BURLINGTON, Vermont — With nearly 20 percent of total delegates up for grabs across 11 states on Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton is hoping this will be the moment she pulls so far ahead of Bernie Sanders that it becomes almost mathematically impossible for him catch up.
Clinton is aiming for a clean sweep of the six states that make up her so-called southern “firewall,” and is now looking to pick off one or two of Sanders' strongholds as well. Sanders is targeting five states, including two with caucuses and his home state of Vermont, where he will rally with musician Ben Folds and longtime supporters Tuesday night.
The map heavily favors Clinton, with most of the 880 delegates in play coming from states with large African-American populations, among whom Clinton beat Sanders 3-to-1 in earlier contests in Nevada and South Carolina. Here are seven key things to watch on Super Tuesday:
Clinton’s delegate goldminesClinton is running 30 points ahead of Sanders in the two largest Super Tuesday states, Texas and Georgia, and 20 points head in the third biggest, Virginia. If those margins hold, Clinton won't just win the day, but run-up massive delegate hauls, especially in Texas, which has more than the next two states combined. And though they have fewer delegates, Clinton is also likely to take a disproportionate share of the spoils from Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee.
Sanders’ five target states -- Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont and Oklahoma -- hold a combined 288 delegates to Clinton’s 571, so even a very good performance for him still may not be good enough. Vermont, for instance, where Sanders might sweep every delegate, has only 16 to offer.
The schedule tells the storyThere's nothing more precious for a campaign than time, especially right before an election, so you can get a sense of what the campaign is thinking by where the candidate visits. Clinton has spent more time in Sanders’ target states than he has in hers, suggesting his campaign feels the need to defend its turf, while Clinton is confident enough to strike out on offense.
She's spent Monday in Massachusetts and will be in Minnesota Tuesday. While Sanders made two stops to mitigate losses in Texas and Virginia, he has not visited any of Clinton’s safer states in recent days.
Massachusetts (a good night for Clinton)This is Sanders turf, with its large population of students and progressives, low margin of non-white voters, and proximity to Vermont. But recent polls show Clinton has pulled even or ahead, and she beat Barack Obama here in 2008. She has the endorsement of every Democratic member of Congress and the state’s largest newspaper, and may have an added edge thanks to voter registration laws.
Oklahoma (a good night for Sanders)While the map makes it almost impossible for Sanders to beat Clinton on delegates, he has one trick up his sleeve: He has a chance to beat her on statewide wins for the week, and Oklahoma is critical to that effort. A red state neighboring Clinton’s Arkansas home is an unlikely battleground for a liberal Democrat, but a number of factors have conspired in Sanders’ favor.
BellwethersSanders needs his base to turn out large numbers in places like Austin, Texas and northern Virginia if he hopes to counterbalance Clinton’s strength with minorities in Dallas and Houston and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Have they been dispirited by his blowout in South Carolina? With Trump circling the drain on the GOP nominee, are Sanders supporters having second thoughts? The Cambridge and Amherst areas in Massachusetts will also offer a gauge of core Sanders voter enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, Sanders claims he won Latino voters in Nevada, pointing to exit polls, but the Clinton campaign disputes that, pointing to her wins in Latino precincts. The question may be put to rest by watching heavily Hispanic parts of Texas, like El Paso and the area along the Mexican border.
Caucus mysteriesSanders is thought to be dominant in Minnesota and Colorado, but there's been almost no polling of the caucus states so outcomes are difficult to predict. Learning a lesson from 2008, Clinton’s campaign has invested heavily in those caucus states to at least mitigate losses, setting up seven field offices in Minnesota and 10 in Colorado -- her two Super Tuesday states with the largest number of outposts.
Sanders’ momentumSanders is aware he’s almost certainly finish Super Tuesday with fewer delegates than Clinton, but the campaign believes the map ahead begins to tilt in their favor and they're hoping to not let too much air out of the balloon Tuesday. Sanders announced that his team raised a whopping $42 million in February, including $6 million on Monday night alone. South Carolina's massive loss didn't stop his small-dollar supporters from donating, but how will they respond if he loses big Tuesday? More than the delegate count or anything else, they will determine how long he stays in the race.