Who will dominate Super Tuesday? Here are three scenarios to watch

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Image: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden after the tenth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders shakes hands with former Vice President Joe Biden after the tenth Democratic 2020 presidential debate at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina, Feb. 25, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

After the moderate wing of the Democratic Party banded together Monday like superheroes in an Avengers movie, the true voting battle now begins on this Super Tuesday.

And given that the Democratic contest is now a delegate and math race, with a total of 1,344 pledged delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday, we think tonight could go one of three different ways.

Scenario #1: Joe Biden’s super night. This back-of-envelope delegate math assumes Biden gets Hillary Clinton-like margins in the South, gets Elizabeth Warren and/or Michael Bloomberg to split up the delegates in California and Texas, and sees Bloomberg failing to hit the 15 percent threshold for delegates in several states, especially in the South:

  • Sanders 557
  • Biden 500
  • Bloomberg 146
  • Warren 115
  • Klobuchar 26

So even on a great night for Biden, Sanders edges Biden by 50 to 60 delegates.

Scenario #2: Bernie Sanders’ super night: This rough delegate math assumes Sanders grabbing more than half of the delegates out of California and Texas; Warren failing to hit 15 percent in many of the Sanders-friendly states; and Bloomberg picking up delegates in the South (thus denying Biden those delegates):

  • Sanders 691
  • Biden 445
  • Bloomberg 142
  • Warren 36
  • Klobuchar 30

Under that scenario, Sanders comes out of Super Tuesday with nearly 250 more delegates than Biden.

Scenario #3: Somewhere in the middle: Or you have something right down the middle, with Sanders emerging from Super Tuesday +150 over Biden.

For us, Sanders’ magic number tonight is 600 delegates. If he’s above it, it means he got close to (or surpassed) a majority of all 1,344 delegates available.

Below it, however, means a solid majority of delegates went elsewhere.

And the upcoming primaries — in Mississippi (March 10), Florida (March 17) and Georgia (March 24) — don’t get easier for Sanders.

Allocating all of the delegates could take a couple of weeks

But also remember that it could take a couple of weeks to count all of the votes and sort out all of the delegate math, especially when it comes to California.

“Went back and looked... At 2 am eastern time on primary night in 16, Clinton led Sanders by 21.5 in California.... She won by 7. Patience is VERY much needed with this count,” CNN’s Harry Enten tweets.

And while tonight is a math race, there are some symbolic bellwethers:

  • Who wins Texas?
  • Who wins North Carolina?
  • Who hits more 15 percent thresholds — Michael Bloomberg or Elizabeth Warren?
  • And whose delegate total is bigger — Sanders’ or Biden + Bloomberg?

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Everything you need to know about Super Tuesday

Fourteen states, plus American Samoa, will be holding contests today, awarding a total of 1,344 pledged delegates. (Americans Abroad also begins its voting process, but it lasts until March 10, so NBC News isn’t including its 13 delegates with the other Super Tuesday races.).

These 1,344 delegates represent 34 percent of all pledged delegates up for grabs in the entire Democratic contest. By the end of the March 17 primaries, nearly 62 percent of all pledged delegates will have been awarded.

The states by final poll-closing times:

  • 7:00 p.m. ET: Virginia (99 pledged delegates)
  • 7:00 p.m. ET: Vermont (16 pledged delegates)
  • 7:30 p.m. ET: North Carolina (110)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Alabama (52)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Maine (24)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Massachusetts (91)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Oklahoma (37)
  • 8:00 p.m. ET: Tennessee (64)
  • 8:30 p.m. ET: Arkansas (31)
  • 9:00 p.m. ET: Colorado (67)
  • 9:00 p.m. ET: Minnesota (75)
  • 9:00 p.m. ET: Texas (228)
  • 10:00 p.m. ET: Utah (29)
  • 11:00 p.m. ET: California (415)

Also, five Super Tuesday states — Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina and Texas — will be holding their House and Senate primaries today.

Among the races we’re watching: The GOP’s Alabama Senate primary, the Democratic North Carolina Senate primary, the Democratic Texas Senate primary, and the California-25 primary to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Katie Hill.

On the campaign trail today

Bernie Sanders votes in Vermont and then also holds his election-night rally in Burlington, Vt., with members of the band Phish… Elizabeth Warren casts her ballot in Massachusetts before campaigning in Detroit later this evening… Joe Biden holds his Super Tuesday night event in Los Angeles… Michael Bloomberg spends his day in Florida… And Tulsi Gabbard, who remains in the Dem race, holds a town hall in Detroit.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

In Dallas, Joe Biden received Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke’s endorsements. NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor and Amanda Golden report: “Buttigieg spoke first, saying that the most important part of his campaign was to ‘defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for the values that we share.’ In exchange, Biden offered what he described as ‘the highest compliment’ he could ever give to any human being. ‘I don't think I've ever done this before, but he reminds me of my son Beau,’ Biden said, causing Buttigieg’s face to grow heavy. ‘I look over at Pete during the debates and I think, I think, you know, “that's a Beau” because he has such enormous character, such intellectual capacity, and such a commitment to other people.’”

Amy Klobuchar used her campaign message to lure her supporters into Biden’s camp: “I believe this now standing with the vice president, if you feel tired of the noise and the nonsense in our politics, and if you are tired of the extremes, you have a home with me,” she said. “And I think you know you have a home with Joe Biden.”

NBC’s Gary Grumbach reports on Bernie Sanders’ campaign event in Minnesota: “Tonight, I want to open the door to Amy's supporters, to Pete's supporters. I know that there are political differences but I also know that virtually all of Amy's support and Pete's support understand that we have got to move towards a government which believes in justice, not greed,’ Sanders said. ‘So to all of Amy and Pete's millions of supporters, the door is open, come on in.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $198,404,168

$198,404,168

That’s how much Mike Bloomberg has spent on TV and radio advertising in Super Tuesday states as of today, per Advertising Analytics.

Here’s the state-by-state breakdown.

  • Alabama: $7,247,056.00
  • Arkansas: $3,082,493.00
  • California: $70,945,870.00
  • Colorado: $8,509,897.00
  • Maine: $2,639,144.00
  • Massachusetts: $9,805,022.00
  • Minnesota: $11,464,462.00
  • North Carolina: $12,822,932.00
  • Oklahoma: $3,918,020.00
  • Tennessee: $6,269,571.00
  • Texas: $52,038,882.00
  • Utah: $3,293,368.00
  • Vermont: $757,621.00
  • Virginia: $5,609,830.00

The Lid: Uncertainty principle

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we mused on how there’s a lot we don’t know about how the electorate will react to the news of the last few days.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

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