Can Bernie Sanders Bounce Back on Super Tuesday?

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Clinton set up for big March 1 victory, but Sanders will have opportunities to exceed expectations.

For Republicans, there are several possible Super Tuesday outcomes to consider, but on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders’s survival is the only big question remaining.

The most frequently discussed takeaway from Hillary Clinton’s massive landslide victory in South Carolina over the weekend is that it portended a boffo performance in the Southern primaries that make up over half of the 11 Super Tuesday contests. That certainly seems likely to be the case in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia — all states where African-Americans, whom Clinton has been winning at a 3-1 clip or more, are a sizable share of the Democratic primary vote, and all states where Clinton has led recent polls by a minimum of 15 points, and usually a lot more.

But March 1 also features Sanders’s home state of Vermont, which he’s sure to win by a huge margin; neighboring Massachusetts, where polls have been very close; and two caucus contests in states with a lot of white liberals: Colorado and Minnesota. So he could win four states without much of a stretch. And then there’s Oklahoma, a state where a late Monmouth survey gave Sanders a 48/43 lead (an earlier but fairly recent PPP survey had the candidates in a statistical tie in the state). Aside from the delegates and bragging rights at stake in Oklahoma, it will offer another test of the hypothesis that Sanders has a good chance to win wherever African-Americans are a relatively small part of the primary electorate (they are just over 10 percent in Oklahoma), even in conservative states. That was called into question by Clinton’s narrow but still unprecedented win among white voters in South Carolina.  

If Sanders can win all five of his winnable states tomorrow, it might offer him a bridge to March 5, where Kansas and Nebraska look good for him; March 6, where Maine should be in the bag for Bernie; and then March 8 and March 15, where big labor-oriented states plus Florida offer a very different kind of challenge. Sanders’s safe haven doesn’t arrive until March 26, when he should be favored in caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington. But assuming his financial situation continues to look good, there’s no reason for panic unless he’s limited to a Vermont win on March 1. 

As in so many other respects, however, Clinton is on a path to the nomination that mainly depends on stockpiling delegates — which she should do tomorrow with her expected large margins in the South — and knocking holes in any plausible scenario for a Sanders nomination. You should watch the results in Texas for a possible example of this last Clinton opportunity: If she wins Hispanic voters as handily as polls have shown, and wins black voters as she’s done everywhere else, and wins or comes close with white voters, the psychological impact will be even bigger than her likely delegate harvest. If Sanders cannot count on winning outside New England anywhere other than states with dominant white-liberal participation and/or caucuses, the end will come soon enough. 

Polls will close in Georgia, Vermont, and Virginia at 7:00 p.m. EST. An hour later polls will close in bellwethers Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and in the Big Bertha delegate-wise, Texas. We’ll know a lot soon after that hour.