Primary 2016: A Preview of the March 8 Democratic Primary Contests

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The race continues on as voters in both parties go to the polls across the country today.

Most of the action will take place on the Republican side of things as four states; Michigan, Idaho, Mississippi, and Hawaii cast their ballots. There are only two contests taking place for the Democrats, Michigan and Mississippi, but these arguably hold more importance than the Republican elections.

With that being the case, here is a preview of the two Democratic Party contests.

Michigan

Who votes?: Michigan is an open primary. People are allowed to vote regardless of party registration.

Poll closings: Most polls will close at 8:00 p.m. EST. Small parts of Michigan are in the Central Time Zone so the last polls will close at 9:00 p.m. EST.

Delegate Allocation & Thresholds: 147 total delegates available: 130 pledged delegates; 17 unpledged superdelegates. 85 awarded by district; 45 awarded statewide; 15% threshold to receive delegates at either the state or district level.

District Allocation: 85 district delegates are awarded proportionally based on each candidate’s performances in Michigan’s 14 congressional districts, so long as they meet the 15% threshold required.

As is typically the case in Democratic primary states, delegates are assigned to each district based on population. A few important ones to watch are District 5, home of Flint, MI; Districts 7 and 8, home to the college towns of Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) and East Lansing (Michigan State); and District 13, which includes Detroit.

Statewide Allocation: 45 pledged delegates are given to the candidates, proportionally, based on their total statewide vote.

What to keep an eye on: Will Bernie Sanders’ relentless hammering of Clinton over her support of past trade agreements carry the day? It is no secret Michigan has been negatively affected by previous trade agreements. In fact, of the top 20 congressional districts hit the hardest by NAFTA, 10 of them are in Michigan. So obviously Sanders is trying to stir up that anger to his advantage.  

The other issue hanging over the state is the water crisis taking place in Flint. Both candidates have called on Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to resign and this was of particular focus at their debate in Flint on Sunday night.

There is little daylight between the two on this issue but as we have seen throughout the race, African-American voters have gone heavily toward Clinton. Can Bernie use the Flint crisis to finally begin making inroads with African-Americans? If he can, and if he is able to do really well in the districts hardest hit by trade deals, he could pull an upset.

It should be noted that while every poll has Clinton ahead by a mile, her campaign is saying they expect the state to be very close. Maybe they are just playing the expectations game. Or maybe they see Sanders’ message resonating more than they are comfortable with.

Mississippi

Who votes?: Mississippi is an open primary. People are allowed to vote regardless of party registration.

Poll closings: Polls will close at 8:00 p.m. EST

Delegate Allocation & Thresholds: 41 total delegates available: 36 pledged delegates; 5 unpledged superdelegates. 23 awarded by district; 13 awarded statewide; 15% threshold to receive delegates at either the state or district level.

District Allocation: 23 delegates are allocated proportionally to candidates who receive at least 15% of the vote.

Mississippi also assigns delegates based on population. The district to watch is CD2 which includes the state capital of Jackson and the Mississippi Delta. This district has the most delegates at stake with nine.

Statewide Allocation: 13 of Mississippi’s pledged delegates are given to the candidates, proportionally, based on their total statewide vote.

What to keep an eye on: Will Bernie Sanders receive any statewide delegates? The most recent Mississippi poll had him at 11%; below the 15% minimum threshold. The same poll had Clinton getting 65% of the statewide vote.

This will all depend on Clinton’s margin of victory among black voters, who made up 44% of the primary electorate in 2008. As I mentioned above, Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district is the one to watch since it will largely determine how big Clinton will win the state.

Jackson, MS has one of the largest percentages of African-American voters of any metro area in the country. And the state’s largest concentration of black voters is in the Mississippi Delta region, which encompasses the western part of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo River.

For Bernie Sanders, he will need to close the gap by doing well in the more white areas of the state. The largest concentration of white voters are in the northeastern part of the state and in the southern counties surrounding Biloxi.

Look for a map similar to the one we saw in 2008. Obama won here 61% to 37% and was carried by a 91% to 9% advantage over Clinton with black voters. By contrast, white voters backed Clinton by a 72% to 21% margin. Sander’s needs to win by a similar margin if he is to walk away with any statewide delegates.

If Clinton did very well with white voters on Super Tuesday. If she duplicates it here today, Mississippi may be her biggest margin of victory yet.

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