Delegate math is interesting.

Nate Silver at 538 is projecting a high probability of no one walking into the convention with enough delegates. Who knows what’s actually going to happen between now and then, and who knows what outside intervention (I’m thinking Carter/Mondale/Clinton/Gore/Obama) will tip the scales, but…

There’s interesting delegate math for Tuesday.

Polls put Biden up across the south. Toss up in Texas. Sanders ahead everywhere else. Including by a bit over Warren in Massachusetts, and a tiny bit over Klobuchar in Minnesota. We’ll see.

Delegates are awarded proportionately in each state, and in each congressional district, from among the candidates reaching 15%. And that’s where life gets interesting.

Sanders is breaking 15% in every state coming up, and in almost every Congressional District. I haven’t done the counting, but it looks like he is leading in most congressional districts that vote Tuesday.

But “leading a state” doesn’t tell us very much about how the delegates are given out. Consider California, with 144 statewide delegates. The 538 polling average at this moment says:

Sanders 33, Biden 21, Warren 15, Bloomberg 14, Buttagieg 9, Klobuchar 5

If the vote turns out exactly like that, Sanders/Biden/Warren qualify for statewide delegates, and earn 69, 41, and 34 respectively.  (Math:  Sanders would get 33/(33+21+15) = 33/69 of 144, etc)

If Bloomberg goes up 1%, hits 15, he would also qualify and they would earn 57 for Sanders, 36 for Biden, and 25 each for Bloomberg and Warren.

If instead Warren dropped 1%, to 14%, only Sanders and Biden would qualify, and they would split the delegates 88-56.

That’s a pretty big swing, 30 delegates for Sanders, on whether Bloomberg or Warren or both hit 15%. And similar scenarios will be playing out across states and congressional districts across the country.

Back to the convention – Silver thinks that Sanders will arrive with the most delegates, just not a majority. His average projection has Sanders with 1641 of the 1991 he would need. That’s 350 short, and it makes the math around small delegate swings quite important.

Sanders needs as many two-way splits as possible.  He might in a few districts get a “winner-take-all” situation because the others divide the vote (or he rolls up a massive majority, as he is likely to do in Vermont).

Know what happens if Amy and Pete drop out?  California gets split four ways. If Warren drops out? California gets split three ways, with Biden/Bloomberg delegate horse-trading very likely in our future.

In other words, Sanders’ best look on is probably a one-on-one with Biden (maybe?), but his second best is for all of the major candidates to stay in, at least through Tuesday. That’s his best route for getting into two-way splits and pushing his delegate total near or above 50%.

Latest 538 averages – Who is near 15%?

 State Sanders Biden Bloomberg Warren Buttagieg Klobuchar Cali 33 21 14 15 9 5 Texas 28 28 18 12 7 4 NC 24 32 18 11 7 5 Virginia 26 27 19 11 10 6 Mass 27 15 13 22 13 7 Minn 25 13 7 13 11 27 Colorado 31 17 14 16 12 6 Tennessee 23 31 20 10 8 4 Alabama 20 37 20 8 7 4 Oklahoma 21 24 21 11 11 7 Arkansas 23 24 21 9 14 5 Utah 31 10 16 17 15 5 Maine 29 17 16 15 15 5 Vermont 57 7 8 9 12 5 Am Samoa 28 26 20 11 7 4

In several states, Klobuchar dropping out could push one or two candidates past the 15% line. Look at California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Arkansas. In several more candidates who are teetering just above the line would become more secure.

If Klobuchar drops out now, that would make it MORE likely, not less likely, that no one will reach a majority.

If Warren drops out, even if most of her votes went to Sanders, which I am not sure would happen, enough would go to the “others” to push some over the 15% line in some states (and in many congressional districts). It would be distinctly bad for Sanders, despite what his supporters are yammering for, for Elizabeth to leave the race now.

Strange race. Strange math.