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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 26 May, 2020
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Why is Super Tuesday so super and what will it tell us about the White House race?

Expect to have a much clearer idea of who’ll take on Donald Trump after Tuesday.

A Sanders supporter holds a 'Bernie Doll' at a rally in Virginia.
A Sanders supporter holds a 'Bernie Doll' at a rally in Virginia.
Image: PA Images

MORE SO THAN any day in the lengthy Democratic primary process, Tuesday will be the most important single day in determining who takes on Donald Trump in November.

‘Super Tuesday’, as it’s dramatically but not unfairly called, comes around every four years and clarifies much of the noise surrounding the US presidential election.

Whereas last time Trump was the main story, this year the narrative is around the kind of candidate the Democrats think has the best chance of beating him.

So how does it work?

First, let’s briefly explain the primary process.

Presidential candidates from both parties are selected by party members who vote in their own state. Each of the candidates is then allocated a certain number of party delegates from each state based on how well they did in statewide votes.

Delegates are divvied up as a proportion of the percentage votes a candidate received but a candidate must have received at least 15% of votes to get any delegates at all.

Those delegates attend the national party conventions (to be held this summer) and use their vote in accordance with how their state voted to officially choose the party’s candidate.

It essentially means that each state has a mini-election in itself and the candidate who does the best across all of them will be selected to run.

The Republican party is technically holding a primary process but Trump’s would-be challengers are not making any inroads and the sitting president is therefore the presumptive nominee.

On the Democrat side the race remains very much up for grabs and the candidates are competing hard for votes. 

So far, three states have cast their votes, with South Carolina holding a primary today. 

The reason Super Tuesday is so called is that 14 states (and American Samoa) will be voting for their candidate on that day alone. Even more than that, states with bigger populations get more delegates and some hugely populous states like California and Texas are among those voting on Tuesday.

All that means that more 1,300 delegates, more than a third of the total, will be up for grabs on Tuesday. 

What should we be looking out for?

After last weekend’s voting in Nevada in which Bernie Sanders secured a comfortable victory, the Vermont Senator extended his delegate lead over Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg to cement his position as the frontrunner in the race. 

The one-time frontrunner Joe Biden has thus far had a poor run of results but he is hoping to turn that around with a strong performance in South Carolina today.

The state has a large African-American population and the former vice president has consistently polled strongly among black voters. Should Biden indeed win South Carolina he could bring some momentum into Super Tuesday and establish himself as the main challenger to Sanders.

Should this momentum fail to materialise there could be increased pressure on Biden to drop out of the race. On the other hand, should Sanders be the decisive win across many states on Super Tuesday his candidacy would start to look more and more unbeatable.

Even if Super Tuesday doesn’t spell the end for Biden, some of the other candidates could also decide to withdraw.

In the sense that it has votes from all across the US, west coast to east and in between, Super Tuesday is in some ways the first nationwide ballot and often serves as a yardstick for candidates to clarify where there campaign is.

As Larry Donnelly wrote in TheJournal.ie earlier this week, Amy Klobuchar’s campaign might not have much more to run with Sanders supporters also hoping that Elizabeth Warren might depart the race in the not-too-distant future.

One of the other main questions to be answered on Super Tuesday is the actual strength of Michael Bloomberg’s campaign, which until now has been based on polling and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bloomberg took the unorthodox approach of deciding not to contest the first four state races and instead swooping in for Super Tuesday.

The assumed wisdom behind this strategy is that the Democrat field would be comparatively scattered by this point and there wouldn’t be an overwhelming favourite.

In certain respects this plan has worked because there hasn’t as yet been a runaway leader, but Bloomberg is nonetheless untested in this primary, and Super Tuesday is his first chance to make a splash.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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