Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is putting a focus on key Super Tuesday states that will vote just three days after South Carolina’s primary, underscoring how he believes a good night on March 3 could make him the runaway favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders has already visited all but a handful of the 14 Super Tuesday states and he’ll campaign at a rapid clip across the country in the final hours before March 3.
The Vermont senator will spend Friday and Saturday in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s home state of Massachusetts before campaigning in Virginia on Saturday night.
Sunday is reserved for rallies in California, the most delegate-rich state in the nation, where he’ll be joined by iconic rap group Public Enemy, legendary actor Dick Van Dyke and comedian Sarah Silverman at rallies in Los Angeles and San Jose.
On Monday, Sanders will hit Utah and Minnesota, where popular folk singer Nathaniel Rateliffe will perform for him in St. Paul. He’ll spend Election Day in his home state of Vermont, another Super Tuesday state that he’ll likely win big.
“We’re poised to do well on Super Tuesday,” Sanders told volunteers on an organizing call on Thursday.
“We have money and we’re putting TV ads on and radio ads on and newspaper and all that stuff, but I’ve always believed what’s most important is that we’re investing in is a grassroots movement … and that’s why I believe we stand an excellent chance to win the Democratic primary.”
Even during the run-up to his massive victory in the Nevada caucuses last weekend, Sanders bounced between Texas and California, drawing huge crowds to rallies in the two biggest states to vote on March 3.
With the exception of the billionaire candidates, Sanders has spent more money on the airwaves in the 14 Super Tuesday states than the rest of his rivals.
Sanders’s blockbuster fundraising has allowed him to staff up and get on the airwaves early in the Super Tuesday states, while his polling advantages have freed him up to travel while rivals are tied down.
According to data from Ad Analytics, Sanders has spent close to $16 million in the 14 states, leaving Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in a distant second place at about $3.8 million.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is focused on saving his campaign in South Carolina, only went up with a six-figure ad buy in several Super Tuesday states this week. He is at $915,000 so far.
The Biden campaign is betting that a big victory in South Carolina – he’s leading by 20 points in some polls – will launch a comeback narrative and reframe the contest between him and Sanders heading into Super Tuesday.
Biden’s allies say he’ll also outperform in states that are close to South Carolina, such as North Carolina and Virginia. They expect Biden to perform strongly as well in Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.
“No doubt Bernie has an advantage at this point,” said Rufus Gifford, a Biden supporter and the finance director for former President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
“But South Carolina will lead to shift in momentum and polling in this campaign. I’m not saying we’re coming out on top on Super Tuesday, but I like where we’re positioned. We should get an infusion of cash coming out of South Carolina and that will help us compete in some of those places.”
Biden on Wednesday had his best day of fundraising since his launch, bringing in $1.2 million in a 24-hour period.
But he’ll have to capitalize quickly on that momentum because Sanders has spent the past month plowing millions of dollars into his operations in Texas and California.
Friday marks the 10th day of early voting in Texas. Close to 100,000 have already cast ballots at a time when polls show Sanders with a small lead over Biden.
Over the past two weeks, Sanders drew 28,000 people to rallies in El Paso, San Antonio, Houston and Austin, punctuated by a 12,700-person gathering in downtown Austin where he was endorsed by former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.
Biden will visit Texas on Monday, his first trip to the Lone Star State since January.
But California looks to be the state where Sanders could really do damage.
The Sanders campaign has 105 paid staffers and 22 offices open in the state and volunteers have knocked on nearly 1 million doors. The progressive independent has strong support among Latinos, who make up 35 percent of the adult population in California.
At rallies, staffers have been collecting mail-in ballots to turn them in to the county registrars in bulk. The Sanders campaign has prioritized reaching out to independent “No Party Preference” voters who can vote in the Democratic primary.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to expand the Democratic electorate this cycle and we aren’t going to waste it,” said Sanders’s California state director, Rafael Navar.
The Sanders campaign has talked a lot about bringing new people into the process, but there have been hits and misses along the way.
“He’s not going to come anywhere near generating the kind of participation of young folks that Barack did in 2008,” Biden said Thursday on NBC’s The Today Show.
And the Super Tuesday polls are a bit of a mixed bag for Sanders. He’s not running away in the polls by any stretch.
Sanders appears to have a comfortable lead in California, but he’s only edging Biden in Texas.
Sanders is the heavy favorite to win in Vermont, Utah, Maine and Colorado. More than 11,000 people attended his rally in Denver earlier this month.
He’s also favored to win in Massachusetts, which could potentially knock Warren out of the race. Sanders has events in Boston and Springfield this weekend.
But polling is sparse in most of the rest of the states, and momentum after the South Carolina could be an important factor in the South, where there will be more conservative and black voters.
Nobody knows how pronounced former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s decline will be after two rough debate performances. Biden could stand to gain if Bloomberg continues to fall.
“Joe and Bernie have the highest name ID and so buzz going into Tuesday is really going to matter,” said Gifford. “Does Bernie have an advantage in a state like California? Of course. But I believe that sooner rather than later there’s going to be a coalescing around an alternative to Bernie, and it will be around Joe.”