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U.S. Election 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Nevada in February. He has won three of four Republican state contests and is poised for a strong Super Tuesday.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a caucus night rally in Las Vegas, Nevada in February. He has won three of four Republican state contests and is poised for a strong Super Tuesday.


Next to November 8 – when U.S. voters choose their next president – the most important day of voting is March 1st, or Super Tuesday: a dozen state contests and the chance for a presidential candidate to get a huge boost. Here's your guide to how it works and what's up for grabs.

The whirlwind that is Super Tuesday is about to hit the U.S. presidential race.

Twelve states and one territory are holding Republican and Democratic contests across the United States, and voters will pick whom they want to be the standard-bearer for each party when the entire country votes in the presidential election on Nov. 8.

Super Tuesday has a storied place in U.S. politics going back to the 1980s. It's the first one-day, multistate competition after early contests in such places as Iowa and New Hampshire, and it has a distinctly Southern flavour. Six of the states this year are in the U.S. South.

Vice President George H.W. Bush almost swept the board during Super Tuesday contests in 1988 and went on to win the Republican nomination and the White House. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

It can be a defining day in the making of a Republican or Democratic nominee – and, eventually, a president. For example, George H.W. Bush swept almost all the states in the 1988 Super Tuesday. "Comeback kid" Bill Clinton had his breakout moment in 1992 and George W. Bush forced his rivals to step aside in 2000.

Here are some of the key states in play, how many delegates are up for grabs, where candidates are in their delegate totals and who is positioned for a triumph and whose presidential aspirations could come to end.

Super Tuesday legacy

How important is Super Tuesday in 2016?

An emphatic Super Tuesday victory is what 2016's Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, is looking for, one that will make it mathematically difficult for a fractured opposition to close the gap in delegates, which each state awards to the best performers.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is aiming to exorcise the ghosts of 2008, when her Super Tuesday strategy was upended by Barack Obama. This time, the insurgent is 74-year-old Senator Bernie Sanders, who is promising to continue the fight long after the results on March 1.

What happens to Super Tuesday winners?

Super Tuesday is the first big test of a candidate's ability to mount an effective campaign across the country: airing TV ads, holding town halls, winning key endorsements and getting out the vote. Those who get obliterated become political footnotes while those who win bask in the glory – although they seldom reach the White House.

Michael Dukakis in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 each failed to captivate a broader electorate in the presidential election after (more or less) sealing their party's nomination on the back of Super Tuesday wins.

"One of the things that is so striking is we have turnout rates in these states that's absolutely tiny. This is where the establishment recognizes that just because Donald Trump wins a percentage of the primary voters in a given state does not at all mean that it's going to translate in a general election," said Sunshine Hillygus, a political scientist at Duke University.

Yet Super Tuesday success remains a potentially game-changing moment that can propel a campaign.

Delegate math

The math involved in Super Tuesday can be complicated. To start off, here's a look at where the contests are happening, and then we'll take a look at how many delegates Republican and Democratic candidates need in order to become the party's presidential nominee, and where each candidate stands.

States and TerritoryRepublican partyDelegatesDemocratic partyDelegates
American Samoanonenonecaucus10

New York Times

Delegate targets in the Republican race

  • 2,472: the number of delegates attending the party convention
  • 1,237: the number of delegates needed to win the nomination
  • 595: the number of delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday

Delegate targets in the Democratic race

  • 4,765: the number of delegates attending the party convention
  • 2,383: the number of delegates needed to win the nomination
  • 865: the number of delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday
  • 712: number of superdelegates up for grabs during entire process

The goal: Win the most delegates from one contest to another. And on the Democratic side, the goal is also to scoop up the most superdelegates.

Superdelegates are the elites of the Democratic Party – officials, elected representatives and onetime politicians. They are not required to pledge to a candidate before the party's convention, but often, it is understood which candidate they are backing. With one caveat: They can change their minds.

The Bernie Sanders campaign is hoping for a strong showing on Super Tuesday to change the trajectory of the race and peel Clinton superdelegate supporters away. The total number of superdelegates (712) is about 30 per cent of the number of the delegates needed to win the nomination. Right now, the overwhelming majority back Hillary Clinton.

How the delegates are awarded

In 2016, the contest on both sides – Republican and Democratic – will become increasingly about delegate math in the weeks and months after Super Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, delegates are distributed to each candidate based on the proportion of the vote they get in a state contest. In other words, there is no winner-take-all system.

On the Republican side, the rules can be arcane and confusing because each state's party organization sets the rules. Some states follow the proportional system, others are winner-take-all and some are a combination of the two.

The winner-take-all contests on the Republican side start after Super Tuesday with March 15 primaries in delegate-rich Florida and Ohio.

