In a field as incredibly crowded as the one Democrats must pick from in less than a year, coming in third or fourth in Iowa, with the money that is surely going to be raised over the next few months, doesn’t seem to carry as much weight as it may have in previous elections. A candidate who proves a dud in Iowa may do well in New Hampshire, or have a different strategy and kick off well in South Carolina a full twenty-six days later.
It’s quite possible, with the primary map shaping up as it currently is, that one could bomb in the first two caucuses, place a very close 4th or 5th in New Hampshire, and have reason not to fold up the tent at month’s end: three days after South Carolina, the mother of all Super Tuesdays appears. Look at the March map right now, with confirmed and more-likely-than-not calendar changes:
Arkansas confirmed its March 3rd primary this past week, cementing it’s place on growing list of states confirming such contests at the start of the month.
Minnesota now decides by primary. Fourteen states could hold elections simultaneously on Super Tuesday now. Many of them- North Carolina, Texas, California, and potentially Georgia- will have voters casting ballots early before the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary. This explains candidate visits to Texas and California we’ve seen recently, and it won’t stop there: expect more swings through Dixie beyond South Carolina than any of those states have experienced in decades. A week later, it’s Super Tuesday 2: Electric Boogaloo, with Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Mississippi, and potentially the entire Pacific Northwest finished. Throw in caucuses in Kansas, North Dakota, and Maine, the Louisiana primary, and Super Tuesday 3, and the lion’s share of delegates are awarded by St. Patrick’s Day.
Beyond the six weeks between Iowa and “Illizonida”, few big prizes remain at least if this potential calendar holds. New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Wisconsin have their primaries in April. Indiana has one in May. New Jersey in June. Now, some delegates can’t be awarded quickly- California will take five weeks I’m sure to count all of it’s vote- but the vast majority, a normally field-clearing majority, occurs immediately after South Carolina this time.
When could we expect major drop offs? Because of the cost of maintaining a successful run through early March, candidates failing to place significantly in polling may start dropping out after the first few debates.
No fire, no excitement, no excitement, no donors.
But a good number will still have enough to argue they need to keep fighting through Super Tuesday, if not beyond. After all, if you’ve racked up some delegates, and there is a pile more coming over just two more weeks, who is bailing at that time? The odds of a brokered convention increases the longer the field stays large and multiple candidates have amassed a significant number of delegates.
Once we hit St Patrick’s Day, if the field remains as swollen as six or seven candidates, the trailing ones are going to need big explosive pushes to keep moving forward, and that’s where those sporadic bursts of delegates, in a few weekend caucuses here, a largish state there in April, become their make or breaks, reducing the race to three or four candidates.
The calendar still has uncertainties. Georgia hasn’t confirmed it’s date, though it participates in Super Tuesday regularly. Some details are still left to hammer out in Colorado. Washington may or may not have a primary instead of a caucus. Oregon’s date is just proposed. Maine doesn’t know what it wants to do. Many states not shown here may still decide to bump their date forward so they don’t get passed over. But with what is already set, one of the largest primary fields ever is going to run into one of the most front loaded calendars we’ve seen (the 2008 Democratic primary featured a Super Tuesday with nearly two dozen simultaneous caucuses and primaries).
If a clear front runner fails to emerge by February, this is a recipe for chaos, the sort many in election world live to see.