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This week's Super Tuesday will include results from 14 states and one U.S. territory. In all, 1,357 delegates are at stake. But Democrats do not have winner-take-all rules, so presidential candidates can gain a fair number of delegates without actually “winning” a primary at all. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield explains.
Super Tuesday is going to come down to one major factor for the democratic presidential contenders: delegates. And getting those delegates means that candidates have to meet a key threshold to make it to the convention. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield explains.
"We're bringing people together!"
The numbers are staggering: 14 states and one territory from one end of the continent to the other…
1,357 delegates at stake…
We're gonna show them, and surprise them!
Millions of voters, tens of millions of advertising dollars.
But if you're looking for a number that will determine the outcome of Super Tuesday —there's really only one that matters: getting 15 percent of the vote.
Why? —it's because of the ground rules for how Democrats award delegates in the primaries.
Well, they're very significant. And one way to understand this is to compare the Democratic rules and the Republican rules.
There's no better guide to the way Democrats choose their nominees than Elaine Kamarck; she has been a member of the party's rules committee for more than two decades and literally wrote the book on how Americans nominate presidential candidates.
So the Democratic rules tend to favor, not losers, but the second place finishers. Whereas the Republican Party rules tend to be winner-take-all by congressional district.
Democrats do award some delegates to a state's overall winner, but most of the delegates are based on how well they do in individual Congressional districts.
For comparison, just look at the last campaign. When Donald Trump won the New York Republican primary with 60 percent of the vote, he won 93 percent of the states' delegates. When Clinton won the New York Democratic primary with 58 percent of the vote, she got about 56 percent of the delegates, with Senator Bernie Sanders collecting the rest.
Because Democrats do not have winner-take-all rules, you can win a fair number of delegates without actually "winning" a primary at all.
But there's a catch: that 15 percent threshold can also dramatically boost a front-runner in a crowded field:
Take Senator Sanders and California, with its 415 pledged delegates.
Polls not only show Sanders with a large statewide lead—they show every other candidate struggling to hit 15 percent.
If no one else gets above that mark, Sanders would get all of the 144 statewide delegates. That's about a third of all the delegates in the state. If that holds true in many of California's 53 Congressional districts, Sanders would get the lion's share of those remaining delegates as well.
So it's conceivable that a candidate like Sanders could win a big majority of the delegates, with far less than a majority of voters.
But the same rules that boost a contender in a crowded field, can also make gaining ground in a narrowed field very hard.
In the last two contested Democratic primaries – 2008 and 2016 – there were only two major candidates, so getting to that 15 percent threshold wasn't hard at all. But making up serious ground was also nearly impossible with no winner-take-all contests.
That's what doomed Clinton in her race against Barack Obama in 2008 — and it's what guaranteed her victory over Sanders last time out.
She was winning enormous margins in the South. So her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders essentially carried her through the rest of the season. And right on into the convention.
That's a similar dynamic we could see this year: If Sanders solidifies a significant delegate lead after Super Tuesday… even a winnowed field will have a hard time catching up.
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Laura Fong shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of topics, including U.S. politics, education, the arts and urban transit. She also covers breaking news for the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. Before joining NewsHour Weekend, Laura worked on the first three seasons of the CNN documentary series "Inside Man" with Morgan Spurlock. Through Teach for America, Laura taught first grade for two years in Houston. She has a B.A. in electronic media from the University of Oregon.
Sam Weber has covered everything from living on minimum wage to consumer finance as a shooter/producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior joining NH Weekend, he previously worked for Need to Know on PBS and in public radio. He’s an avid cyclist and Chicago Bulls fan.
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