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Opinion: What's Super Tuesday, and Why Should We Care?

Monday, March 05, 2012 - 10:12 AM

Super Tuesday (vox_efx)

Super Tuesday is a political event where a bunch of states hold presidential primaries and caucuses all at once. The particular states holding primaries on Super Tuesday have varied from year to year, and who’s in and out is determined by national political party rules, which are constantly changing.

The phrase "Super Tuesday" was probably first used in 1984, when there were three clusters of races dubbed “Super Tuesday III.”

In 1992, Super Tuesday was on March 10. After losing several primaries, Bill Clinton was the comeback kid, winning Southern contests and going on to get the Democratic nomination.

In 1996, Super Tuesday was on March 12, when Bob Dole swept the day's primaries and locked up the Republican nomination.

In 2000, Super Tuesday was on March 7, when sixteen states held primaries, which, at the time, was the largest number of sates in a presidential primary election day in U.S. history. Democratic vice president Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush consolidated their leads and both went on to win their parties' nomination.

In 2008, Super Tuesday was on February 5, when 24 states held primaries or caucuses. That year 52 percent of all pledged Democratic Party delegates and 41% of the total Republican Party delegates were selected. Twenty-four states and American Samoa held either caucuses or primaries. Hillary Clinton won more delegates, but Barack Obama won more states; it was declared a draw. Senator John McCain won the most delegates of any Republican and emerged as the front-runner. Mitt Romney won eight states; Mike Huckabee won five states and was able to stay in the race for a while longer.

This year Super Tuesday will be on March 6 and involves only 10 states: Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.

There will be 437 delegates up for grabs; but all the contestants will be able to accumulate delegates, because in the GOP we are back to the dreaded proportional allocation of delegates. That diminishes the impact of Super Tuesday this year, so I expect it to change nothing but the rhetoric. No doubt if Newt Gingrich wins Georgia he’ll declare victory—even though he will only get a proportion of the 76 delegates at stake.

So I say, take Super Tuesday 2012 with a huge, gigantic grain of salt, because it very likely will change nothing. This year the GOP party rules have undermined the punch of that cluster of primaries. The four contenders will march on after the frenzy.

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