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The 5 most likely Super Tuesday scenarios

A third of all pledged delegates in the Democratic presidential race will be doled out on Tuesday across 14 states — from California to Maine — in the single biggest day of the 2020 contest.

So, what’s going to happen? Good question! Below, I outline the five most likely scenarios to play out on Super Tuesday, with a special focus on California (415 delegates) and Texas (228 delegates).

5. Warren surprises (somewhat): There’s a reason that even as the field has rapidly narrowed in the last few days, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has insisted she is staying in: Unlike, say, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who looked likely to get embarrassed on Super Tuesday, Warren has a decent chance of actually surprising some people with her delegate haul.

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In both California and Texas, which have the most delegates up for grabs and, therefore, matter most today, Warren is running a solid third behind Sen. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. And, more importantly, she is above the 15% threshold to win delegates in each. If Warren can stay above that 15% number in both of those states, Tuesday will be a very good day for her campaign, no matter what else happens. (One kind-of caveat: Warren looks likely to lose her home state of Massachusetts to Sanders, which isn’t a great look.)

And if Warren does finish, say, third in the number of delegates behind Sanders and Biden after Super Tuesday, she would have very little incentive to leave the race — at least in the near term. Remember that Warren raised $29 million in February alone, more than she had raised in any three-month period prior. What that means is she will have the resources to continue forward — especially if she can get to a solid third place in the delegate hunt on Super Tuesday.

The continued presence of Warren in the race — through March and perhaps beyond — would be a bad thing for Sanders, who needs to consolidate as much liberal support behind him in as short a period of time as possible. But if Warren keeps collecting delegates and stays within shouting distance of the top two in the race for 1,991 (delegates, that is), there’s not a ton of incentive for her to bow out before the party convention this summer. Of course, that all depends on her ability to collect a significant chunk of delegates on Super Tuesday.

4. Bloomberg underperforms: The last 72 hours have been former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s worst-case scenario: Biden crushes in South Carolina’s primary and a rapid lining-up of centrist former candidates behind him occurs. The entire premise of Bloomberg’s candidacy is that Biden is too weak to win the nomination. And now, on the day Bloomberg’s campaign has focused all its efforts (and money) since he began running for president, he finds Biden with all the momentum.

Given the amount of money Bloomberg has spent on ads, staff and, well, everything else on Super Tuesday states (well more than $500 million), it has to be considered a major disappointment if he doesn’t make the 15% threshold for delegates in California and Texas. Polling in both states suggests Bloomberg is slightly below the cut-off line in each state; if he doesn’t make viability statewide in either one, it’s very, very likely that Bloomberg has a bad night — regardless of what happens elsewhere in the country.

One other area to think about: The South. Again, Bloomberg is the biggest spender — by FAR — in these southern Super Tuesday states. But if Biden’s stunningly strong performance in the black community in South Carolina is any indication, Bloomberg may struggle to get to 15% in places like Alabama and Tennessee, which would, again, spell trouble for his campaign’s future.

3. Sanders leads delegate chase and there is a muddle for 2nd place: This is the nightmare scenario for the forces hoping to unite the establishment wing of the party behind Biden.

There’s no question that Sanders will have the delegate lead come Wednesday morning — or, given how long it takes California to count votes, Wednesday night. (Scroll down for more on that.) It’s also uniquely possible that Biden, Bloomberg and Warren all get to 15% in enough states voting on Tuesday that they effectively split up the non-Bernie delegates. How? Warren’s strength in California, Biden’s presumed advantage among black voters across the southern states and Bloomberg’s $500+ million TV ad assault on every single Super Tuesday state.

What such a scenario would mean would be a total muddle. Each of that trio of candidates would likely have enough good news out of Super Tuesday — and their delegate standing — to justify staying in the race through, at least, the end of this month. And the longer it takes for the field to thin to Sanders and the Sanders alternative, the better for the Vermont senator.

2. Biden claims second in delegate chase: The real fight at the moment is not to beat Sanders in delegates collected on Super Tuesday — even the most pessimistic projections for the Vermont senator assume he wins the most — but rather to be the person who takes the second most delegates, and, by extension, can make the case as the Bernie alternative.

That fight is between Biden, Warren (due to her strength in California, largely) and Bloomberg, and the former vice president would appear to have a leg up at the moment as he comes into Tuesday with momentum from his larger-than-expected win in South Carolina over the weekend and a slew of endorsements — including from Klobuchar and Buttigieg — announced on Monday.

For Biden to slot in behind only Sanders in delegates, he need a few things to happen: a) get over 15% in California b) win or come close in Texas and c) run up the margins in southern states — Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama — where the Democratic electorate will have a major African American tilt.

1. Sanders sweeps to a significant (200+) delegate lead: Sanders should do quite well in New England (Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont) as well as in Minnesota and Colorado. But it’s California where Sanders’ day will be made (or not). There’s virtually no question that Sanders will win the state but the key is whether or not Biden, Warren or Bloomberg can get to 15% or more.

If no one other than Sanders gets to 15% statewide, he will get almost 60% of all of the delegates, according to calculations made by the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman. If, on the other hand, two non-Sanders candidates got 15.1% of the vote each, Sanders would win just 38% of California’s delegates. So, BIG difference.

Still, Sanders is stronger in more states than any other candidate left in the field — thanks the absolute commitment of his core supporters as well as his strengths — as Ron Brownstein notes — among non-college educated whites and Hispanic voters. He should have a good night no matter what.

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