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What’s At Stake For Democrats In The March 15 Primaries

Bernie Sanders’s surprise win in Michigan last week upended the Democratic presidential primary. Or not — Hillary Clinton still has a big lead in pledged delegates. Here’s the big question for Democrats right now: Was Michigan a fluke? If so, Clinton will easily win Ohio on Tuesday, along with Florida and North Carolina. If not, Sanders could win the Buckeye State. Illinois and Missouri, meanwhile, look to be more competitive regardless of what really happened in Michigan. Let’s take each contest one at a time. (Also, check out my preview of the Republican contests.)

Florida primary

214 delegates (140 district, 74 statewide)


Florida could be Clinton’s best state on Tuesday. Clinton has done disproportionately well with black voters and older voters this year, and Florida is diverse (just 66 percent of Democratic voters were white in the 2008 primary, and that number will probably be lower this year) and old (28 percent of Democratic primary voters in 2008 were 65 or older). It’ll also be interesting to see how Sanders performs with Latino voters, who seem to have supported Clinton thus far, but the evidence is mixed. Either way, no poll in March has shown Clinton ahead by fewer than 20 percentage points. Unless we have a Michigan-level polling miss, Clinton is going to well exceed her delegate target in Florida. If some of the polls giving her a larger lead in the state are correct, she’ll probably end the day leading Sanders by more than 300 pledged delegates. That would make her pretty much impossible to catch in the race overall.

Illinois primary

156 delegates (102 district, 54 statewide)


To say the polls disagree in Illinois is to say that lamb tastes different than tuna fish. A recent Chicago Tribune poll gave Clinton a 42 percentage point lead, and a YouGov poll taken last week gave Sanders a 2 percentage point advantage. Combine that craziness with the polling miss in Michigan, and I’m not sure anyone can say with certainty what will happen in Illinois. Could Sanders overperform in Illinois as he did in Michigan? Sure. Both states are Midwestern, obviously, and both hold open primaries. That said, Illinois has a more racially diverse Democratic electorate than Michigan, and the demographics of the state suggest that Clinton should win Illinois with a margin in the single digits in a race that is tied nationally. As in all Democratic primaries, the margin is key because delegates are awarded proportionally. But really, who knows what will happen.

Ohio primary

143 delegates (93 district, 50 statewide)


No poll this month has had Sanders ahead in Ohio, but the state is right next to Michigan, is similar demographically and is also an open primary. (Are you sensing a theme here yet? The polling miss in Michigan hangs over everything.) One thing that could work to Clinton’s advantage in Ohio is that white voters in the southern half of the state voted more like Southern whites than Northern whites in 2008, and Clinton has done better with Southern whites than with Northern whites in the primary so far. One complicating factor is that Gov. John Kasich is on the ballot in the Republican primary, and any voter can choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot. Although he’s a Republican, Kasich drew an amazingly high 43 percent approval rating from Democrats in the most recent Quinnipiac poll of the state. Don’t be surprised if some Democrats — in an effort to stop Donald Trump — vote for Kasich in the Republican primary instead. What effect would that have on the Democratic race? Your guess is as good as mine.

North Carolina primary

107 delegates (70 district, 37 statewide)


This is the last truly Southern state to vote this primary season, and Clinton should carry the Tar Heel State easily. Clinton won North Carolina’s neighbors by 29 percentage points (Virginia) and 47 percentage points (South Carolina). The state is more similar demographically to Virginia, and the polls seem to reflect that. Sanders will be most likely to keep it close if there’s heavy turnout from college students around Raleigh, young transplants around Charlotte and white voters in the western part of the state. The problem for Sanders, as illustrated in a recent Civitas survey of North Carolina, is that he is likely to lose black voters going away. Civitas showed him losing black voters by 58 percentage points this month. That is nowhere near good enough for Sanders and will probably leave him well short of his delegate target in the state.

Missouri primary

71 delegates (47 district, 24 statewide)


There has been almost no polling in Missouri. The few polls of the state have found a tight race. That matches our delegate targets for Clinton and Sanders, which suggest that in a tied national race, Missouri should be close. One thing Clinton does have going for her is that the Democratic primary electorate probably will have a larger share of black voters than that of Iowa to the north (which Clinton barely won), and Clinton easily took Arkansas to the south (where she enjoyed a home-field advantage). Still, Missouri may have a whiter Democratic primary electorate than any other state voting Tuesday. Sanders has to hope he can capitalize on an open primary, as he did in Michigan. The bad news for Sanders is that even if he does earn a small victory over Clinton, he’s so far behind in his delegate targets that he needs to be exceeding them to catch up.

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Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.