It's the delegates, stupidby Nikki Tundel, Minnesota Public Radio
Super Tuesday becomes Super-Duper Tuesday. Thousands of delegates are up for grabs as voters in more than 20 states head to the polls.
St. Paul, Minn. — February 5 is Super Tuesday -- which is code for "a really important day if you have your heart set on being the president of the United States."
More delegates can be won on Super Tuesday than on other day during an election season. And White House-wannabes need those delegates.
Delegates, of course, are the people sent forth to represent the voters at national conventions. When it really comes down to it, it's the delegates who choose each party's presidential nominee.
With so many delegates up for grabs, Super Tuesday is a big deal for the candidates.
"Tomorrow is a special day," says Larry Jacobs. "It's probably going to go into the history books."
Jacobs directs the Humphrey Institute's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance. Jacobs says, this time around, Super Tuesday is more like Super-Duper Tuesday. That's because the number of delegates being awarded on this day has significantly increased.
In 2004, only 10 states voted on Super Tuesday. On February 5, more than 20 states, including Minnesota, will have their say. (Although in Minnesota, the Republican caucuses are non-binding, unlike the DFL ones.)
Jacobs says voting used to be much more spread out. A couple states one week. A couple more a few weeks later. Slowly but surely candidates would add delegates to their piles until they had enough support to win their party's nomination.
But some states got tired of seeing the presidential nominees crowned before they even had a chance to make themselves heard. That's why so many of them moved their primaries or caucuses up to February 5, or this year's Super Tuesday.
"This is a terrific opportunity for many states who were never really part of the decision as to who was going to be nominated by the parties," says Jacobs. "Unfortunately, in the past it tended to be pretty small states, states that were much less diverse and much less urban than the rest of the country. So I think this is a real breakthrough in widening the participation, in widening the opportunity for all of America to get involved in this very important decision."
Plus, voters see more of a reason to play a part in this year's primaries.
"For the first time in decades, the nomination of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is wide open," explains Jacobs. "We don't have a sitting vice president who is going to be running for president as we did with Al Gore running in 2000. Dick Cheney is not in the race. So things are wide open."
Heading into Super Tuesday, most candidates have been focusing their attention on the big states, the states that can offer them a large number of delegates. California. New York. New Jersey. All three have primaries tomorrow.
But, somewhat surprisingly, Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney all made appearances in Minnesota this past weekend. And Ron Paul was in town on Monday.
Minnesota has 88 delegates, as opposed to New York's 280 and California's 441. But, at this point, candidates are reaching out to second-tier states, like Minnesota, to pick up any delegates they can.
"This is numerical," says Jacobs. "We're in this battle where each of the campaigns is literally counting the number of delegates it needs to get the major majority to win the party's nomination."
And that means fly-over states like Minnesota have become lay-over states, with quick, last-minute visits from presidential hopefuls.
But whether or not they've been privy to candidate pit stops, people in two dozen states will head out to their primaries or caucuses on Super Tuesday.
"Super Tuesday is likely to decide the Republican nominee," proclaims Jacobs. "In a lot of polls, John McCain has a substantial advantage. Mitt Romney has two or three states where he appears out front, but McCain has a list that's two or three times longer."
Jacobs says it's highly probable that John McCain will scoop up enough delegates on Super Tuesday to be awarded the Republican nomination.
"On the Democratic side," he says, "it's almost certain the campaign will continue after tomorrow."
Polls show Clinton and Obama running neck in neck. And Jacobs says that's going to make for a long, perhaps brutal, battle for the Democratic Party nomination.