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What To Watch For When You're Watching Super Tuesday

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, whether it is for Biden or Sanders or another candidate, voters in 14 states and the U.S. territory of American Samoa are casting ballots for the Democratic presidential nominee. The stakes are high. Forty percent of the delegates needed to win the nomination will be awarded tonight. So to talk about what to look for tonight as these results come in, I'm joined by NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Give us your cheat sheet. What are we watching for tonight?

MONTANARO: Well, is this Biden surge for real? You know, we've seen the endorsements. We've heard it anecdotally on the ground today from people who were for either Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg and are now with Joe Biden. And we've seen some limited data that a surge is happening. But you know, let's see in the results tonight if that's true and, most importantly, if it's enough to overcome Bernie Sanders' advantage in California so Biden doesn't wind up too far behind.

KELLY: OK. And stay with California for a second. We just heard from Asma. Voters are fired up there today. This is the biggest prize of all for Super Tuesday and the election overall.

MONTANARO: Four hundred and fifteen delegates at stake there. That's about 30% of all the delegates at stake just today. So add up the nine states with the lowest delegate totals, and they don't add up to California today.

So Sanders has had big leads in recent days in California, and Latino turnout in the early exit polls is about 27%, which is about what was expected. But if Sanders runs up the margin with them like he did in Nevada, he could open up a delegate lead that no one would be able to catch. Biden has to hope that moderates coalesce around him and that Mike Bloomberg doesn't siphon too many votes away from him so that he can at least hit the delegate threshold of 15% in California to at least get some delegates to not let Sanders run away with it.

KELLY: Speaking of Mike Bloomberg - who, as we know, has spent $500 million, around about...

MONTANARO: Amazing.

KELLY: ...Amazing - on advertising - so he's been all over the TV screens. Everybody's been watching his ads. But he's on the ballot for the first time today.

MONTANARO: Yeah.

KELLY: What are your expectations?

MONTANARO: Yeah. This is the first time people are actually going to be voting for him. You know, we feel like you've seen him everywhere, and yet this is the first time people are going to judge him. He's spent about a quarter-billion dollars just on Super Tuesday ads and half a billion dollars overall on his campaign. Those are unfathomable numbers, really.

But his two debate performances - they've really appeared to hurt him in the polls. He hasn't gained the kind of traction he'd like. In California, for example, 60% of Democratic voters said that they had unfavorable opinion of him today. But he, like Elizabeth Warren - she has very passionate following. They have to win somewhere today to be able to get back in the conversation for the nomination. You know, Bloomberg and Warren's campaigns have acknowledged that they likely can't get enough delegates outside of a contested convention.

KELLY: Yeah. And I'm starting to hear those two words...

MONTANARO: Yep.

KELLY: ...From many directions. How real a possibility is it?

MONTANARO: Well, let's see after tonight. You know, this should be pretty clarifying as an event, you know, in some ways. We've already seen the field narrow. Does it get smaller tonight or tomorrow? How big of a lead does Bernie Sanders wind up with out of this? But I'm skeptical, to be honest, of a brokered convention because 90% of the delegates are going to be known and allocated by the end of April, and the convention in Milwaukee is not until July. That's three months from then.

So I have a hard time believing that they're not going to figure it out in that meantime because, you know, there's nothing more than the Democratic Party wants than to unify so that they're able to beat Donald Trump in the fall. So that three-month period of time - I have a hard time believing they're going to be arguing over 10% of the delegates. But who knows? We're in unique times.

KELLY: We certainly are. The big picture there from NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Thank you, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF KELLY LEE OWENS' "BIRD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.