The Democratic presidential race is now a two-way contest between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — and Tuesday, we got our first real look at how that head-to-head matchup will play out.
These March 10 contests were much less “super” than those from last week, but it’s an important day for the nomination battle — it’s the third-biggest delegate day left in the calendar. About 9 percent of Democrats’ pledged delegates were up for grabs in six states: Michigan, Washington, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho, and North Dakota.
Biden emerged from Super Tuesday with a significant but not overwhelming delegate lead over Sanders. Since then, the former vice president has surged in both national polls and polls of the March 10 states, suggesting he has an opportunity to dramatically expand that advantage.
Sanders, meanwhile, is behind. He needs to change the dynamics of the race to have any hopes of catching up. He won four of these six states last time around against Hillary Clinton, and lost a fifth quite narrowly (Missouri).
The flip side of that is if Sanders fails to make up ground here in the delegate count, or if he falls further behind, then he will have come up short in one of his best opportunities to turn things around.
We’ll display the latest vote totals in each contest, courtesy of our friends at Decision Desk (click on a state on the map to see that state’s results). But it’s important to keep in mind that what matters most now is the delegate count. Democrats allot their delegates proportionally. That means that a landslide win for Biden in Mississippi is more important to the delegate count than a narrow win for Sanders in a state where there are more delegates at stake.
Tuesday’s results will also matter greatly because another crucial day of primaries — March 17’s Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Arizona contests — is rapidly approaching. After that day, there will in theory be nearly three months left in the Democratic contest. But because the calendar is frontloaded, 61 percent of all pledged delegates will have already been locked down. And if Biden builds a large lead by then, it could become all but impossible for Sanders to come back.
The quick results, by state
We’ll post who wins each of the states holding primaries or caucuses Tuesday below, once Decision Desk makes a call.
- Michigan (125 delegates) — Winner: Biden
- Washington (89 delegates) — Winner: Biden
- Missouri (68 delegates) — Winner: Biden
- Mississippi (36 delegates) — Winner: Biden
- Idaho (20 delegates) — Winner: Biden
- North Dakota (14 delegates) — Winner: Sanders
How to think about the March 10 contests — and the delegate math
Even though voting in the nomination contest just began a little over a month ago and is scheduled to continue through June, the March 10 contests bring us nearly to the halfway point in the delegate count. Once the votes are counted, about 47 percent of total pledged Democrats in the nomination contest will have been allotted.
And though Super Tuesday holds the crown for delegates at stake, the March 10 contests are nothing to sneeze at: Nearly 9 percent of Democrats’ total pledged delegates will be allotted in these states.
Particularly if you consider these contests alongside next week’s March 17 primaries, when another 14.5 percent of pledged delegates are up for grabs, this is a crucial period. It’s the time when the Super Tuesday results can either be ratified (if Biden expands his delegate lead) or rejected (if there’s an unexpected late swing to Sanders). It will determine the shape of the rest of the contest — if there even is a rest of the contest.
It’s clear that Super Tuesday gave Biden a lead in the delegate count, but the exact size of that lead remains unclear due to slow vote-counting in California and other states with many mail ballots. Decision Desk estimates that Biden has a 78-delegate lead over Sanders, while the Associated Press says he’s up by 91 delegates.
So though the question of who wins each state will be interesting, what matters most is whether Biden can expand that lead further, by getting a large share of the 352 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday.
But recent polls also suggest that Biden has a real shot of dealing Sanders defeats in some, or even all, of the March 10 states Sanders did well in last time. If he manages to come close to pulling that off, the Sanders campaign would really be on the ropes — and at risk of what could effectively be a knockout blow on March 17.
What to expect in the March 10 primaries and caucuses
The overall narrative of these contests likely hinges on the outcomes in two states: Michigan and Missouri.
Michigan has symbolic importance because, in 2016, it was the site for a poll-defying Bernie Sanders win after the Vermont senator lost badly to Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday. Now, that win was quite narrow, so it barely helped Sanders cut into Clinton’s delegate lead. But it gave him a “win” with which he could stoke hope among his supporters and justify continuing the race.
Sanders was hoping for a similar comeback in Michigan this time around, which did not materialize. The polls looked grim for him. The 10 polls of the state released since Super Tuesday show Biden winning by between 13 and 41 points. Those outcomes would have drastically different implications for the delegate math, but neither would be good for Sanders — he is losing, and to reverse that, he needs to win states.
Missouri, meanwhile, didn’t loom as large in pundits’ imagination, but its demographic makeup and 2016 outcome are actually quite similar to Michigan’s (Clinton won Missouri by just 0.25 percentage points). There were several polls of Missouri since Super Tuesday, showing Biden leading by between 4 and 38 points.
Together, if Biden performed at the upper end of his polls — winning strongly in both Michigan and Missouri — it would signal that he’s thoroughly in command of the race going forward. If he wins more narrowly in both, he’s still in a good place.
Elsewhere on the map, Biden’s best chance for an overwhelming win over Sanders was in Mississippi, which he achieved. It’s one of the smaller states voting Tuesday, with only 36 delegates at stake, but Mississippi’s Democratic electorate will likely be more than 80 percent black. The only state that’s voted so far that has anywhere near that proportion of black voters in the Democratic electorate is Alabama, where Biden won by nearly 47 percentage points. Alabama is currently Biden’s single best state in terms of net delegates, so Mississippi could be similarly beneficial to the former vice president.
Meanwhile, Sanders’s likely best state in the lineup is Washington. It was where he netted the most delegates over Hillary Clinton in 2016 — though he won so big partly because Washington Democrats used caucuses then, and they are not doing so this time around. Washington is experiencing the nation’s most severe coronavirus outbreak, but luckily, the state uses mail voting rather than crowded in-person polling places. In an ominous sign for Sanders, though, polls conducted after Super Tuesday show the race being quite close. A shocking defeat in Washington would be a devastating result for Sanders. However, because mail ballots take longer to count (they have to be verified), we may not know the outcome here until later in the week as well.
Finally, there are the Idaho primary and the North Dakota caucuses. Sanders won both states against Clinton. But his support among rural white voters has been weaker this time around. It was not inconceivable that Biden could win in both of these states, but Sanders pulled out a win in North Dakota.