Democratic and Republican candidates have spent days scrambling from California to New York, and in between, racing from tarmac to town hall meeting, staging rallies, conducting satellite interviews, filling the airwaves with ads and stuffing mailboxes with their targeted appeals.
Convention delegates: A graphic in Tuesday's Section A of Super Tuesday states defined the "winner take all" type of primary inaccurately. Candidates in each state receiving the most votes from a party's state caucuses or primary do not necessarily get all of that state's delegates at the national convention. Rather, the candidate receiving the most votes from a party's state caucuses, a state primary or within a specific voting category —such as a congressional district -- gets the delegates within that voting category, and some at-large delegates may also be awarded based on criteria unique to that state. For example, California's Republican primary is winner-take-all by congressional district, with candidates winning additional delegates for carrying the statewide vote.
The goal is simple: to acquire as many delegates as possible. But the distance is vast and the rules for most contests vary, adding layers of complexity to the challenge facing candidates and their strategists.
Why are so many states voting at once?
Because politicians and party activists across the country wanted a bigger say in the nominating process. The two major parties set today as the first day most states could schedule their elections without penalty. (Florida, for instance, was stripped of delegates for holding its primary last week.) After California and other big states moved forward, others worried about being overshadowed. So they set their elections for today as well.
Is the vote the same for both parties in every state?
No. In Kansas, for example, Democrats vote today and Republicans on Saturday. West Virginia Republicans will pick delegates today at a state convention, but Democrats won't vote until May. Some states are holding primaries, others caucuses.
Why isn't there more uniformity?
Because the two major political parties have no say over how states conduct elections. The parties can use incentives -- like giving or taking away delegates to this summer's national nominating conventions -- to get the states to comply with their wishes. But in the end, states are free to run elections as they choose.
Do the states decide how delegates are awarded?
No, that is decided by the political parties, which also determine who can vote in their primary or caucus. In some states, unaffiliated or "independent" voters can participate, but that varies by party. In California, independents can vote in today's Democratic primary but not the GOP's.
How do the parties parcel out their delegates?
That's where things get really complicated. The Republican system is designed to hasten selection of a nominee so the party can unify behind the front-runner. To that end, the GOP in most states awards delegates on a winner-take-all basis. The formula varies; in some states, such as Arizona and Missouri, all the delegates go to the winner of the statewide popular vote. In other states, like California and Alabama, it is winner-take-all by congressional district, with candidates winning additional delegates for carrying the statewide vote. In a few other states, Alaska and Massachusetts among them, delegates are awarded proportionally based on the overall vote.
Democrats tend to worry more about giving different groups a say in the process. So they award their delegates proportionally through a combination of the statewide vote and a candidate's performance in individual congressional districts. Democrats have no winner-take-all states. That means a candidate can lose the popular vote in a state but, by running strongly in certain areas, walk away with a healthy chunk of delegates.
How many delegates are at stake today?
On the Democratic side, 1,681 pledged delegates are up for grabs in 22 states and American Samoa; it takes 2,025 delegates to secure the Democratic nomination at the party's August convention in Denver. On the Republican side, there will be contests in 21 states with 1,015 pledged delegates at stake; it takes 1,191 to win the nomination at the GOP's September convention in Minneapolis.
Who's ahead in delegates so far?