Super Tuesday could answer big political questions: frontrunner, Russia, money, party split

Next Tuesday, “Super Tuesday,” could produce important answers to some of this year’s most fascinating political questions.  It’s the biggest voting day this year, except Election Day itself.

This year, for the first time, Maine will be join the big show.  On a single day, Democrats will elect 1,357 of the 3,979 delegates who will vote on the first ballot at the party’s July national convention.

In March, the Democratic field will narrow, and the nominee might emerge.  By the end of the month, the Democrats will have chosen 65 percent of their elected delegates.

Before Tuesday, only four states with 155 delegates will have voted.  On Tuesday, Democrats in 14 states, with 40 percent of the total national population, will vote.  Primaries in that many states all across the country, could provide some key answers about the Democrats’ ultimate choice.

Maine matters.  With so much riding on Tuesday’s votes, the media will look for national patterns.  Maine is considered a “purple state,” one that could go either way in the national election, so who Mainers prefer as the Democratic standard bearer will attract attention.

Remember, though, that many primary voters are the party’s most active members.  They will number many fewer than the party’s voters in November and may not be typical of those general election voters.

The primaries will say much about the value of the torrent of polling.  So many people now refuse to participate in polls that their value in predicting real-time action is questionable.  Super Tuesday presents a good opportunity to compare actual results with polling forecasts.

But that’s only true for state-by-state polls.  The media regularly reports national poll results, but a candidate’s support may not be evenly spread across states.  National poll results are of limited value unless they are overwhelmingly for a single candidate.  That has not yet happened.

Is there a frontrunner?  With so few delegates selected, the race is still open.  Democrats dole out delegates roughly in proportion to the vote, and several could survive with good delegate counts.  There might be no frontrunner or Tuesday could pick one.

In 2016, even though Trump had far less than majority support, his lead gave him momentum.  That turned him into the GOP frontrunner.  That could happen to a Democrat next week.

The Democrats are supposedly split between “liberals,” like Sanders and Warren and “centrists,” like Biden, Klobuchar, Buttigieg and Bloomberg.  Super Tuesday could reveal the party’s direction.  But candidates’ positions show that all are more liberal than President Obama.  The split could lessen.

The influence of money on politics should be reasonably clear when the dust settles.  Will only the best funded survive?

Coming into Super Tuesday, only Sen. Bernie Sanders and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg have almost unlimited campaign war chests.  Their money buys them television time and campaign boots on the ground.  Will it make them winners?

One of the most important results of the voting will be about the ability of candidates to raise money for the remaining primaries.  Fare poorly and contributions can dry up.  After Tuesday, some candidates could run out of money.  So a vote is an investment that can help a candidate survive.

If ever there were a day on which Russia would want to have influence, it is this big primary day.  Intelligence reports say Russia favors Sanders, presumably either because they see him as a weak adversary or a sure loser to Donald Trump, President Putin’s obvious favorite.  Will Russia meddle?

What about the Republicans?  In Maine, only Trump will appear on the ballot.  Some states will skip GOP primaries.  That could deny Bill Weld, Trump’s sole opponent, any support.  Weld received nine percent of the vote in New Hampshire, a possible sign of some GOP uneasiness with Trump.

Republicans run winner-take-all primaries, so Trump should get all the votes.  An uncontested candidate has no reason to use campaign funds to get out the vote.  In Maine, it may not be fair to compare the GOP turnout with the total Democratic vote in a highly contested race.

But it would be fair to compare the Democratic turnout, both in Maine and other states, with previous party voting.  To win nationally, it appears that the Democrats seek a large turnout, especially of women and the young plus a repeat of the African-American participation in the Obama elections.

Tuesday might be the right night to stay up to see election results, with almost all state reports ready soon after 11 p.m EST.  This year, because Maine will figure in the result, it could be worth watching.  But, first, be sure to vote.


Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.