Equally hard to overstate is the all-day media maelstrom that accompanies it. Anyone who has watched one state’s primary results roll in, knows that one state alone can cause quite a show. But when you have thirteen states all voting at once? That’s a full-blown media spectacle with pundits, analysts and news stations all scrambling to call states and offer takes before the next. That’s all happening in the midst of a mad rush of candidates dramatically spinning the results, declaring victory or even admitting defeat.
So what, technically, are the stakes on Super Tuesday?
Well, that changes depending on the number of states holding their primary on Super Tuesday. This year, twelve states and one territory are holding their primary on Super Tuesday: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and American Samoa.
That means a whopping total of 1,526 delegates are up for grabs among an ever dwindling pool of candidates. The once crowded Republican field now consists of only Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and John Kasich, while the Democratic race continues to be showdown between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Of course the impact of Super Tuesday extends beyond a cold count of delegates won. There’s an arguably bigger prize at stake: momentum. A strong showing can save a campaign that’s on its last legs, or alternately end the race as some candidates clearly outpace the crowd. Super Tuesday is one of the last chances for swing votes to really swing, as the publicity of these results is likely to sway undecided voters. This day tends to give advantage to candidates who know how to win over the crowd and who are nationally well-known. This year, that’s Trump and Clinton.
As voters head out to fill out their ballot, almost every poll available shows Trump dominant. The only exception is Texas where Cruz is leading. Winning Texas, a state famous for the last stand at the Aalmo, is crucial for Cruz who has pegged his own last stand on winning his home state with backing from evangelicals and conservatives. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio is gambling everything, not on tonight’s jackpot, but rather on winning his home state of Florida in a few weeks. However, it’s not clear whether winning Florida that late would knock Trump down a peg as frontrunner, nor is it clear whether Rubio can even pull out a win in his home state.
The Democratic Super Tuesday votes are just as crucial. Although Clinton is drastically leading in many states (Texas, Virginia, Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama), Sanders is leading or not far behind Clinton in Vermont, Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Many expect Super Tuesday to be a telling day between Clinton and Sanders, possibly the final turn of the tide in what has been a surprisingly contentious race. If Sanders gains a large amount of support on Super Tuesday, proving once again he can upset the predictions, the primaries will continue to be important throughout the spring. However, if Clinton dominates on Super Tuesday, it will put her far enough ahead that it would be nearly impossible for Sanders to make up the difference.
Once Super Tuesday has come to an end, we will certainly begin to turn our eyes to the other large primaries that follow close behind in March such as North Carolina, Florida, Missouri and Illinois. However, we will do this with a sharper focus and more crystalline picture of what the final results may be. The final primaries may not take place until June, but make no mistake, the die is cast on Super Tuesday.