Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains the favorite to win the nomination, but more than perhaps any candidate in the modern nominating system, he needs to secure a pledged delegate majority to ensure his victory. Party elites remain deeply hostile to him, and older Democrats are terrified that he will lead the whole party to the wrong side of the Alamo shootout in November. If he doesn’t get a majority, look for months of intrigue as candidates vie for support on a second ballot at the convention, and as the hundreds of so-called superdelegates, barred from voting on the initial tally, are suddenly the kingmakers. While it would probably be suicidal for the party to deny Sanders the nomination if he has a plurality rather than a majority of pledged delegates, the smaller that lead is, in both raw and percentage terms, the more likely it is that the effort to make someone else the nominee will be serious. And by the end of this evening, we will have a much better idea of how likely such a nightmare scenario is.
To further complicate matters, two significant candidates bailed on the race at the last possible minute before Super Tuesday, meaning that we should expect much more significant variation from existing polling than usual. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race unexpectedly on Sunday, followed by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar Monday. If polls are to be believed, Buttigieg’s support will be spread fairly evenly among the remaining candidates, but of course, millions of people, particularly in California, voted early and can’t change their minds now. That means that Buttigieg’s political corpse will still rack up some votes, although probably not any further delegates. Klobuchar’s voters, on the one hand, are likely to disproportionately go to Biden, especially since she endorsed him, perhaps giving him an extra 2 or 3 percent in many states where she was actively campaigning. On the other hand, her decision almost certainly means that Sanders will carry barely-polled Minnesota, where Biden was mired in the single digits, unless she has so much pull that she can throw nearly all over her voters to the former vice president.