How the awarding of delegates will shape the race

On the Republican side, the winner-take-all system means that candidates such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz have an incentive to stay in the race.

"There's more of an ability for a Republican to catch up [to Donald Trump]. So it's not over as much as we like to think," said Peter Loewen, director of the Centre for the Study of the United States at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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On the Democratic side, that lack of a winner-take-all system helps Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton can win several contests in the U.S. South on Super Tuesday to create a significant delegate lead.

"Bernie Sanders can't count on winning in [delegate-rich] California at the end and using a couple of large states to get big blocs of delegates. Because of the proportional allocation, Hillary Clinton is just going to wear him down, wear him down, wear him down," Professor Loewen said.

In other words, she will try to do to Mr. Sanders what Barack Obama did to her in 2008. A strong Super Tuesday showing in 2008 – winning 13 of 22 contests, and grabbing 803 delegates against Ms. Clinton's 799 – positioned Mr. Obama for the long battle that stretched into June and ended after the Montana primary helped him secure enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally to promote early voting ahead of Super Tuesday at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She is hoping her 2016 Super Tuesday strategy will yield a different result than eight years ago. In 2008, Barack Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally to promote early voting ahead of Super Tuesday at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. She is hoping her 2016 Super Tuesday strategy will yield a different result than eight years ago. In 2008, Barack Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination.


States in play

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

1 Alabama

  • Delegates: Republicans, 50; Democratic, 60.
  • Demographics: white, 66 per cent; black, 27 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 4 per cent; Asian 1 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Alabama is a diverse state that favours Hillary Clinton, who has strong support around the country among members of minorities. For Bernie Sanders, it is an uphill climb. On the Republican side, four years ago, Rick Santorum carried the state, highlighting Mitt Romney's weakness among conservative voters. This time, Donald Trump is leading. He has campaigned in the state going back to last summer, when an August rally in Mobile drew an estimated 30,000 people.

2 Alaska

  • Delegates: Republicans, 28.
  • Demographics: white, 62 per cent; aboriginal, 15 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 7 per cent; Asian, 6 per cent; black, 4 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump, according to an Alaska Dispatch News poll in January.

Donald Trump secured the endorsement of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. That may have helped in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses by adding some conservative street cred. But Ms. Palin is unpopular in her home state. Still, Mr. Trump leads there. One thing to keep in mind: In 2012, 14,135 Alaskans trudged to caucus sites on Super Tuesday. That is 2.8 per cent of the voting-age population. Voter turnout in the presidential election that year was 58 per cent. It is a small slice of the voting population that votes in caucuses.

3 Arkansas

  • Delegates: Republican, 40; Democratic, 37.
  • Demographics: White, 73 per cent; black, 16 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 7 per cent; Asian, 1.5 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Polling is limited, but one in early February carried out by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College pointed to a narrow lead by Ted Cruz and a whopping Hillary Clinton advantage.

Hillary Clinton is on home turf – the state where she practiced as a lawyer and taught law while husband Bill Clinton served as governor. On the Republican side, Texas Senator Ted Cruz will need to win here in order to advance a narrative that he is still a strong contender in the leadership race.

4 Colorado

  • Delegates: Republican, 37; Democratic, 79.
  • Demographics: white, 69 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 21.2 per cent; black, 4.5 per cent; Asian, 3 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: unclear.

The Republican caucus will involve people discussing the presidential candidates, but their preference will not be tallied up. Instead, Super Tuesday will mark the beginning of a process of electing people to go on to congressional and state conventions – and eventually electing delegates for the July 18-21 national convention in Cleveland. On the Democratic side, 2015 polling showed Hillary Clinton with a big lead. But Senator Bernie Sanders is hoping for a large turnout among young voters to snatch this state from Ms. Clinton – and re-energize his campaign. One caveat: Only those Democrats registered by Jan. 4 can participate.

5 Georgia

  • Delegates: Republican, 76; Democratic, 116.
  • Demographics: white, 54 per cent; black, 32 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 9 per cent; Asian, 4 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Georgia is a rapidly changing state in the U.S. South. It ranked seventh in population growth from 2000 to 2010. By 2025, the population will be mostly members of minorities, with blacks, Hispanics and Asians leading the way. The current demographic mix gives Hillary Clinton the advantage. She generally polls better than Bernie Sanders among minorities. On the Republican side, Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio are looking to loosen Donald Trump's grip on the U.S. South. According to the FiveThirtyEight site, run by widely known pollster Nate Silver, Mr. Trump has a 64 per cent chance of winning the state.

6 Massachusetts

  • Delegates: Republican, 42; Democratic, 116.
  • Demographics: white, 74 per cent; black, 8 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 11 per cent; Asian, 6 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump; Democratic dead heat.

