vision 2020

Three Scenarios to Look for in the March 10 Primaries

Bernie needs to do better on March 10 than the experts predict. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Six states are holding Democratic presidential primaries on March 10 (only one of them, Mississippi, is also holding primaries for lower offices the same day). Two states, Missouri and Mississippi, are thought to be in the bag for Joe Biden thanks to the heavy presence of demographic groups (African-Americans, older voters, and self-identified moderates) with which the former veep has done well. FiveThirtyEight rates the probability of Biden winning Mississippi as 99 percent, and Missouri as 94 percent.

The other four states — Idaho, Michigan, North Dakota, and Washington — are considered competitive, though at present FiveThirtyEight has Biden favored in all of them. The three western states are potentially part of Bernie Country because all of them went for him in 2016, and they are demographically friendly, with relatively low numbers of African-American voters. Sanders also won Michigan in 2016 in a huge upset despite adverse polling, which he faces again. He may benefit from the fact that four of the six primaries are open to all voters regardless of party registration, while independents are allowed to participate in the Democratic primary in the other two (North Dakota and Washington).

Here, the three most likely scenarios for March 10, and their implications:

1. A Biden Sweep

If Biden wins all six primaries, obituaries will be prepared for Sanders’s candidacy. The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for the progressive candidate, and the sense that Biden has irresistible momentum will grow like Topsy.

Even in this dire case, Sanders might hang in, if only in hopes of routing his intermittently incoherent and gaffe-ridden opponent in the March 15 debate in Arizona. But pressure on Bernie to fold his tent and begin uniting the party for the titanic battle with Trump would quickly become intense.

2. Bernie Holds Serve in the West

Sanders has enough manifest strength in Idaho, North Dakota (a party-run primary, or “firehouse primary” as it’s sometimes called, because parties tend to rely on limited and free public facilities as voting sites), and Washington that winning all three would not be a huge surprise. This outcome could boost his campaign’s morale, at least marginally, and enable the spin that he’s stabilized the race and prepared the way for a comeback. In this scenario, analysts may pay close attention to the net delegate haul for each candidate and the odds of Sanders overcoming Biden’s cumulative lead.

3. Bernie Wins Michigan, Too

Sanders is pouring the bulk of his resources into a drive to replicate his big and significant upset win over Hillary Clinton in this state. It would require a massive youth turnout; a revival of Sanders’s 2016 and early 2020 margins among white working-class voters; an improved performance among African-American voters (the recent endorsement by Jesse Jackson won’t hurt); and perhaps a bigger than expected margin among the state’s Arab-American population.

Were Sanders to win four of the six March 10 primaries, you really could legitimately talk about a change in momentum, and while the landscape going forward remains better for Biden, it would not make any sense to count out Bernie in Ohio and Illinois, which vote on March 17.

When Will We Know the Results?

The polls will close at 8 p.m. ET in both Mississippi and Missouri, probably guaranteeing Biden the first positive headlines of the evening. The polls also close at 8 p.m. ET in all but four Michigan counties, but this year’s heavy absentee voting in that state could very well slow down results.

Polls close at 10 p.m. ET in Idaho and at 11 p.m. ET in North Dakota and Washington. The latter state, like California, counts mail ballots postmarked up to and including Election Day. If it’s close in Washington, we may not know the winner for days or even weeks.

Three Scenarios to Look for in the March 10 Primaries