Skip to main content
ABC News
Election Preview: Sanders Looks Strongest In Washington, Idaho And North Dakota — But The Races Are Tight

This Tuesday may not be as “super” as some, but we’ll still get Democratic primary results from six states worth 352 pledged delegates.1 We’ve already walked you through what the FiveThirtyEight forecast says in Michigan, where Sen. Bernie Sanders hopes to defy the odds once again. Now let’s take a tour of the three Western states that could wind up as the closest contests of the day.

Demographically, Washington should be one of Sanders’s best remaining states, but it is actually a pure toss-up. According to our primary forecast,2 Sanders and Biden each has a 1 in 2 (50 percent) chance to win the Evergreen State. It’s an extremely close race in terms of vote share, too: Sanders and Biden are each expected to receive 42 percent of the statewide vote, on average. (Even though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have dropped out, we still expect them to get 4 percent of the vote each as Washington is a vote-by-mail state, and lots of votes were cast before they dropped out. Indeed, as of March 3 — before either dropped out — almost 1 million ballots had already been returned.)

Thirty-one of Washington’s 89 pledged delegates are awarded based on those statewide results, while the remaining 58 hinge on the results in the state’s 10 congressional districts. However, we’re forecasting those results to hew closely to the statewide numbers, which means Sanders and Biden are likely to split the district-level delegates just as they will the statewide ones.

A close race across Washington

Average forecasted vote share for the top two Democratic presidential candidates in Washington congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 11:20 a.m. on March 9

District Sanders Biden
WA-01 43% 41%
WA-02 42 42
WA-03 43 42
WA-04 43 42
WA-05 42 43
WA-06 41 43
WA-07 43 42
WA-08 42 42
WA-09 41 44
WA-10 42 43
State 42 42

Biden figures to do best in the thickly settled 9th District, which stretches from Bellevue and downtown Seattle in the north to Tacoma in the south. It is Washington’s lone majority-minority district, featuring the state’s largest black population (11 percent of the district) and Asian population (23 percent). We are also forecasting Biden to win the 6th District, which covers the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas. It’s a relatively white, working-class district with a traditionally timber-based economy — not dissimilar to Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which was Biden’s stronger of the two districts in that state.

Meanwhile, we expect Sanders’s best district to be the 4th District, a predominantly rural district in Central Washington. More than 38 percent of its population is Latino, a voting bloc with which Sanders has excelled so far this year. It and the 3rd District (which we also forecast Sanders to carry on Tuesday) were also Sanders’s two best districts in Washington in the state’s 2016 caucuses.

Finally, the 7th District is important for being worth a whopping 11 pledged delegates — a huge haul for just one congressional district. We think Sanders has a slight edge over Biden in this cosmopolitan, white-collar district in the heart of Seattle. But as with all these districts, the final results will probably be close enough to mean the two candidates get about the same number of delegates.

A note of caution: If you watch Washington report results live on Tuesday night, don’t be surprised if the initial returns look different from our forecasts. Because of vote-by-mail, we won’t get final results in Washington for several days, as late-arriving mail ballots are added to the election-night tallies.

Meanwhile, our forecast gives Biden a 3 in 5 (57 percent) chance of carrying Idaho and Sanders a 2 in 5 (43 percent) chance. On average, we forecast Biden to get 47 percent and Sanders 44 percent of the statewide vote, which will determine the allocation of seven pledged delegates. Seven more will come out of the state’s 2nd Congressional District, while six will be awarded based on the results in the 1st Congressional District. But as was the case in Washington, we anticipate that the district-level results will largely mirror the statewide results.

Both of Idaho’s districts are close

Average forecasted vote share for the top two Democratic presidential candidates in Idaho congressional districts, according to the FiveThirtyEight model as of 11:20 a.m. on March 9

District Biden Sanders
ID-01 47% 44%
ID-02 47 44
State 47 44

The 2nd District, which covers eastern Idaho but also reaches into the state capital of Boise, is a tad more college-educated and less white than the 1st District, which covers western Idaho and the Panhandle. But in the big picture, Idaho is a pretty uniform state, and we’re expecting Biden and Sanders to be closely competitive in each individual district as well.

Finally, North Dakota is shaping up to be a close race as well, but our forecast has identified a (slight) front-runner. We give Biden a 3 in 5 (63 percent) chance of winning North Dakota, while Sanders has a 2 in 5 (37 percent) shot. In the average model run, 48 percent of the state opts for Biden, while 41 percent chooses Sanders.

Because North Dakota has just one congressional district, all 14 of its pledged delegates will be awarded based on those statewide results. It would be hard to track the results by region anyway, however. North Dakota is the first state this year to hold a party-run (as opposed to state-run) primary, known locally as “firehouse caucuses.” Instead of an all-day election at voters’ normal precincts, voting in North Dakota will be open only between noon and 8 p.m. Eastern at just 14 polling places across the state.3 (Despite the name, none is a firehouse, nor do voters have to stick around to realign like in a traditional caucus.) And no matter where they live in the state, voters can choose to vote at any location.

Given how close these three states are, if Sanders is going to flex the muscle necessary to make a national comeback, it will probably start by winning these three contests. However, unfortunately for him, Idaho and North Dakota are worth precious few delegates — and even Washington seems likely to be a delegate wash unless Sanders defeats Biden decisively there. Still, it’s been a primary of twists and turns, so it’s certainly possible it continues to surprise us.


  1. Democrats Abroad also wraps up its weeklong voting period on Tuesday.

  2. As of 11:20 a.m. Eastern on March 9.

  3. Voters also had the option to vote by mail.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.