2020 race goes national in sprint to Super Tuesday

2020 race goes national in sprint to Super Tuesday
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After months of intimate town hall meetings and carefully cultivated relationship-building in Iowa and New Hampshire, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has gone national as the clock ticks toward Super Tuesday.

Candidates are sprinting across the country, headlining mega-rallies in states that will allocate delegates in the first weeks of March and sitting for interviews on national cable and network news shows that air in the media markets where they cannot be present.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Romney warns Trump: Don't interfere with coronavirus relief oversight MORE held eight events in Nevada, where caucuses will be held this week, before jetting to Denver for a fundraiser on Monday. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-Mass.) held eight of her events across Nevada from Saturday to Tuesday, and her campaign said she would hold rallies in Seattle and Denver next week.

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Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) spent Presidents Day weekend hopscotching from Durham and Charlotte, N.C., to Dallas, where 5,000 people turned out to an indoor soccer arena. He rallied supporters in Las Vegas and a thousand people in Carson City, Nev., three of whom were arrested for protesting topless. And he rallied more than ten thousand people each in Denver, Richmond, Calif., and Tacoma, Wash.

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession MORE spent his weekend in Sacramento, Las Vegas, Sparks and Elko, Nev., and Salt Lake City, with stops in between on Fox News Sunday and CNN’s State of the Union. The campaign has rallies planned for North Carolina and Virginia in the coming weeks, and it said it would have staff on the ground in all 14 states voting on Super Tuesday — and an army of 25,000 volunteers in those states.

The frenetic pace is a marked departure from early state bus tours, one that requires careful management of any campaign’s scarcest resource: The candidate’s own time. Instead of driving an hour from one town to the next across the frozen Iowa tundra, the high-paced Super Tuesday sprint requires time-consuming flights and mind-numbing logistical planning.

“You can’t be in all those states,” said Amanda Renteria, a Democratic strategist who served as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' MORE’s national political director during the 2016 campaign. “It requires a lot more strategic thinking around where you need to go.”

The complex geography and demography of the states voting on March 3 makes this year’s path to Super Tuesday all the more challenging. 

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Candidates will compete in states like Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and Virginia, where African American voters make up a huge portion of the Democratic electorate; California, Utah and Texas, where Hispanic voters hold significant sway; deep-red states like Oklahoma and Tennessee, and deep-blue states like Vermont and Massachusetts.

The smart campaign will spend its limited resources earning as much media as possible, said Dan Sena, a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee who advised Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Cyber threats spike during coronavirus pandemic MORE’s (D-Colo.) presidential campaign. 

“If you can keep your candidate on national cable news during the day, that’s something they’re going to think heavily about,” Sena said. “Where can you get the earned media that you need to try and hit multiple markets?”

Renteria said the campaigns that have been able to build national networks of organizers and volunteers will have an advantage, both in turning out their voters and in understanding the seismic shifts in the electorate that might make a late stop in a certain state worth it.

Warren’s campaign, she said, had built such a network, while someone like Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots MORE (D-Minn.), whose campaign only took national flight in the last few weeks, might struggle to catch up.

“At this point, you have to go where you’re seeing your momentum,” Renteria said. “You’ve got to compete where you’re best at.”

Campaigns must also consider how to spend their scant resources, money that goes out the door almost as fast as it comes in. Television advertising rates have jumped in markets like Las Vegas and Columbia, S.C., which holds its primary the week after Nevada’s caucuses. Advertising in mega-markets like Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston can cost more than a candidate has to spend. 

But some candidates will invest more in smaller markets like Laredo, Texas, a relatively inexpensive market on the border with Mexico that is home to tens of thousands of Latino voters, or San Diego, a market with millions of viewers at a lower cost than its northern neighbor Los Angeles.

Adding to the potent mix is the candidate for whom budgets are no concern. Former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergFormer Bloomberg staffer seeks class-action lawsuit over layoffs Bloomberg spent over 0M on presidential campaign The Hill's Campaign Report: Officials in spotlight over coronavirus response MORE has already spent more than $124 million on television spots in the 14 Super Tuesday states alone, far more than all of his rivals combined.

Polls released Tuesday show Bloomberg surging to a tie with Sanders in Virginia and Oklahoma, and polls over the weekend showed him rising in Texas, a Super Tuesday state, and in Georgia and Florida, two states that vote later in March.

Bloomberg, who is skipping the four pre-Super Tuesday early contests, has held recent rallies in Chattanooga and Nashville, Tenn., Oklahoma City, Okla., Winston-Salem, N.C., and Richmond, Va.

None of the rest of the Democrats who remain in the contest can compete with Bloomberg’s billions. Instead, as they compete to hit the 15 percent viability threshold in the 167 congressional districts up for grabs, they will use their time and money to carve out as large a niche as possible.

“You’re playing Risk,” Sena said. “Your goal is to try to find a level of support somewhere and defend it.”