Millions of voters from Maine to California go to the polls for Super Tuesday, when a third of all delegates are up for grabs like 14 states and the American territory of American Samoavote in major contests.
Accumulating delegates is a key step in the battle for the eventual presidential nomination, a battle which presents itself as a choice between two radically different visions for the future of the Democratic Party as it prepares to mount a challenge for the President Donald Trump in November.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who energized liberals and young voters, sought to move away from the rest of the democratic field – often ridiculing them as “establishment” – while former vice president Joe Biden hopes to ride a wave of momentum and endearing Democrat to cement himself as the standard bearer of the moderate wing of the party.
The two men, at the top of a rapidly shrinking democratic field, have assembled coalitions of disparate demographics and political beliefs, and the results of the day could help determine whether the nomination contest will last until at the party convention this summer in Milwaukee.
Biden’s presidential candidacy sped up Monday as he won approvals from two 2020 former rivals – Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend mayor Indiana Pete Buttigieg – on the eve of crucial primary elections from Super Tuesday.
But the 14 contests from coast to coast seemed certain to provide several other twists and turns, including the first massive spending test by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg in the Democratic race. Bloomberg jumped all four early states, relying on more than half a billion dollars in advertising and ground operations in an unorthodox and untested method to gain support from moderates.
Despite delay in polls, Bloomberg and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren could still play spoilers in the race, Bloomberg could potentially attract moderates away from Biden and Warren doing the same for liberals who might otherwise support Sanders .
Last minute push
New Biden supporters were deployed to Super Tuesday morning talk shows to congratulate him – Klobuchar on NBC’s “Today” and former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on “Morning Joe” MSNBC.
Sanders and his closest advisers opposed moving the party establishment and donor class to Biden. While campaigning in Minnesota, Sanders sought to slow down Biden’s momentum with a welcome message to supporters of Klobuchar and Buttigieg.
“For all of the millions of supporters of Amy and Pete, the door is open. Come on,” said Sanders. “We all share the understanding that together we will beat Donald Trump.”
Bloombergbegan on Tuesday in Florida, who only votes on March 17, acknowledging that he may not win any of the 14 Super Tuesday contests but promises to continue the fight until the Wisconsin National Democratic Convention in July. He should win the nomination at a negotiated convention because “I don’t think I can win otherwise.”
“You don’t have to win states, you have to win delegates,” said Bloomberg. He suggested that no one would get the majority of the delegates and “then you go to a convention, and we will see what happens”.
A divided party
Tuesday is the most anticipated crossroads of the turbulent Democrats’ primary season as the party struggles to unite behind a clear message or messenger in its urgent quest to defeat the president.
Sanders, 78, is a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who scored first four or second consecutive spots in primary competitions, supported by an energetic and youthful grassroots movement that is drawn to his promise to transform the country’s political and economic systems. Biden, 77, is a longtime politician widely regarded as a decent man, but whose campaign has at times struggled to excite voters with a message emphasizing a pragmatic approach to governance and change.
Compared to Sanders and Bloomberg, Biden is understaffed and underfunded, but his resounding victory in South Carolina last weekend put him back firmly in the race. He entered Super Tuesday confident of his ability to win states that resemble the demographic makeup of South Carolina: those that are large African-American and moderate white populations. This makes Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia potential Biden victories, even in a broken field.
Still, some of the most precious terrains of Super Tuesday are less forgiving.
Sanders predicted victory in California, the biggest delegate award of the day. The state, like Texas, rich in delegates, makes use of its advantages given its large factions of white liberals, large urban areas with younger voters and a large Latin American population. Sanders also has obvious advantages in his home state, Vermont, and neighboring Massachusetts, where he aims for a knockout against his progressive rival Warren in his home state.
Read more: Democrats Do Everything They Can To Attract Hispanic Voters in California
While Tuesday’s outcome is uncertain, there is another complication: a significant number of votes were cast in the days and weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election – when Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Tom Steyer were still in the running.
At least 1.4 million people have already voted in the California Democratic primary, for example, according to data collected by the Associated Press. In Texas, more than a million first Democratic votes were cast. And in Virginia, nearly 28,000 people voted early, twice as many as in 2016.
Through four main competitions, the PA assigned 60 delegates to Sanders, 54 to Biden and eight to Warren.
The top four states have always been more focused on momentum than math, but the Super Tuesday states have more than 1,300 new delegates depending on how candidates finish. To date, only 155 delegates have been awarded.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)