Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quest for the Democratic presidential nomination has a problem. Actually, it has a number of issues: party elites aren’t endorsing the candidate, he has limited support outside his Vermont-style white liberal base, he showed some support for Second Amendment rights in a party that tends to push gun control, and he’s not even a Democrat – he’s an Independent. I could go on, but one specific problem threatens to stop Sanders’ building momentum in its tracks. That problem is Super Tuesday.

What is Super Tuesday?

Super Tuesday is a presidential primary tradition, a Tuesday in Feburary or March when a number of states simultaneously hold their primary contests. These contests typically signal a new stage in the primary.

Before Super Tuesday, only a few smaller states hold contests – next year it looks like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will – and those contests give lesser-known, underfunded candidates a chance to prove themselves and thus gain media attention, build a national profile and raise the money necessary to make a credible run at their party’s nomination.

On Super Tuesday, the presidential primary goes national. Candidates are forced to compete in a large number of states at the same time – which means their organizations have to be able to mobilize supporters, buy ads, get their messages out and ultimately win contests on a much larger playing field. Candidates who fare poorly on Super Tuesday, like those who fail to gain traction in early primary states, often realize they have little chance at winning their party’s nomination and drop out.

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