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Why is Super Tuesday so important? What’s a delegate? And what happens at a brokered convention?

  • February 28, 2020

So far, 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have been battling it out for delegates in four early voting states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – each with its own dedicated debate night, and each getting individualized attention from the candidates. 

But they’ll be competing in multiple states that have their primaries on the same day, Super Tuesday.

The day that’s talked about throughout primary season is an important one for Democratic candidates, as it could significantly shape the direction of the remainder of the race and has the potential to establish a breakout front-runner. Or it could bring multiple campaigns within striking distance of one another.

So what is Super Tuesday and why does it matter? And what’s all this talk about a “brokered convention?” We break it down:

What’s so ‘super’ about Super Tuesday?

On March 3, 2020, also known as Super Tuesday, the largest number of states have their primaries on the same day. The largest number of voters will make their presidential choices, and a large number of delegates is up for grabs.

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On March 3, 14 states and one territory from across the country have primary elections: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and American Samoa. Voters in all Super Tuesday states will participate in a primary, while Democrats in American Samoa will caucus. Democrats abroad also start voting on Tuesday and can vote through March 10.

We likely won’t have complete results that night, as polls close at varying times across time zones and larger states like California likely will take longer to tabulate results.

What is a delegate? What is a superdelegate? 

You’re likely hearing a lot about delegates, the race for delegates and who is leading among national pledged delegates. But what does all that mean?

A pledged delegate is a person selected to represent the interests of that state’s voters at the Democratic National Convention in July. Delegates are awarded to states based on total population, so the heavily populated California has many more delegates than a state like Utah.

Delegates are pledged to candidates based on the results of the state’s caucus or primary. 

In addition, a certain number of so-called “superdelegates” can vote for whichever candidate they choose in the case of a contested convention and are not bound by the state electorate’s choice. They are typically party leaders and other elected officials. 

Don’t have a lot of time?: Find FAQs on the key issues and where the candidates stand

In previous elections, superdelegates were able to cast their votes in the first round at the convention, but they will only do so if the first round doesn’t bring a majority winner in 2020. The new rule follows 2016 results when superdelegates sided largely with Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. 

How many delegates are there and how many do you need to win?

There are 3,979 pledged delegates from all states and territories, and a candidate needs 1,991 of them to win in the first vote at the Democratic National Convention.

There are an additional 771 superdelegates, or automatic delegates, who can vote for any candidate they choose the convention comes to a second vote.

How many delegates are up for grabs on March 3?

The reason Super Tuesday is so significant is because there are 1,344 delegates awarded out of the 14 states and one territory to vote that day, or about 34% of all pledged delegates. 

So what happens if a candidate doesn’t earn the majority of pledged delegates?

At the Nevada Democratic debate, candidates were asked whether they thought the Democrat with the most delegates should automatically be named the Democratic nominee if no candidate reaches the 1,990 majority required to secure the nomination. Sen. Sanders was the only candidate to say yes, arguing that it would be the “will of the people.”

If no candidate reaches that threshold at the nominating convention, however, the Democratic Party could be looking at what’s called a brokered or contested convention, a scenario that would likely mean heightened tensions for a party split on how progressive, or moderate, its nominee should be.

In a brokered convention, superdelegates come into play. If no candidate crosses the 1,991 threshold, the additional 771 superdelegates get to vote on the nominee. Those individuals vote for whomever they choose, meaning they could push one candidate over the edge even if that candidate was not leading in pledged delegates. Candidates need a majority of the total – pledged delegates plus superdelegates – to win the nomination.

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Who is leading in polls so far in each state?

So far, Vermont’s Sen. Sanders has fared well in primary challenges and polling, but it’s still a relatively crowded field and the vast majority of delegates are still up for grabs. Super Tuesday will also mark the official entrance of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who will appear on ballots for the first time. 

Sanders leads in nine states where there has been polling. No polling specifically about the Democratic primary has been conducted in Alabama and Tennessee during 2020. 

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