The Democratic presidential contenders are poised to face off on Tuesday in one of the most consequential contests of the primary race so far, with 14 states set to vote and 1,300 delegates up for grabs.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) heads into the contests as the front-runner after wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, as well as a virtual tie in Iowa, but former Vice President Joe Biden got a major boost after decisively winning South Carolina.
Super Tuesday will also mark the debut of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the ballot. He will join a race that has significantly winnowed over the past three days with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and billionaire Tom Steyer all dropping out.
Here are some of the most crucial states to watch out for on Tuesday:
California is the biggest prize of the evening, with 415 delegates up for grabs.
Sanders is currently the clear favorite to win the Golden State, but Biden has an opportunity to put a dent in his support.
The RealClearPolitics average from the Democratic primary’s California polls shows Sanders with a nearly 17 point lead over his rivals, but Biden’s support has ticked up in a few recent polls.
A CBS News/YouGov poll released Monday showed Sanders with 31 percent support in the state and Biden at 19 percent support, with Warren at 18 percent.
Biden also stands to benefit in the state if he receives the support of former Buttigieg and Klobuchar voters. That would give him a better chance of reaching the 15 percent viability threshold in the state, providing him with a share of the delegates even if he does not win the state as a whole.
“We’re no longer dividing the pot between four, five or six people. We’re dividing it between three people,” said Kelly Dietrich, the founder and head of the National Democratic Training Committee, which trains Democrats to run for public office.
However, it still remains to be seen what influence Bloomberg will have in the state where he’s spent $36 million on advertising alone.
“I think he’s going to have trouble competing in California,” Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said. “The fact that Joe Biden is a stronger candidate than he was three days ago hurts Bloomberg, who is also in the moderate lane.”
“Part of Bloomberg’s vote strategy was associated with [Biden’s] weakness, and Biden is now a stronger candidate,” he said.
The Lone Star State has the second-most delegates up for grabs, at 228. Sanders is leading in the state, but by a much narrower gap than in California.
The RealClearPolitics polling average in Texas’s Democratic primary puts Sanders six points ahead of Biden.
Sanders is relying on his strong support among the Latino community in the state after he was propelled to victory in Nevada thanks in large part to Hispanic voters.
A poll conducted by the firm Latino Decisions for Univision and the University of Houston's Center for Mexican American Studies, shows Sanders polling at 31 percent support among Texas Hispanics, while Bloomberg and Biden trailed at 23 and 19 percent, respectively. The poll was released before South Carolina's primary.
Moe Vela, a Democratic strategist and White House adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations, said Biden will need to improve his standing among the Hispanic community in order to perform well in states like Texas.
“As much credit as you have to give Bernie Sanders, I also have to say the vice president’s campaign needs to get their act together when it comes to the Latino electorate,” Vella, who sits on the board of Transparent Business, said.
The Bay State could prove to be a death knell for Warren’s campaign if she does not perform well. Despite her high name recognition and endorsements from some of the state’s progressive lawmakers, including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), recent polling shows Warren slipping in her home state.
Suffolk University/Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll released on Saturday shows Warren’s fellow New Englander Sanders leading with 24 percent support in the state, while she trailed at 22 percent, within the survey’s 4.4-percentage point margin of error.
A WBUR survey released earlier last week showed an even wider gap, with Sanders at 25 percent support and Warren at 17 percent support. That poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Warren’s performance in New Hampshire could offer some insight into how well she will perform in Massachusetts. The Granite State is famous for choosing New England candidates, voting for Sanders in 2016 and 2020.
Warren, by contrast, came in fourth in New Hampshire, behind Midwesterners Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.
“I think she definitely has to win Massachusetts tomorrow, in part to go out to the next wave of states,” Bannon said. [How] can you make a plea for votes there when you can’t win your own state?"
Virginia has the fourth largest share of delegates of the Super Tuesday contests and Bloomberg has paid close attention to the state.
Bloomberg has visited Virginia seven times, more than any other Super Tuesday state. The campaign has eight offices across the commonwealth, including in the Republican-leaning strongholds of Danville and Roanoke. More than 80 Bloomberg staffers are dispersed throughout Virginia.
His campaign cites the need to keep the state blue after the legislature flipped to Democrats in 2019 and points to his heavy investment in advocating for stronger gun control measures in Virginia.
The issue has played a central role in the state’s political discourse since the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.
“Virginia is a microcosm of one part of the future of the party, you know the moderate, progressive and suburban voters,” senior Bloomberg adviser Tim O’Brien said.
Bloomberg himself touted his own work in the state’s 2019 elections during a get-out-the-vote event in McLean on Saturday.
“It [was] so important to help flip the Virginia legislature blue this fall, and I was glad to help get it done,” Bloomberg said to a boisterous crowd.
However, a number of recent polls show Bloomberg trailing Sanders and Biden in the state. Biden, in particular, could hurt Bloomberg’s chances in the state after a big win in South Carolina.
Biden was also endorsed by a number of notable Democratic figures in Virginia recently. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Elaine Luria, and Rep. Bobby Scott were all on hand for a Biden rally in Norfolk on Sunday evening where the former vice president received a rock star-like reception.
African American voters make up a large share of the Democratic vote in Alabama, making the state critical for candidates looking to appeal to a voting group that is widely considered the backbone of the Democratic Party.
Five Thirty-Eight’s forecast shows Biden with a 61 percent chance of winning the state.
The former vice president stands to perform well with African American voters after an overwhelming win in South Carolina. Biden received a warm welcome in Selma on Sunday at an event marking the anniversary of the civil rights march.
“The moderate African Americans tend to be the majority of the Democratic Party, or at least a large part,” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said. “Older African Americans who tend to be the leadership of these big parties in the states like Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, they tend to be very pragmatic, if not more moderate. So that means they're more likely to be Joe Biden voters.”
While Sanders has relied on younger voters of color for support, he and Biden appeared to split the black youth vote in South Carolina, which might not bode well for the progressive senator in Alabama.
“Bernie didn’t have his over performance with young African-Americans that he had in other places,” Simmons said, referring to South Carolina.