Super Mars: What is it and why is it so important?

  • By Jude Sheer
  • BBC News, Washington

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See: Why this Super Tuesday isn't as exciting as days past

Super Tuesday, the biggest day yet in the 2024 race for the White House, is almost upon us.

On March 5, voters in 15 states and one US territory will choose candidates for president.

It should provide a glimpse into the strengths and potential weaknesses of Joe Biden and Donald Trump as the two bitter rivals head toward a rematch in the November general election.

What is Super Mars?

When most states vote on the presidential primary calendar.

Nominating contests will be held in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and the US territory of American Samoa.

Republican contests will be in all 15 of these states, while Democrats will vote in the same states except Alaska. They will also hold caucuses in American Samoa.

We'll also get the results of the Democratic primary in Iowa, which has been in the mail for weeks.

How many representatives are there to win?

Based on the results of each contest, party executives called delegates are awarded to top candidates. A certain number of delegates are needed to formally anoint a candidate at each party's convention this summer.

About a third of all delegates — 865 Republicans and at least 1,420 Democrats — are up for grabs on Super Tuesday.

The Trump campaign predicted he would win at least 773 delegates that day and clinch the nomination in March. He currently has an estimated 244 delegates, while his Republican rival, Nikki Haley, has 43.

A Republican needs at least 1,215 delegates to win the nomination, while the magic number is 1,968 for Democrats.

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What's at stake for Trump?

With a double-digit lead in the polls, the Republican front-runner hopes to finally knock his last rival out of the race.

Former U.N. Ambassador Ms. Haley has won only one of nearly a dozen nomination votes so far, but is still standing despite deep-pocketed donors lining their wallets.

Although she has no clear path to victory, Super Tuesday could be her last chance to halt Mr Trump's momentum or expose his potential vulnerabilities heading into the general election.

In some contests to date, Mr. Trump has struggled to win over college-educated suburbanites — a statistic that could ultimately scuttle his dream of a White House comeback.

What about Biden?

Despite long-standing challenges from Congressman Dean Phillips and self-help author Marion Williamson, the Democratic president is certain to seal his party's nomination.

The Biden campaign suffered a setback in Michigan on February 27, when 13% of voters declared themselves “undecided,” amid a campaign to register opposition to the president's support for Israel.

Last-minute campaigns are being put together for similar protest votes in other states on Super Tuesday. Similar efforts are underway in states like California, Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota and Vermont.

More broadly, exit poll data from around the country could reveal whether the enthusiasm gap between key constituencies, including younger voters, is challenging his re-election bid.

When will the result be known?

As voting takes place across six time zones, the final result is not immediately known.

Results will trickle in as polling closes on the East Coast in the evening.

American networks, including the BBC's US partner CBS News, are expected to start calling the states from around 20:00 ET (01:00 GMT).

What are the other matches to watch?

All eyes will be on North Carolina, the only general election battleground vote on Tuesday. Mr Trump beat Mr Biden in 2020 by one percentage point.

Mr Trump remains on the ballot in Colorado and Maine despite attempts by the two states to disqualify him following the Supreme Court ruling, saying he was inciting insurrection.

A potential wild card is that many states are completely open to voters regardless of party registration. One is Virginia, where Republican voters have a relatively moderate reputation.

Old Dominion State may be Ms. Haley's best hope of consolation in what is predicted to be a tough night.

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