We’re entering crunch time in the Democratic primary season, with six more states ready to go on Tuesday, several of which are quite large. While it’s nowhere near as big a deal, delegate-wise, as Super Tuesday was, there will be only two more dates on the calendar on which more delegates will be at stake than this week: the primaries one week from now, on March 17 (when Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio will be up), and then the Northeast primaries on April 28.
Also, the March 10 primaries will be momentous because we’re suddenly at a point where it’s do-or-die time for the Bernie Sanders campaign. That’s an incredible turn of events from just one week ago, where, pre-Super Tuesday, the big question was whether Joe Biden would be able to limit the damage enough to have a chance as the race moved on to states more favorable to him. As it turned out, Biden not only limited the damage, but emerged from Super Tuesday with a sizable delegate lead thanks not only to dominating in the South, even more so than expected, but also to winning narrowly in unexpected places such as Texas and Massachusetts. Based on the polls we’re seeing, this week’s primaries do not offer much of a chance for Sanders to bounce back.
The Daily Kos Elections liveblog begins at 8 pm Eastern time. We encourage you to join us then for full coverage. Let’s take a look at the prospects in each of the six states.
8 PM ET
Delegates: 27 statewide at-large, 16 statewide PLEO, 4 in MI-04 and MI-10, 5 in MI-01, MI-02, MI-03, MI-06, and MI-07, 6 in MI-05 and MI-08, 7 in MI-09, MI-11, MI-12, and MI-13, 9 in MI-14 (125 pledged delegates total)
Polls: Biden 54, Sanders 31 (weighted average)
The Michigan primary in 2016 was one of the most memorable of that entire primary season: It was a must-win for Sanders, who had had some big losses in prior weeks, and yet he did win narrowly, despite what the polls were suggesting. Theoretically, we could see the exact same thing this time. The average of the polls puts Biden ahead, though not by an insurmountable amount, and Sanders has forgone campaigning in Mississippi and Missouri in the last few days in order to focus heavily on the Wolverine State.
There are some problems that might prevent a repeat, though. Sanders managed to win Michigan last time thanks to a surprising surge from rural counties that are mostly white and that usually vote Republican in the general election. But results from similar counties on Super Tuesday (from, say, rural Minnesota or Oklahoma) saw Sanders losing big in the same counties where he won four years ago; instead, those were places where Biden and Bloomberg did well. That’s suggestive that Sanders benefited from a large “not Hillary” vote in 2016, and those numbers don’t hold up when there are other options that are both more moderate and more male than Clinton.
With the campaign whittled down to essentially two candidates at this point (sorry, Tulsi), both candidates should have no trouble hitting the viability threshold both statewide and in all of Michigan’s congressional districts. The state’s biggest delegate prize is the 14th Congressional District in Detroit, which of course has a large African American population but also has a significant Arab American community where Sanders may have made some inroads, so it may not be as monolithically pro-Biden as you’d at first think. Also, Sanders still has a good shot at scratching out wins in the districts with large universities, such as the 8th and the 12th.
A brief technical note: Parts of the state’s Upper Peninsula are in the Central time zone, and polls there will close one hour later than in the rest of the state. That only reflects a small percentage of the total state, and it’s possible that if the race is not close, it may be called before that time.
Delegates: 8 statewide at-large, 5 statewide PLEO, 5 in MS-01, 9 in MS-02, 5 in MS-03, 4 in MS-04 (36 total pledged delegates)
Polls: Biden 74, Sanders 23 (weighted average)
We can probably expect to see Mississippi called for Biden at 8 PM Eastern, maybe at 8:01 PM if the networks are being extra careful. The polling averages in Mississippi give him a huge lead. In addition, the result last week in Alabama—Mississippi’s neighbor and one of its most demographically similar counterparts—is a similarly good indicator: Biden won there 63-17, and the result in Mississippi is likely only to improve for him with Mike Bloomberg out of the race.
It’s remotely possible that Sanders won’t even end up hitting the 15% statewide viability threshold in Mississippi—he barely hit it in Alabama. It’s even likelier that he will miss the threshold in Mississippi’s 2nd district, the state’s lone black-majority congressional district—which also has a much bigger delegate share than the state’s other districts, since that’s where most of its Democratic electorate is packed. Sanders may still gain a few delegates in the state’s three other districts, though.
Delegates: 15 statewide at-large, 9 statewide PLEOs, 4 in MO-08, 5 in MO-03, MO-04, MO-06, and MO-07, 6 in MO-02 and MO-05, 8 in MO-01 (68 pledged delegates total)
Polls: Biden 55, Sanders 31 (weighted average)
Sanders lost Missouri only narrowly in 2016, in fact by only 0.2%, so the result was even closer than in Michigan that year. However, the polls that we’re seeing this year do not bode well for him this time: What we’re seeing looks similar to what we saw in nearby border states such as Arkansas and Tennessee on this year’s Super Tuesday. A significant part of Missouri’s Democratic electorate is African American, concentrated heavily in the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas and the state’s rural southeast. And while Sanders performed well in the whiter rural parts of the state last time, as we’re also likely to see in Michigan, he can’t rely on what was the “not Hillary” vote going his way when Biden, rather than Clinton, is in the race.
