In 2016, Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination on Super Tuesday because she built an insurmountable lead in delegates. Nevertheless, Bernie Sanders stayed in the race all the way to the convention in an effort to wrest the prize from Clinton. He failed.
In 2020, Sen. Sanders. I-Vt., has taken a page out of the Clinton playbook by trying to wrap up the Democratic nomination by Super Tuesday.
Sanders just might succeed.
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Winning the Democratic nomination is a matter of math. A minimum of 1,991 pledged delegates is necessary to win on the first ballot. Thus far, 101 delegates have been awarded. Add the South Carolina primary this Saturday with 54 delegates and that makes 155 delegates in the first four contests.
Sanders has won the first three contests, garnering 34 delegates and an 11-delegate lead. Buttigieg is second with 23 delegates and Warren is third with eight.
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That doesn’t sound like much until you look at the 2016 fight between Clinton and Sanders.
In 2016, Clinton had 52 delegates after the first three contests and Sanders 51. Even after losing New Hampshire to Sanders by 22 points, Clinton increased her lead by winning the South Carolina primary, giving her 91 delegates to Sanders’ 65. But by the end of Super Tuesday Clinton had 457 delegates and Sanders 404 – a 53-delegate margin for her. It was over. Clinton went on to win the nomination.
To repeat, at this point in the process, Clinton had a one-delegate lead over Sanders.
Today, Sanders has an 11-delegate advantage over Buttigieg.
Super Tuesday is March 3, just eight days away, with 1,341 delegates up for grabs, 34 percent of all pledged delegates. Two states, California and Texas, will award more than half of those delegates, with 415 and 228, respectively. In 2016, California wasn’t part of Super Tuesday making the stakes even higher this year. Sanders giving his Nevada victory speech in Texas underscores the importance of these two states on Super Tuesday.
Now the question is, can Sanders’ nomination be stopped?
It may be too late.
When a candidate starts to build a delegate lead it becomes nearly impossible to overcome it. There’s a compounding effect. To surpass the front-runner, an opponent has to win two or three times as many delegates in the remaining contests, with a vote share of 50 to 60 percent or more, to catch up.
We are now at that point.
Furthermore, the 2016 primary was a two-candidate fight. The 2020 primary still has eight candidates running. That’s another advantage for Sanders. The more candidates, the harder it is for anyone to overtake him.
Adding to Sanders’ edge is the fact more than 2 million ballots have already been cast in South Carolina and Super Tuesday states through early voting. More than 1.3 million of those votes have been cast in California, where Sanders leads in the polls.
President Trump’s praise of Sanders’ Nevada primary win and the information that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is trying to help Sanders win the nomination will certainly fuel many Democrats’ opposition to him.
That’s why Tuesday night’s debate in South Carolina could be the last stand to change the race’s dynamic. It will require taking on Sanders as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., did to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week, all but disqualifying him. President Trump’s praise of Sanders’ Nevada primary win and the information that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is trying to help Sanders win the nomination will certainly fuel many Democrats’ opposition to him.
But even a strong debate performance will have to be followed by one candidate running the table in the remaining contests. That is a Herculean task and not something that’s been seen in presidential primaries in recent history.
The only other possible scenario is even more complicated. It would require every candidate who accumulated delegates during the primary to unite behind one candidate against Sanders at the convention. And even that may not be enough. This approach assumes that Sanders goes into the convention without enough pledged delegates to win on the first ballot – and his opponents have enough pledged delegates to deny him a first-ballot nomination that they can offer to one candidate.
Further complicating this scenario is the threat Sanders made during the Nevada debate last week. He is the only candidate who refused to abide by the rules, stating it’s the popular vote that should count not the delegate count, as called for by party rules.
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Of course, Sanders’ threat to ignore the nomination rules in 2020 is ironic given he did just that four years ago by fighting Clinton all the way to the convention. Now, his competitors may try to do the same to him. That would be ironic indeed.
But, just like Clinton’s defeat of Sanders in 2016, it may already be too late to stop him.
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