But make no mistake: South Carolina is the last chance for the non-Sanders candidates to turn the tide of this primary campaign.
Winning 45% of the delegates on Super Tuesday will allow Sanders to build a large delegate lead. Biden and Bloomberg would be well behind him (probably less than half his delegate haul). Most of the other candidates would score only a minimal amount of delegates on Super Tuesday.
Someone who isn’t Sanders would need to start winning contests by large margins to become competitive. But if the current political environment holds, that strikes me as unlikely.
The good news for the candidates not named Sanders is that South Carolina stands in the way of Sanders and a Super Tuesday rout. Sanders could win the Palmetto State, but he isn’t ahead.
A Biden win could give the non-Sanders candidates new life. We’ve already seen how the polls changed after Sanders did well in the first three contests. The polls could shift again if Biden were to emerge victorious in South Carolina.
Of course, there are a number of differences between this year and 2008. The time frame is more compressed between South Carolina and Super Tuesday. Additionally, Biden’s margin in South Carolina is likely to be considerably less than Obama’s near-30-point win.
Still, the analogy is important because it shows that it isn’t too late for the non-Sanders candidates.
If a non-Sanders candidate (almost certainly Biden) can win in South Carolina, Sanders’ Super Tuesday pathway becomes cloudier. He’ll likely lose some points nationally. Someone else will pick up some ground (probably whoever wins South Carolina). The delegate math becomes dicier.
Ultimately, even a South Carolina win for someone other than Sanders may not prove enough. Sanders would still be favored to win a plurality of delegates overall.
It would at least be a race, however. Sanders would not be an almost-certain winner.
Of course, if Sanders were to win South Carolina, Biden would likely be forced out of the race, and Sanders would have an even clearer path to the nomination.