With the showy contests in Iowa and New Hampshire over, the Democratic presidential primary now moves to the more arduous work of amassing delegates in states with more diverse populations.
Heading into next week’s Nevada Caucus, and the following weeks’ South Carolina primary, Bernie Sanders is in a stronger position than most would have expected just days ago. He essentially tied Hillary Clinton in Iowa and blew her out by 22 points in New Hampshire, giving him a boost of money and momentum.
But the demographic terrain shifts decidedly in Clinton’s favor. The former secretary of state is much stronger than Sanders with minority voters, who will play a key role in upcoming contests. While Iowa and New Hampshire are two of the whitest states in the country, the race now moves into some of the least white states.
Clinton and Sanders will face off for the first time at this critical juncture between New Hampshire and Nevada Thursday night in Milwaukee at a debate hosted by the PBSNewsHour.
Crucially, and unlike on the Republican side, all Democratic contests allocate delegates proportionally instead of winner-take-all. That means the second-place finisher in any state can still leave with plenty of delegates -- or even tie on delegates while losing the popular vote.
There are a total of 4,763 Democratic nominating delegates at stake, so 2,382 are needed to clinch the nomination. That includes the 712 unaligned party leaders known as “superdelegates,” who can back whomever they want.
Sanders had staff in all 11 states that vote on March 1 before Clinton, who had hoped to avoid a pitched battle in March. But her campaign was first to have a staff presence in every state that votes or caucuses in all of March, though the Sanders campaign is nearly there. Clinton has also been aided by allied groups and labor unions, which have been able some organizing for her.
Here’s a look at the upcoming terrain:
NEVADA: The first contest after the Iowa and New Hampshire had previously been so overlooked that there’s almost no polling of the state. It was seen as safe territory for Clinton, whose campaign manager, Robby Mook, directed her successful campaign there in 2008. But now team Sanders is feeling bullish and Clinton’s campaign is lowering expectations.
Nevada is a caucus state, a format that tends to favor Sanders. It’s a low turnout affair with only 117,599 Democrats turning out in 2008 (less than a third of registered Democrats statewide), so Sanders could potentially win the day by turning out a relatively modest number of say, young people. The state is also less diverse than many believe. In 2008, 15% of Democratic caucus goers were Latino, 15% were African American, and 3% Asian American (65% were white), according to exit polls.
Sanders already has a large team on the ground, run by a State Department crisis response officer and former Obama Latino outreach director, and it’s now growing with an influx of staff from his Iowa and New Hampshire teams, including his Iowa communications director.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Clinton is turning her attention the Palmetto State, whose primary electorate is expected to be somewhere between 50-60% non-white. Clinton has spent plenty of time in the state and rolled out impressive endorsements here and among African-American leaders nationally, especially in the past few days.
She was ahead by 40 percentage points in the most recent NBC News poll of the state from January, so a win for Sanders seems out of reach. But he’s hoping to narrow the gap to prove he can win black voters for later states and prevent Clinton from claiming too many delegates.
MARCH 1 STATES AKA SUPER TUESDAY: All four contests in February, despite the outsize attention, represent only 4% of the Democratic delegates. During the month of March, meanwhile, 56% of delegates will be meted out. It’s starts with a bang of on March 1, know as Super Tuesday, when 11 states vote or caucus at once and 900 delegates are up for grabs.
Clinton is eyeing the large group of southern states that vote that day, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee. BIll Clinton is heading to Memphis Thursday and will travel to Atlanta again soon. These states, along with South Carolina, are part of her much-discussed Southern Firewall. But Clinton will need to frontload delegates at the beginning of the month, because there are only two southern states -- Louisiana and Mississippi -- left after March 1.
Meanwhile, Sanders is eyeing whiter and more liberal Super Tuesday states, like Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, and his home state of Vermont. Both candidates will appear in coming days in Minnesota and Colorado, two states where Sanders is strong. Clinton dominated Barack Obama by 15 points in Massachusetts in 2008, and this year she has widespread support among elected officials.
With a whopping 222 delegates, Texas will also be major battleground, with an outright win being perhaps less important than claiming as large a chunk of delegates as possible. Clinton recently picked up the endorsement of the largest Latino group in the state and has deployed surrogates like the Sec. Julian and Rep. Joaquin Castro to campaign on her behalf.
Sanders this week reserved TV advertising in Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, and – surprisingly for one of the reddest states in the country – Oklahoma. Both campaigns seem to be targeting Oklahoma and its 38 delegates. Sanders sent his scrappy Iowa organizer Pete D’ALessandro to the state, while Clinton’s campaign set their Iowa press secretary.
MARCH 5 CAUCUSES: Clinton’s campaign acknowledges that caucuses, which tend to turnout only the most committed voters, favor Sanders. But the former secretary of state’s team is investing heavily in caucus states nonetheless because they offer some of the best opportunities to change the delegate outcome with a relatively inexpensive intervention. By deploying their state-of-the-art field organization, Clinton’s team can get supporters to the right precincts and block Sanders from running up a larger delegate lead.
In addition to key March 1 caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, there’s another group of them on March 5 and 6 in Maine, Nebraska, Kansas, and then another set at the end of the month in Idaho, Washington, Utah, Alaska, and Hawaii.
MICHIGAN: With 130 delegates, Michigan’s March 8 primary could be a fulcrum between Super Tuesday and the rest of the month. Clinton has visited the state often, including taking a day away from New Hampshire Sunday to visit Flint, where Chelsea Clinton is heading this week. Sanders meanwhile, sent his Iowa state director to Michigan and has begun opening offices in the state, including Flint. Both candidates will face off in the city for debate on March 6.
MARCH 15: The midpoint of the month features some heavy hitting delegate-rich states: Ohio, Florida, and Illinois, along with North Carolina and Missouri. These states will be largely fought on the airwaves through TV advertising, though both candidates will continue making visits and rolling out delegates as well.
SUPERDELEGATES: This is one of Sanders’ biggest weaknesses. Clinton’s team has quietly claimed well north of 400 in their pocket, while Sanders has fewer than 20 publically committed at the moment, though his supporters expect that to change as the race does. Clinton’s superdelegate advantage means Sanders would need to win March states by unusually large margins in order to make up for her lead, or peel some of those superdelegates away.
He will likely make an effort to push superdelegates to commit to voting the way their states’ votes did, instead of going their own way. MoveOn.org, which is backing Sanders, started a campaign Thursday to encourage delegates to listen to their home state voters.