On Wednesday (or whenever the results come in) we're going to have a new Democratic primary contest

On Wednesday (or whenever the results come in) we're going to have a new Democratic primary contest

The 2020 Democratic primaries began almost immediately after party activists recovered from the hangovers they suffered celebrating the 2018 midterms. The first 14 or 15 months consisted of the "invisible primary" fought out among donors, influencers and insiders. Now, after a month of drama in the first four states that didn't have much impact on the delegate count, things appear to be moving quickly.

Over the past 24 hours, both former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar have announced that they are dropping out, and will endorse former Vice President Joe Biden on the eve of Super Tuesday. Tom Steyer dropped out the day before.

Super Tuesday polls included those candidates, and are now meaningless. Surveys conducted by The Economist, Morning Consult and Quinnipiac University all find somewhat different second choice preferences for the supporters of those newly-departed candidates. Nobody knows how their voters will now break (although many will insist that they do.)

But we do know that a candidate needs to get 15 percent of the vote to win delegates, either in a district or statewide, depending on each state's rules, and that this raft of departures has narrowed the field and given candidates on the bubble a much better chance of taking home some delegates on Tuesday.

In the four contests so far, 155 delegates have been allocated (it takes 1991 to win a majority of pledged delegates). Tuesday's primaries will award 1,357 more, divided proportionally among the candidates who clear that 15 percent threshold.

One likely outcome is that Sen. Bernie Sanders, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Biden all emerge with a respectable chunk of delegates and the contest moves forward as a four-person race. Sanders will likely emerge with the delegate lead. Biden is getting a big boost in endorsements and will presumably shake off his fundraising woes as a result. Warren is hoping that she can emerge as a unity candidate that both progressives and moderates can get behind and Bloomberg has unlimited funds and self-regard.

One thing to keep in mind is that winning isn't the only reason for a candidate who still has some cash in the bank to soldier on even if securing a majority of pledged delegates seems unlikely. Beyond the possibility of grabbing the nomination at a brokered convention, a candidate can leverage a second-place finish to gain influence over the party platform and the primary rules going forward. Sanders did exactly that in 2016, when he ended up with 46 percent of pledged delegates.

We'll see. Whatever happens after Super Tuesday, it'll be a new race with a smaller field.

The next Democratic debate is scheduled for March 15.

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