Pete Buttigieg in Columbia

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., speaks to a crowd in Columbia in March as he runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. File/Andy Shain/Staff

California's governor declared last week that he ran "an early voting state" in the 2020 presidential primary.

He's about right.

California's primary, along with some 10 others that make up Super Tuesday, comes just 72 hours after polls close Feb. 29 in South Carolina — a more traditional early primary state that now could face some changes.

"I don't think it helps," said Carol Fowler, a former S.C. Democratic Party chairwoman. "I don't think it's terribly horrible either."

South Carolina, known for catapulting future nominees, will not get left out with the cramped primary schedule. Twenty candidates say they are coming to the S.C. Democratic Convention later this month.

But after the New Year, South Carolina will likely get fewer visits as some candidates chase delegates. And the fourth state on the primary calendar could get less post-election attention with Super Tuesday approaching so quickly.

A look at the numbers helps us understand why Super Tuesday headliners California, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts will get attention.

Super Tuesday voters will select at least 1,400 delegates on March 3. And in the following two weeks, more than another 1,000 delegates will be assigned.

Nearly two out of three of all pledged delegates heading to the national convention in Milwaukee will be chosen in the 17 days after South Carolina votes.

The four early presidential primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — are not delegate builders. Together, they account for less than 5 percent of the projected delegate total.

"Their significance is mostly in generating political momentum and showing the strength of your candidacy," Jeff Berman, former national director of delegate operations for Obama 2008, told a group of journalists at a Chicago conference in April.

The dense primary schedule could sway the race and how some candidates campaign. 

​"Campaigns are going to start making decisions, but South Carolina is still the cheapest state to campaign in," S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said. "And if you don't perform well in (diverse) Nevada and South Carolina, odds are you will not get much support on Super Tuesday."

In 2008, the last time the Democratic presidential nomination was this wide open, South Carolina had more breathing room. Super Tuesday came 10 days after South Carolina's primary — tamping down the influence from bigger states like California and from voters casting early ballots. 

"Early voting can be very important, but, in the past, it was not decisive," Berman said.

Cory Booker in Winnsboro

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker holds a town hall at a Winnsboro high school in February during his Democratic presidential campaign. File/Andy Shain/Staff

But with the new schedule and expanded early voting, a political data expert told The New York Times that he estimates 45 percent of California's votes could be cast before the South Carolina primary.

Candidates will approach the crowded front-loaded schedule differently, Berman said.

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"Those who feel that they have a very strong chance in South Carolina are obviously going to work it very hard," he said. "Others may look to other states to some degree for delegates because there are so many delegates available on Super Tuesday."

Right now, South Carolina is a focus of Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, who are banking on South Carolina where more than 60 percent of Democratic primary voters are black. Among those who could end up concentrating more on other states are Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, who are drawing little African American support in South Carolina primary polls. 

South Carolina Democratic leaders said they did not expect major fallout from the crowded 2020 primary schedule.

Candidates are visiting early primary states sooner than usual to make strong first impressions, former S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges said. Presidential hopefuls might send more surrogates in the final weeks before the primaries to spread their message over more states. 

"This is requiring them to juggle their schedules in a way that they haven't in the past," Hodges said.

Jaime Harrison, another former state party chief, said South Carolina remains vital because it's still the South's first primary. Super Tuesday includes Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee in addition to North Carolina and Virginia. And Georgia is widely expected to join the March 3 states.

"We're the gateway to the South," Harrison said.

Berman, who joined the O'Rourke campaign last month, did not think South Carolina would be ignored for delegate-rich states. Hot-shot performers in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada will have incentive to stop in South Carolina.

"Skipping states, especially crucial early states, is not usually a good formula," he said.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Andy Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

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