why should we care?

First and foremost, it’s a day of celebration. Tom Steyer has suspended his presidential campaign. In the parlance of a Charleston church: Hallelujah, Lord!

Second and secondmost, however, it’s a day of sadness. Pete Buttigieg, the internet’s most hated candidate but this website’s second favorite, has suspended his incredible campaign. In the parlance of PPFA: bummer.

It was no surprise. As expected, Klobuchar and Buttigieg didn’t do anything in South Carolina to resuscitate their dying campaigns. Klobuchar should also be gone after Super Tuesday, but not before competing in Minnesota to limit Sanders’s delegate haul. Other South Carolina also-rans include Bloomberg (who wasn’t on the ballot), Gabbard (who should have been gone weeks ago) and Warren (thoughts forthcoming).

As for the leaders, let’s get an update on delegate count. The Green Papers have done more delegate projecting than the big news outlets. Here’s their South Carolina allocation:

  1. Biden: 39
  2. Sanders: 15
  3. All other candidates: 0

If we add those numbers onto the overall primary standings, we see a surging Biden. Here’s an expertly made Excel chart showing before and after delegate totals:


It’s become quite close! Meanwhile, if you consider the overall popular vote, Biden has actually taken a substantial lead:

Hold the phone… “Robinette”? “Montgomery”? “Fahr”? Who ARE these people?

Now, to be clear, the popular vote doesn’t mean anything. It’ll be used as a talking point, but it shouldn’t be taken seriously. The two caucus states — including Nevada, which gave Sanders his biggest win — don’t have nearly the amount of voters as primary states. Delegates are what matter.

Regardless, what is undeniable is Biden’s momentum heading into Super Tuesday. He can claim a delegate surge, a popular vote lead, and the clear ambassadorship of the non-Bernie lane.

And looking head?

Tomorrow is the Superest of Tuesdays: 15 contests and over 1300 delegates, or about 35% of the total delegates awarded.

I’ll have a full preview of the day — including a breakdown of each state! — tomorrow. But for now, here are the Cliff’s notes of the current situation:

  • Sanders is dominating the California polls. California’s 415 pledged delegates comprise nearly a third of tomorrow’s haul, and it towers over all other states. (Tomorrow’s next biggest prize — and third largest of the primary — is Texas, which has nearly 200 fewer delegates. Only one other Super Tuesday state even has a hundred!) With a big California win, it’s hard to see how anyone but Sanders comes away with the most Super Tuesday delegates. Therefore, he’ll still have a lead in the primary race. For the last three decades, whoever has the lead after Super Tuesday becomes the nominee.
  • However, these past Super Tuesday winners have always won the most delegates and the most states. Biden’s goal will be to split those categories: Sanders might win the most delegates, but a southern-heavy Super Tuesday will give him a chance to win the most states. In the momentum game, that kind of spin can be important.
  • Mayor Pete’s exit should help Biden pick a few percent tomorrow, and Warren could get a couple ticks as well since her and Buttigieg split a lot of college-educated whites. These percentage points are huge when it comes to those candidates meeting viability in more districts. Sanders was expected to hit viability everywhere anyway, and if he did so in districts where no one else did, he’d get all the district’s delegates. Similarly, if Buttigieg’s exit allows two other people to hit viability, that’s even fewer Sanders delegates.
  • We’ll come out of Super Tuesday doing even more math than when we went into it. We’ll see how many of the remaining delegates Biden must win to catch Sanders by the last primary in June.
  • Of course, that math gets simplified if it becomes a two-person race. While I think Klobuchar  drops out, Warren and Bloomberg remain wild cards.
  • Warren is hoping it becomes a three-candidate race with Sanders and Biden. (This quest explains why she’s been trying to rip out Bloomberg’s heart and serve it to him with a side of his own testicles.) In such a race, she positions herself as the reasonable choice between Sanders’s unelectable democratic-socialism and Biden’s anachronistic leadership of the current Democratic Party. If it truly were just three candidates remaining, I could see her consistently getting 15% down the stretch to force a brokered convention, where she’s the natural compromise candidate.
  • Of course, Bloomberg was hoping he would be the third choice. The question is: does he still think that’s possible? If he stays in, it reveals he was always more in it for himself and cares little about denying Sanders the nomination and Trump his bogeyman opponent. It’s clear Biden is the best chance to stop Sanders. If Bloomberg remains, it’ll only serve to divide the moderate vote and make it impossible for Biden to get the delegates to block Sanders. (Incredibly, Sanders supporters are rooting for Michael Bloomberg tomorrow.)
  • For those pulling for a contested convention, keep in mind that just because all the non-Biden/Sanders candidates can easily combine for 20% or more of the vote tomorrow and afterward, the fact that individually they’ll so rarely clear 15% means that Biden and Sanders will still open up a huge lead on the field. For an open convention, you’ll want three consistently viable candidates.

But that’s all big picture. Tomorrow: Super Tuesday at the granular level. I hope to see you then.


5 thoughts on “Unpacking South Carolina — and on to Super Tuesday”

  1. […] Oh, that’s right, that whole “Covid pandemic” thing started right after those early contests; in March 2020, the NBA shut down, Tom Hanks got sick, and I was sent home from school for a “two week” pause. Two years has felt like two decades of wearing masks, socially distancing, and diving behind large objects every time someone coughs. It feels like a lifetime since the Iowa debacle, the Klobuchar New Hampshire surprise, and the predictable (for PPFA), triumphant Biden comeback. […]


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