As hyped-up as Super Tuesday was, the Democratic primary is hardly over. Thirty-eight states and other jurisdictions1 have yet to weigh in, and 62 percent of pledged delegates are still up for grabs. The problem for Sen. Bernie Sanders is that former Vice President Joe Biden has jumped ahead of him in national polls — which is enough to make him favored almost everywhere that has yet to vote, according to our primary forecast.
But if Sanders were to mount a comeback, where might it start? Our forecast provides a clue. Of the remaining primary contests, some — especially Southern states — look intractably in Biden’s camp. But others — especially Western states — are still relatively good for Sanders compared with his national standing. These states provide Sanders’s best chance to notch wins and potentially shift the balance of the race overall. Here’s what percentage of the vote we are currently2 forecasting Biden and Sanders to get in each remaining contest if the state or territory were voting today. (Note that these projections are a bit different than our topline forecast numbers, which account for the fact that Sanders, who’s trailing now, might drop out. The projections below better reflect how strong the candidates might be in each place in a world where we know they’re still in the race.) You can see that some places are closer than others.
|District of Columbia||69.9||29||+40.9|
Let’s go through the rest of the calendar week by week to see which primary days might provide opportunities for Sanders to climb back into the race — and which present the most upside for Biden.
One of Sanders’s best opportunities is right on top of us: This Tuesday is actually about as favorable as it gets for Sanders. Four contests where Sanders has a good shot of winning are all being held this week: Democrats Abroad (where Sanders has a 1 in 2, or 54 percent, chance), Washington (1 in 2, or 52 percent), Idaho (1 in 2, or 50 percent — a pure toss-up with Biden) and North Dakota (2 in 5, or 41 percent).
But Biden is currently relatively strong in Missouri and Mississippi. The key to Sanders using March 10 to turn around his campaign is probably winning Michigan, which conceivably could allow him to win a majority of the day’s states and delegates. With Sanders’s 1 in 4 (23 percent) chance in the Wolverine State, it’s not out of the question either.
The reason this Tuesday is so important for Sanders is that his campaign needs a shot of momentum and good press to immunize them from the shellacking they could take on March 17, on which several big, Biden-friendly states will vote. One of them, Florida, is very likely to go for Biden (he has a greater than 99 in 100 chance to win there). In Illinois and Ohio, Biden is also strong. However, if Sanders does manage to win Michigan the previous week, maybe these states are in play too (our model gives Sanders similar odds in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, so if he wins the first we’d expect him to be competitive in the second two — especially Ohio, Michigan’s demographic doppelganger and currently the likeliest March 17 primary to result in a Sanders win).
March rounds out with more good news for Biden: Georgia projects as a good place for Biden. But the first week of April could present another opportunity for Sanders to win a bunch of states — if things break his way. Relatively speaking, Sanders is in contention in Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska, which vote on April 4, and Wisconsin, which votes on April 7.
But a lot will depend on how well Sanders holds up in March. If he has been stronger than expected, our forecast may well have Sanders as an outright favorite in these states once April rolls around. But if Biden’s momentum continues, these states are unlikely to save Sanders. Plus, even if Sanders wins Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming, Biden may still win April 4 given his likely rout in Louisiana, which is worth one more delegate than those three states combined.
Next up, April 28 is both the biggest (in terms of delegates) election day left on the calendar and one that looks very favorable to Biden. Sanders should be prepared to take a hit on this day, even if his campaign has regained its strength; April 28 includes Biden’s former stomping grounds of Delaware and Pennsylvania. In Delaware, in particular, he is so far ahead it is unlikely he would relinquish first place there even in the event of a shift in the overall balance of the race toward Sanders. Only in tiny Rhode Island is Sanders favored to win on April 28.
And if, by this point, Sanders hasn’t rejuvenated his campaign, he will have precious few remaining opportunities to do so. May holds a few decent contests for Sanders — he’s close in Kansas, Indiana, Nebraska and Oregon — but few delegates are at stake that month. And then on June 2 comes the last big delegate-rich primary day, and one where Biden should do well. Only New Mexico looks close.
In summary, Sanders has a couple upcoming election days that hold upside for him. But even more — including the two biggest, on March 17 and April 28 — are probably going to be Biden landslides. With many of Sanders’s best states already having voted, demographics and geography are among the biggest challenges to his winning the nomination.
CORRECTION (March 9, 2020 9:45 a.m.): To better reflect each candidate’s strength in the states, we’ve updated this article to use vote share projections from the FiveThirtyEight primary forecast that do not factor in the chance that Sanders, as the trailing candidate at the moment, will drop out. The topline forecast numbers originally used in this article account for that chance, which helps make Biden more of a favorite — especially in later states. The table and text have been updated as a result.