The Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination race could end March 3, when voters in 14 states go to the polls to select their preferred candidate. There are countless ways to game out the delegate math, though, and it is entirely possible that two – or perhaps even three – contenders will remain in the running beyond Super Tuesday. Who has a realistic path to securing the 1,991 pledged delegates needed to claim the nomination outright?
For perspective, it is worth considering that, so far, three Democrats still in the race have, among them, only 120 pledged delegates: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is the current frontrunner with 58 delegates; following his big South Carolina win, former Vice President Joe Biden is in second place with 54 delegates; Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has 8. The remainder of the candidates still running have none. The recent dropouts hold a few: Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), 7; former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 26; and Tom Steyer, 2.
In theory, it is still a wide-open race. Had Klobuchar hung in there and performed well enough in her home state to claim 60 of Minnesota’s 75 pledged delegates, she would suddenly have been up there with Sanders and Biden. Likewise, if Warren does well enough in her state to claim, say, 70 of the 91 delegates up for grabs in Massachusetts, she could find herself in the lead – or at least in the position of challenging the two frontrunners.
While a comparison between the Democratic primaries and the Electoral College system would not be accurate, there is a similarity, in that certain states are prized for the sheer number of available delegates. On Super Tuesday, those states are California with 415 pledged delegates, Texas with 228, North Carolina with 110, and Virginia with 99. Altogether, the 14 Super Tuesday states, plus American Samoa and the primary for Democrats Abroad, will award 35% of the party’s total pledged delegates. A candidate must win a majority (at least 51%) of the 3,979 pledged delegates to secure the nomination.
March 3, then, is not the deciding day – mathematically speaking – but one candidate could emerge with a virtually insurmountable lead. Then it would be a question of whether that candidate can secure the majority needed to avoid a brokered convention.
The Big Three States
According to a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of California voters (conducted Feb 26-29), Sanders enjoys a significant lead in the Golden State, with the backing of 35% of likely Democratic primary voters. Mike Bloomberg comes in second with 16%, and Biden rounds out the top three at 14%, just two points ahead of Warren. There is a concern, though, that turnout among “no party preference” voters – the second-largest voting bloc in the state – will not be very high, and Sanders has expressed concerns that these are the very people who would greatly affect the outcome.
California alone may answer two questions at the heart of the nomination contest: whether Bloomberg is the real deal and whether Biden is a potent threat to Sanders. If either one stumbles in California and fails to come away with a decent haul of delegates, it could be all she wrote.
Texas is a similar story: Sanders now leads the state, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll. The Vermont socialist has a 29% to 21% lead over Bloomberg, with Biden at 19%. Among Latino Democrats and Latino Independents who lean Democrat, Sanders has an even more significant advantage.
The most recent North Carolina poll puts Sanders at 31% among self-identified Democrats and Independents who plan to participate in the Democratic primary. Bloomberg is a distant second with just 18%, and Biden has 14%.
March 4 and Beyond
None of this bodes well, of course, for Warren. In all of the Big Three Super Tuesday states, the sole remaining female candidate will be hard-pressed to win even 15% of the vote, which, in most primary states, is the threshold for being awarded delegates.
At this point, it is not so much a question of whether Sanders will emerge from Super Tuesday with a delegate lead as whether Biden or Bloomberg will still be in a position to challenge the senator. Even if Warren clears the table in her home state, she likely will face enormous pressure to withdraw after March 3. That could add to Sanders’ momentum, since Warren’s supporters and remaining donors almost certainly will cleave to the radical Vermonter, as opposed to the more moderate Biden or Bloomberg.
On March 10, six more states will hold primary votes. Bloomberg and Biden could both face the dilemma of fighting on to rein in a runaway Sanders or dropping out, one of them throwing his weight behind the other to prevent a Sanders nomination. With Bloomberg’s money behind him, Biden may yet be able to force a contested convention. Biden, though, has little to offer Bloomberg. What is left of the so-called Obama coalition may wearily trudge along behind the lackluster former VP, but it is unlikely to coalesce around a New York multi-billionaire with a history of disparaging both blacks and women.
Barring any big surprises, then, it seems likely that Sanders will claim the Democratic nomination, or he will be denied it by the votes of superdelegates in Milwaukee come July.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.