Looking more closely at congressional districts, Biden looks likely to do well in the big-city districts such as the 1st and 5th, which, not coincidentally, have the highest delegate totals. Sanders’ best district may well be the 4th, which both is mostly white and has the state’s largest university in Columbia, though that makes up only a small part of the district, and even the 4th may be out of reach for him to win outright.
Delegates: 3 statewide at-large, 2 statewide PLEO, 9 in ND-AL (14 pledged delegates total)
North Dakota is actually a “firehouse caucus,” which means that it’s a primary election that’s administered by the state party, not the state government, in a limited number of voting locations. So you get the partial voter suppression of having to travel a longer way to cast your vote, but at least you don’t have to spend several hours sitting there listening to people bloviate before doing so. North Dakota is split into two time zones, but the caucuses are timed timed so that they end at 7 PM Central time and 6 PM Mountain time, so there’s a uniform closing time.
We’re flying totally blind in North Dakota pollwise. While Sanders won big in North Dakota in 2016 (when the format was more of a true caucus), the nearby and demographically similar rural counties of Minnesota, which voted last week, might be a better comparison point for this year. That would bode much better for Biden this time. There are still a handful of counties in northwestern Minnesota that Biden didn’t win last week, but they went to favorite daughter Amy Klobuchar, who’s no longer in the race and whose votes seem more likely to gravitate to Biden.
11 PM ET
Delegates: 4 statewide at-large, 3 statewide PLEO, 6 in ID-01, 7 in ID-02 (20 pledged delegates total)
We’re also flying blind in Idaho, with no polls. But I suspect this will be Sanders’ strongest state of the night, and possibly his only win of the night. Sanders won one of his most lopsided victories of 2016 here (78%-21%, and 18 to 5 delegates), though that was with the benefit of the caucus format; Idaho is using a primary this year instead. However, Idaho is demographically and ideologically similar to nearby Utah, which was one of the few states on Super Tuesday where Sanders won. Sanders’ 2020 Utah win was greatly diminished from his 2016 win there, though. His 2020 win in Utah was also with Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren putting in strong performances, so Idaho might go differently with them out of the race now, especially with Biden likelier to inherit would-be Bloomberg voters.
The state’s two congressional districts are pretty demographically similar to one other. One thing to keep an eye on is the more southerly 2nd district, which has a larger Latino population than does the 1st, though it’s unclear whether the Sanders campaign has been able to mobilize them as effectively as it did in Nevada, for example. Much of the 1st district’s population is in the Pacific time zone, and polls there close at 8 PM local time (11 PM Eastern), so it’s unlikely that we’ll see a call statewide before then, even though the majority of the state’s polling places will have closed one hour earlier.
Delegates: 19 statewide at-large, 12 statewide PLEO, 3 in WA-04, 4 in WA-05, 5 in WA-03, WA-08, and WA-10, 6 in WA-01, WA-02, and WA-06, 7 in WA-09, 11 in WA-07 (89 pledged delegates total)
Polls: Biden 40, Sanders 36 (weighted average)
One of the forgotten stories of the 2016 campaign was that Washington state actually gave Sanders his largest net delegate haul of any state (74 to 27, a net of 47 delegates). The important thing to know about that, though, is that those results came from caucuses. The state also had an entirely nonbinding vote-by-mail primary on a different day, and that went totally the opposite direction: Clinton won it 52-48. Now it’s distinctly possible that Sanders would have still narrowly won Washington if there had only been a primary (as he did in nearby Oregon, which did use only a primary), because that’s what he would have emphasized in his campaigning, but the fact remains that he benefited greatly from Washington being the largest state in the nation that used caucuses that year, and its decision to stop using them in 2020 is an underrated obstacle to his gaining the nomination, and was so even before the events of Super Tuesday happened.
The few pre-Super Tuesday polls of Washington that we saw gave Sanders a mid-single-digit advantage over Biden. However, we’ve now seen two post-Super Tuesday polls, from SurveyUSA and Data for Progress, and they both give Biden a low-single-digit lead instead. One thing to keep in mind is that Washington is a vote-by-mail state, and ballots were sent out several weeks before Super Tuesday, so some of those ballots were already returned before the Great Winnowing.
Since Washington will count ballots that are postmarked on Tuesday, even if they arrive later, strap in for a protracted counting period. We may not know for a week or more who has won. But we could see two competing trends in the late ballots, which may wind up canceling each other out: On the one hand, Biden may benefit in the late-breaking ballots, since they’re less likely than earlier ballots to include errant votes for Bloomberg or other candidates who’ve dropped out.
On the other hand, Washington’s younger and more liberal voters are notorious for waiting until the last minute to drop their ballots, meaning that as the count goes on, left-leaning candidates who were trailing on election night often end up winning in the end. That could end up benefiting Sanders. Though, given that Sanders is facing possible delegate annihilation in Florida one week after Washington, it’s at least worth considering that he may have already ended his campaign by the time Washington finishes counting!
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