On the eve of the primaries, the Boston Globe published a scathing anti-Trump editorial: "The best way to stop Trump is to stop Trump now." Former governor Mitt Romney also stepped in, criticizing the real estate billionaire for not releasing his tax returns. "I think we have good reason to believe that there's a bombshell in Donald Trump's taxes," the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, whose own tax returns became a campaign issue, said in an interview with Fox News. On the Democratic side, it is a tight race. But it's the kind of state Bernie Sanders can win: liberal and white.

7 Minnesota

  • Delegates: Republican, 38; Democratic, 93.
  • Demographics: white, 81 per cent; black, 6 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 5 per cent; Asian, 5 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: The polling is thin. But according to one poll conducted in January by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton lead.

A victory by Marco Rubio in this Midwest state – and wins in another state, or at least strong second-place finishes elsewhere – would buoy his campaign and the case for why he is the main challenger to Donald Trump and deserving of millions of dollars in campaign funding in order to take Mr. Trump down. Mr. Rubio has won some key endorsements in recent weeks, including former governor and former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty. On the Democratic side, the Bernie Sanders campaign is narrowing the gap, pouring resources into the state, and betting it can pull off an upset.

8 Oklahoma

  • Delegates: Republican, 40; Democratic, 42.
  • Demographics: white, 67 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 10 per cent; American Indian, 9 per cent; black, 8 per cent; Asian, 2 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Ted Cruz's strategy is to focus on the evangelical vote. It paid off with a win in Iowa on Feb. 1, but in South Carolina weeks later Donald Trump beat him – winning the state's primary and the evangelical vote. The Texan is targeting evangelicals in Southern states such Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee. For Hillary Clinton, the U.S. South could be rewarding. The former first lady of Arkansas beat Barack Obama there in 2008 by 24 points. .

9 Tennessee

  • Delegates: Republican, 58; Democratic, 76.
  • Demographics: white, 75 per cent; black, 17 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 5 per cent; Asian, 2 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Republican voters in this state where evangelicals have an outsized influenced are leaning toward Donald Trump. That's right: A New York billionaire who once identified with the Democratic Party could do better in this state than Ted Cruz, a Texan evangelical. For the Hillary Clinton campaign, Tennessee is another of the Southern states she is expecting to pick up. The state can be cruel to Democrats: Vice-president Al Gore won the Democratic primary in 2000, but lost in his home state to George W. Bush during the presidential election.

10 Texas

  • Delegates: Republican, 155; Democratic, 252.
  • Demographics: white, 43.5 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 39 per cent; black, 13 per cent; Asian, 4.5 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.

Ted Cruz better win his home state if he has any chance at reviving his campaign and being the primary challenger to Donald Trump. He has spent more time in Texas than his rivals and has 27,000 volunteers on the ground, according to The Associated Press. The state's 155 delegates will be distributed on a proportional basis – with a winner-take-all possibility. By winning the majority (50 per cent plus one) of votes across the state and the majority of votes (50 per cent plus one) in each congressional district, Mr. Cruz could hit the jackpot and scoop up all delegates.

11 Vermont

  • Delegates: Republican, 16; Democratic, 26.
  • Demographics: white, 93.5 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 1.8 per cent; Asian, 1.6 per cent; black, 1.2 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders can certainly count on one thing on Super Tuesday: that his home state will deliver. Or, at least, that's what pundits and polls have been saying for months. But winning one state on Super Tuesday will not cut it. He will have to scoop up at least a handful of states to make a case to would-be donors and superdelegates that they finance his campaign insurgency after Super Tuesday and feel the Bern.

12 Virginia

  • Delegates: Republican, 49; Democratic, 110.
  • Demographics: white, 63 per cent; black, 20 per cent; Hispanic or Latino, 9 per cent; Asian, 6 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Virginia will be a battleground state in the presidential election. It had been a Republican-voting state since the 1960s when Barack Obama won it in 2008 and again in 2012 with 51 per cent of the vote. In the primaries, expect the front-runners to win the state. The real battle happens in November between the two parties. And a reality check on the turnout: The Republican primary won by Mitt Romney in 2012 drew 265,570 or 4.6 per cent of eligible voters.

13 American Samoa

  • Delegates: Democratic, 10.
  • Demographics: native Samoans, 92 per cent; Asian, 2.8 per cent; white, 1 per cent.
  • Leaning in 2016: unclear.

The U.S. territory, made up of five islands and two atolls that were key staging areas in the South Pacific during the Second World War, does not vote in presidential elections – although party caucuses choose delegates that attend the national conventions. The 2008 Democratic caucus was moved to an 11 a.m. (local time) start instead of an evening caucus. This was done so that results could reach mainland United States in prime time instead of the middle of the night. That year, Hillary Clinton won two delegates, while Barack Obama won one.

Photo research by Paula Wilson

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