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Everything You Need To Know About Super Tuesday

Illustration by Abbie Winters.
If you've been following the presidential debates and caucuses, you've watched as the field of candidates steadily continues to narrow. The pace is about to pick up: On March 1, voters in 12 states and one U.S. territory will head to the polls for the Super Tuesday contests. It's a chance for the presidential hopefuls to find out how they're doing — and a chance for a large portion of the American public to finally weigh in on the race. We're breaking down what you need to know as Super Tuesday approaches.

What's Super Tuesday?

It's a day like no other in the election season. Super Tuesday is when the largest number of primaries and caucuses take place on a single day, with races in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and American Samoa. Voting rules vary from state to state; some will hold primary elections, while others host caucuses. And the rules for the GOP and the Democrats sometimes differ even in the same state. (For a full list of when each state's voting events will take place, including on Super Tuesday and beyond, check out The New York Times' interactive graphic.)

Here's what's happening on March 1: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia all host primary elections for voters from both parties. Alaska will hold Republican caucuses on Super Tuesday, and Samoa will hold caucuses just for Democrats. Voters from both parties can attend caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota, but Republicans won't actually cast votes, as the Times explains, which leaves the party's delegates unfettered to any particular candidate. And in Wyoming, precinct caucuses — where voters decide which delegates will attend county conventions — will conclude on March 1, but state voters won't declare their support for candidates on Super Tuesday, Ballotpedia explains.

Why is it called Super Tuesday?

Super Tuesday is about more than just the huge number of voters expected to come that day. Because of where it falls in the campaign season, the balloting is traditionally a turning point that can make or break campaigns. This year, there are 595 Republican delegates and 865 Democratic delegates up for grabs, according to Ballotpedia, which just underscores how much is at stake.

Because of its size, Texas is the prize state in contention, with a total of 155 Republican delegates and 251 Democrats on the line. Polls have suggested Ted Cruz, who represents the state in the U.S. Senate, is in the lead among Republicans contenders, followed by Donald Trump. Among Democrats, meanwhile, Clinton is ahead in pre-primary polling, according to The Huffington Post.

What's in it for the Republican candidates?

Donald Trump has been the GOP's front-runner for much of the campaign season. He won the Nevada Republican caucus and primaries in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. Whether his victory is now inevitable, as some observers think, should become more obvious on Super Tuesday.

The party's other contenders aren't giving up, though. Trump lost the Iowa Republican caucus to Cruz, who, along with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, hit Trump hard at the GOP debate on February 25. For Ben Carson and John Kasich, though, low poll numbers on Super Tuesday could signal the end. (Last week, Kasich even suggested that, "nobody's going to win but Trump.") For more information on which states each Republican candidate needs to carry to win the party's nomination, check out this graphic from The New York Times.

How about the Democrats?

According to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, Bernie Sanders needs to win Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Vermont on Super Tuesday to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. "Underperforming his targets on Super Tuesday would mean that Sanders would have to make up more ground later on with less time left on the clock," Silver says. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton won the South Carolina Democratic primary by a large margin. So if Silver's estimates hold true, Sanders needs to secure some major wins on Super Tuesday to stay in the race.

What about the other states?

There's a lot more left to this election season, with other primaries scattered throughout the remaining months. Kansas caucuses and Louisiana primaries, for example, will be held on March 5. Ten days later, voters in several states with large populations — Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio — will get their chance to pick their party's candidate.

Even if you don't live in one of the states voting on Super Tuesday, the day's events could definitely foreshadow the choice you're likely to face at the ballot box in November. And as the list of Republican candidates narrows, get ready for even more intense debates as the election season rolls on.