The Memo: Super Tuesday looms large for Democrats

Super Tuesday is looming larger than ever for the Democratic presidential candidates, even as the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, command media focus. 

Those two states are particularly important for Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE (I-Vt.), who could copper-fasten his front-runner status with a win in Nevada, and for former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE, who desperately needs a strong showing in South Carolina.

But Super Tuesday will be the most critical day of the primary campaign — and it could be the end of the road for several White House hopefuls.

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Fourteen states are to vote on March 3. They include California, the single biggest prize in the race with 415 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and Texas, which has 228 delegates.

To put those figures in perspective, the delegate race is almost tied between former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll 2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day What to watch in the debate tonight MORE and Sanders, who have 22 and 21 delegates, respectively.

In total — including primaries in American Samoa and among Democrats abroad — there are 1,357 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday. 

But the day will be crucial for reasons beyond the delegate math.

It will be the first time that former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergBiden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say Sanders takes lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll Bloomberg campaign warns of 'insurmountable' Sanders lead if moderates split votes MORE is on the ballot. 

Bloomberg’s huge spending — he is estimated to have forked out around $350 million in advertising alone since beginning his campaign in late November — has boosted him in national polls. 

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Bloomberg now sits in third place in the RealClearPolitics national polling average, with about 14 percent support.

But a host of questions face Bloomberg, and Super Tuesday will answer them.

Can he actually win primaries rather than merely turning in decent performances? Can he prove himself to be a candidate with national appeal, on a day when states as different as Alabama and Utah cast ballots? And can he establish himself as the chief standard-bearer of moderate Democrats — a goal that would require him to administer a clear-cut defeat to Buttigieg and several others?

It’s possible everything falls into place for Bloomberg. But it is equally plausible that a host of problems make themselves felt between now and then. 

The former mayor must soon decide whether to participate in debates, where attacks from rivals could hurt him.

He is also facing new scrutiny over his record as mayor, including his years-long backing of the controversial police tactic known as stop and frisk. 

Bloomberg has been showing growth in terms of black support in the polls — but how will his record reverberate among the Democratic electorates in places like Alabama and North Carolina? In 2016, black voters cast 54 percent and 32 percent, respectively, of all Democratic primary ballots in those states, according to exit polls.

Bloomberg is far from the only candidate who faces a day of reckoning on Super Tuesday.

Biden’s campaign has been little short of a disaster up to now. Even if he wins in South Carolina — far from a certainty — he needs to keep that momentum going across the nation on Super Tuesday. 

If he doesn’t, his already-questionable claim to being the most electable candidate in the field will lie in ruins.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll 2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day Sanders takes lead in new Hill/HarrisX poll MORE (D-Mass.), who led several national polls in October before losing altitude, could also face the end of her campaign unless she racks up actual wins.

Warren has recently been emphasizing that her campaign is built for the long haul. She has also sought to position herself as a potential unity candidate.

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But how she makes the case for a candidacy that has so far underperformed is unclear, unless she gets a Super Tuesday boost.

Warren does have one favorable card to play — though the same is true of some of her rivals. 

Warren’s home state of Massachusetts is among those voting that day. Also playing with some home-field advantage are Sanders in Vermont and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean Klobuchar2020 Democratic candidates support Las Vegas casino workers on debate day Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe What to watch in the debate tonight MORE in Minnesota.

Klobuchar enjoyed a late surge in New Hampshire to finish third in the Granite State primary this week. But she faces an uphill battle in Nevada, on Feb. 22, and South Carolina a week later. On Super Tuesday, one of her big hurdles could be money.

TV advertising is essential with so many states voting at once — a factor that makes the kind of retail politicking seen in Iowa and New Hampshire useless. 

California and Texas, in particular, are extremely expensive for TV advertising.

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At the end of last year, beginning the final sprint into the primaries, Klobuchar had $5 million cash on hand, the lowest figure of any of the top-tier contenders.

The Minnesota senator also has to build out some semblance of an organization across the 14 Super Tuesday states in almost no time. 

The money factor benefits Bloomberg but also, in a very different way, Sanders. The Vermont Independent has been the most prodigious fundraiser of the 2020 cycle, leaning heavily on low-dollar online contributions. 

If Sanders extends his winning streak on Super Tuesday — and moderate support splinters rather than coalesces behind any one candidate — he will be well on his way to becoming the Democratic nominee.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE’s presidency.