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The race to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States has narrowed to just three candidates. By the end of Super Tuesday – voters go to the polls in 14 states – the options could be down to just two.

Or, the possible outcomes of primary season could be increased – to four.

The three candidates with a realistic shot of holding 50 per cent plus one of the delegates at the end of the primaries in June are former vice-president Joe Biden, former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg and the self-proclaimed socialist, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

And then there’s that fourth option: a primary season that ends with nobody holding a majority of 3,979 elected delegates.

Ahead of Super Tuesday, here’s who is currently leading the race for the Democratic nomination

That would mean, when the Democratic Party assembles at its convention in July in Milwaukee, it would not be anointing a predetermined victor. Instead of the usual stage-managed infomercial, offering four days of testimonials to the genius, empathy and morality of the nominee, the convention would be an open-air fight, and the first brokered convention since 1952.

It’s an outcome that’s looking ever more likely – but in a race full of surprises, Tuesday may offer yet more.

Pete Buttigieg stunned by winning Iowa, the first state to vote, but on Sunday he dropped out, seeing no path to victory. Less than 24 hours later, Senator Amy Klobuchar did likewise. Both are Midwesterners and moderates; both were splitting votes with Mr. Biden – and on Monday night, both were expected to share a stage with the former vice-president, and to endorse his candidacy.

It cements the idea that there are basically two roads before Democratic voters: the path of modest incrementalism, or blow-it-all-up, radical change.

As in 2016, Mr. Sanders is the standard-bearer of the latter camp. (Senator Elizabeth Warren shares many of Mr. Sanders’s ideas, and has more carefully thought them through, but she’s failed to catch fire.)

The moderate wing – what Sanders supporters call “the establishment” – is Mr. Biden and Mr. Bloomberg.

Mr. Biden has considerable personal popularity thanks to his eight years as understudy to President Barack Obama. But his campaign lacks the money of Mr. Bloomberg, and the grassroots organization of Mr. Sanders. Late last week, the Biden campaign had just one campaign office in California – a state with more people than Canada – and it was padlocked. The state’s Bloomberg campaign had 24 offices. Mr. Sanders had 23. Mr. Bloomberg has spent already hundreds of millions of dollars blanketing the country with advertising through media. He deliberately bypassed the start of primary season, and his name was not on the ballot in the four states that voted last month. He’s aiming for a Super Tuesday surprise.

However, the only surprise he’s offered so far was his lead balloon performance in his first candidates’ debate. Visibly unprepared, he was quickly turned into the party’s pinata.

But his ads have been seen by far more voters than his debate fiasco. Super Tuesday will decide whether he has enough popularity to arrive at the convention as a kingmaker or potential compromise nominee, or whether his first date with voters ends with his campaign DOA.

And then there’s the radical wing, in the person of Mr. Sanders. On the one hand, his signature policy – health insurance for all Americans – is the status quo in every other developed country. Mr. Sanders’s health care plan is based in part on Canada’s medicare model, which is something even Canadian conservative parties don’t talk about dismantling.

Though his stated policies aren’t always that far out there, Mr. Sanders almost always plays up his own radicalism. He calls himself a socialist, even when he isn’t. Like Donald Trump, he’s an outsider; he’s been repeatedly elected to Congress as an independent, not a Democrat. And he often talks as if the enemy are moderate Democrats – the party’s Obamas and Bidens.

Mr. Sanders is, in short, hyperpolarizing – just like Mr. Trump. He energizes those who like him (also like Mr. Trump), which is why he’ll capture a big share of voters on Super Tuesday. But he disquiets a large part of the electorate, and risks turning off swing voters in swing states. It’s why the Democratic Party’s moderates are going to pull out all the stops to keep him from becoming their nominee.

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