It will take weeks for California to finish counting its millions of votes from Super Tuesday’s presidential primary — and to know the exact breakdown of how many delegates each White House contender will earn.
But while a lot could change in the coming days as more votes trickle in, the early returns suggest that Sen. Bernie Sanders failed to win the huge delegate blowout he had hoped for in the Golden State.
Sanders, who was declared the California victor by the Associated Press shortly after polls closed Tuesday night, is on track to win a clear victory in the delegate count. But former Vice President Joe Biden seems likely to pick up a substantial number of California delegates as well, and he may be able to deny the Vermont senator a majority of the state’s delegates.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg — who dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden on Wednesday morning — would be earning several dozen delegates under the currently reported results, but his vote share may drop as votes are counted. And based on the early returns, Sen. Elizabeth Warren could gain only a handful of delegates in the state, potentially imperiling her ability to stay competitive in the presidential race barring major shifts as the vote is counted.
California’s 415 pledged delegates, the most available of any state, aren’t winner-take-all — they’re divvied up under a complicated proportional process. About a third of the delegates — 144 — are split up based on the statewide results, while the other 271 get divided based on the results in each congressional district.
The most important number in the race is 15 percent. A candidate needs to reach that threshold statewide in order to receive any statewide delegates, and has to reach it in any individual congressional district in order to get any delegates from that district.
As of Wednesday morning, Sanders and Biden were both above 15 percent statewide. Bloomberg dropped below that crucial threshold as votes were counted overnight, and Warren was also missing it. If the current vote percentages were final — and they’re definitely not — Sanders would be winning about 60 percent of the statewide delegates and Biden would be winning about 40 percent.
Both Sanders and Biden are also above 15 percent in all 53 congressional districts in early returns. If that holds, that means they’ll each qualify for at least some delegates in every district. Sanders was leading in 49 districts, while Biden led in four.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, was at 15 percent or higher in 21 districts — about 40 percent of the total. And Warren was at the qualifying level in just five districts, less than 10 percent of the total, based on early returns.
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who dropped out two days before Election Day and later endorsed Biden, could theoretically pick up a delegate anyway — he was over the 15 percent threshold in one district, the Palm Springs-area 36th. But he may not hold onto that result after more recent votes are counted.
The bad news for Bloomberg and Warren is that Sanders and Biden seem at least fairly likely to increase their vote share as the vote-counting process grinds on. That’s because the early ballots sent in are the first to be counted, while those cast or mailed in on election day will likely take days or weeks to fully go up on the board.
Because Biden gained momentum in recent days from prominent late endorsements and his South Carolina victory on Saturday, he’s likely to do better in later voting than he did in early voting. And Sanders has dominated among young voters, who are typically more likely to vote on Election Day instead of sending in their ballots early.
Still, it’s important to remember there’s a lot of uncertainty in the ballots that remain to be counted, which could number in the millions. Past California races have swung dramatically between the returns that show up the morning after Election Day and the final results.
For now, it’s still interesting to get a sense of which districts each candidates are doing best in.
In returns so far, Sanders is winning his highest vote percentage of any California congressional district in the L.A. County-based 40th, where he’s getting 54.6 percent. The district, which covers parts of East Los Angeles and a swathe of suburbs southeast of the city, is the most heavily Latino district in the U.S.
Biden is doing best in the neighboring 43rd district in South L.A. and south-western L.A. County, which is currently represented by Rep. Maxine Waters and has the highest percentage of African-American residents of any California district. He’s getting 32.9 percent there in early returns, although Sanders is narrowly leading him.
The four districts Biden is currently ahead of Sanders in — all of which are quite close — are a grab bag, from the Stockton-area 9th, to the wealthy West L.A. 33rd, to the Palm Springs 36th to the northern San Diego 52nd.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has his highest vote share in three Bay Area districts — the 11th, the 14th, and the 18th, in Contra Costa County and on the Peninsula — where he’s getting 19 percent each. And Warren’s best is the 13th, Rep. Barbara Lee’s Oakland-and-Berkeley district, where she’s getting 23.8 percent, putting her in second place behind Sanders.
In the Bay Area, Warren was over the 15 percent threshold only in the San Francisco-based 12th district, which is represented by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the 13th district, represented by Lee, and the Palo Alto-centered 18th district, represented by Rep. Anna Eshoo. She also did well in two of the wealthiest and most educated L.A.-area districts.
Bloomberg did best in more suburban regions. He was above 15 percent in every Bay Area district except Pelosi and Lee’s, the two most liberal strongholds in the region. And while he was below the threshold in most Los Angeles districts, he reached it in early results across most of Orange County and other Southern California suburban areas.