Super Tuesday bonanza raises stakes for Dems

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A glut of Super Tuesday contests in 2020 is adding to the importance of the Democratic presidential primary’s first four contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, underscoring the need for a strong early showing ahead of what will become a nationalized campaign.

States eager to influence the outcome of the Democratic primary race are stacking next March 3 with a huge pool of delegates that will be at stake from coast to coast.

Without a big win or a surprisingly strong showing in one of those early states, candidates are likely to find their media attention and fundraising ability evaporating — particularly given the crowded field of high-profile politicians.

{mosads}Many of the names battling for attention today are unlikely to even survive to March 3.

“We don’t know how many candidates will make it to Super Tuesday,” said Jeff Berman, who has run delegate operations for several Democratic presidential campaigns, including Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. “It’s always a sequential process.”

At least 10 states will hold nominating contests on Super Tuesday 2020, in addition to a territory and Democrats living abroad.

As it stands, at least 41 percent of all Democratic delegates will have been allocated after votes are counted on Super Tuesday. And a few states looking at moving up their contests to March 3 could add to the total.

Super Tuesday’s states vary widely in geography, racial diversity and economic outlook, from mega-state California to tiny Vermont, largely white Massachusetts to states like Texas and North Carolina, where African-American and Hispanic voters are pillars of the Democratic electorate.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who has the sole authority to schedule his state’s primary, is likely to add the Peach State to the fray.

New York legislators are eyeing the same date, while Oregon state lawmakers this week introduced legislation to move their contest to March 3 as well.

The cluster of contests will force campaigns to pivot quickly from retail politics in the living rooms of Iowa and New Hampshire to fly-ins and larger rallies in a broad range of states across three time zones — making momentum all the more critical.

“Even a well-resourced presidential campaign has a hard time communicating at the level you need to in all these Super Tuesday states,” said Jed Ober, a top delegate counter in Clinton’s 2016 operation who now serves as chief of staff to Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.).

Democratic strategists aligned with several campaigns, and those who have run complicated delegate-gathering operations in previous years, say this will add to the importance of overperforming in the first four primaries and caucuses.

“With the field as crowded as it is, you’ve really got to pull off a win or a better-than-expected showing in those first four states to justify moving forward. It’s Iowa or bust for a lot of these candidates,” said Josh Putnam, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington who tracks party rules on the FrontloadingHQ blog.

“When calendars are frontloaded like this one looks like it’s going to be, it’s tended to amplify results in the earlier states,” Putnam said.

Seventeen states and three territories have not yet formally settled on a date for their presidential nominating contests, according to Putnam’s count. Those states must win the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) approval for their plans by May 3, though they may apply for a 30-day extension.

New DNC rules require those plans to be posted online for 30 days for public comment. The Democratic rules also require states that hold caucuses to make accommodations for those who cannot attend on a specific date and time, such as early voting or absentee voting.

Some of the new rules will make the caucus process more transparent. The rules will require a state to allocate delegates based on the initial vote of those who show up, rather than through a multilayered process that continues long beyond caucus day to county- and state-level conventions; in 2008, Obama won more delegates in Iowa than the initial caucus results suggested because his supporters showed up to the later conventions in greater proportion than those who backed Clinton or then-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

The effect of the rules changes, and the aftermath of the 2016 contest between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in which huge turnouts overwhelmed party officials, has meant some states are already moving away from caucuses in favor of primaries.

Democrats in Minnesota, Maine, Colorado, Nebraska and Idaho have opted to allocate delegates in primaries rather than caucuses. Utah legislators have voted to fund a presidential primary, though the state Democratic Party has not yet formally embraced it.

One difference between previous election cycles and this year’s calendar is a seeming acceptance of the first four contests.

In previous cycles, states like Michigan and Florida held contests out of compliance with Democratic Party rules. This year, no state seems poised to try to jump ahead of or challenge Iowa and New Hampshire’s place on the calendar.

“We’ve kind of squeezed out these calendar disruptions,” one senior Democratic strategist said. “All of the states basically accept the positions of the four early states.”

The complex calendar has forced campaigns to focus on the grinding but necessary work of organizing in every state and territory. First they must gain access to the ballot, rules for which are set by state law rather than by the parties. Then they must recruit potential delegates and shepherd those people through the election process.

“The early focus is making sure you’re on all the ballots,” Berman said. With so many candidates in need of signatures to qualify for those ballots, “even the local volunteer activist base will be stretched.”

The number of Democratic candidates running this year, after relatively small fields ran in 2008 and 2012, means there are few party operatives with experience in the delegate allocation process.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has recruited David Huynh, who ran delegate operations for Clinton’s campaign in 2016. Sanders maintains a stable of knowledgeable veterans from his own 2016 run, including former campaign manager Jeff Weaver, now a senior adviser to the Sanders campaign.

Other campaigns may be forced to learn complex rules on the fly.

“A lot of them won’t have access to senior people who have done it before,” the Democratic strategist said.

Tags 2020 presidential race Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Democratic primary Hillary Clinton Super Tuesday Susan Wild

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