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Washington – Nevada votes next and then South Carolina. But top Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination are already looking ahead to the biggest prize on the primary calendar: Super Tuesday, the slate of contests when more than a dozen states go to the polls.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is holding a town hall on Thursday night in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, a day before Sen. Bernie Sanders makes two North Carolina stops, then hits Texas. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will campaign in California between fundraisers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

All four states vote March 3, along with a crush of others, from Alabama to Colorado and from Maine to Utah, as well as Warren’s home state of Massachusetts and Sanders’ native Vermont. More than 1,300 delegates to the Democratic National Convention are at stake, about a third of the total.

The focus on Super Tuesday comes at a pivotal point in the campaign. For Sanders and Buttigieg, who have emerged in strong positions after contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, the travel gives them an opportunity to show their national appeal and woo larger concentrations of nonwhite voters. For struggling candidates like Warren, it’s a signal that they are still in the fight.

And for everyone, it’s a chance to prove they won’t cede this swath of delegate-rich states to Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor who has spent months building his campaign around Super Tuesday. He campaigned in Tennessee on Wednesday and will be in Texas and North Carolina on Thursday.

“All bets are off this cycle,” said Texas Democratic strategist Colin Strother, who is bullish on Bloomberg’s chances of resonating in his state and beyond.

So far, there’s no sign that candidates are completely bypassing Nevada or South Carolina. Every leading contender will be in Nevada this weekend as early voting begins. Democrats will caucus there on Feb. 22.

But some are shifting their resources as they begin an awkward balancing act of paying attention to the remaining early states while stockpiling enough money to keep themselves in the conversation in the bevy of contests unfolding next month. Warren, for instance, will be in South Carolina on Friday but is pulling television advertising from the state after this weekend. Some of that money will instead go to the Super Tuesday state of Maine.

Bloomberg, who is self-funding his campaign, doesn’t have to make such considerations. He’s skipped the first four states to deploy a political shock-and-awe campaign after that, spending heavily on television ads while already hiring more than 2,100 staffers in 40 states and U.S. territories, including all voting on Super Tuesday.

Past candidates have tried to forgo the early states in favor of larger ones voting later, with little success – including another former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, in 2008. But Bloomberg is making a larger bet on doing so than anyone has. He’s worth an estimated $60 billion and has already spent more than $200 million to hastily build a campaign infrastructure – with promises of plenty more where that came from.

The candidates doing battle before Super Tuesday, meanwhile, are a study in contrasts. Warren has deep campaign infrastructure in around 30 states but little momentum. Former Vice President Joe Biden left New Hampshire for South Carolina before the polls even closed on Tuesday, has important connections there and is counting on that to carry him in other southern Super Tuesday states. But he, so far, has fared worse than Warren.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar placed a strong third in New Hampshire but hasn’t yet built a national campaign, while Buttigieg is on a roll but faces questions about his appeal beyond the early majority-white states.

Fresh off his New Hampshire win, Sanders has already predicted victory in Nevada and California, pointing in part to his campaign’s outreach to Hispanic voters. But he’s also bet on record turnout that never materialized in Iowa, despite his efforts to grow the electorate.

Warren and Sanders have been sharply critical of Bloomberg, accusing him of trying to buy the election. In a memo coming out of New Hampshire, Warren’s team sought to reassure supporters that it will find its political footing on Super Tuesday, arguing the senator should win the minimum support required to claim delegates – at least 15% – in 108 of the 150 districts voting, or two-thirds of the Super Tuesday map.

“Warren is poised to finish in the top two in eight of 14 Super Tuesday states and “in the top three in all of them,” Warren’s campaign manager, Roger Lau, wrote.

States like Texas and California are so large that on-the-ground retail politicking often doesn’t work well there. But Super Tuesday state residents have already seen weeks of Bloomberg ads, Strother said, and that could potentially already be swaying those participating in early voting, which is underway in places like Minnesota.

“It’s unprecedented what he’s doing and the money he’s spending,” Strother said. “He’s running a national campaign, which is what all these other candidates wish they could do.”

Limbaugh draws criticism

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh drew bipartisan criticism Thursday for saying the country won’t elect Pete Buttigieg president because he’s been “kissing his husband” on stage after debates.

Limbaugh’s comments came eight days after President Donald Trump awarded him the nation’s top civilian honor during the State of the Union address. Trump said Limbaugh inspires millions of people daily and thanked him for “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”

Limbaugh, a staunch Trump ally who recently announced he has advanced lung cancer, made the remarks on his nationally syndicated radio show. Buttigieg has finished in the top two in Democrats’ first two presidential contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“They’re saying, ‘OK, how’s this going to look?’” Limbaugh said Wednesday, imagining Democrats’ thinking. “Thirty-seven-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage, next to Mr. Man, Donald Trump.’”

Limbaugh’s remarks were the latest tendentious turn in a career in which he’s won an adoring audience among millions of conservative listeners, but condemnation from others for comments considered racist, sexist and offensive.

Buttigieg, 38, is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and has been married to his husband, Chasten, since 2018. Buttigieg was a U.S. Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan, is a Harvard graduate and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England.

Limbaugh said he envisioned Democrats concluding that “despite all the great wokeness and despite all the great ground that’s been covered, that America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy kissing his husband on the debate stage president.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is challenging Buttigieg for the Democratic presidential nomination, assailed Limbaugh on ABC’s “The View.”

“I mean, my God,” said Biden, who called it “part of the depravity of this administration.” He added, “Pete and I are competitors, but this guy has honor, he has courage, he is smart as hell.”

Some Capitol Hill Republicans said they disagreed with Limbaugh’s remark, while others demurred.

“I’m just going to leave all that alone,” said conservative Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who said she’d not heard the comment. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, facing reelection this fall, also declined to comment.

“It’s a miscalculation as to where the country is at,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a strong Trump supporter, told The Associated Press about Limbaugh’s words. “I think the country is not going to disqualify somebody because of their sexual orientation.”

Asked if Limbaugh should retain the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Trump bestowed last week during his State of the Union address, Graham said, “Well, my God. Free speech still exists.“

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said of Limbaugh, “He may disagree, as I do, with their policy positions, but the question is what their qualifications are, not other issues.” Portman announced his support for gay marriage in 2013 as he revealed that his son Will is gay.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a moderate who is retiring in January, initially said he wasn’t familiar with Limbaugh’s remarks and declined to comment. His spokesman later emailed an Alexander statement that said: “There may be reasons not to vote for Mayor Buttigieg, but that’s not one of them. This is a tolerant country.”

A Buttigieg campaign spokesman declined to comment.

But the candidate has addressed criticism over his sexuality before. During a Des Moines, Iowa, rally in 2019, an audience member asked what he should tell his friends who say America isn’t ready for a gay president. Buttigieg replied, “Tell your friends I said ‘hi.’”

The former mayor has also framed his sexuality in religious terms.

“If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” Buttigieg said. “If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

According to government websites, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Past winners have included Mother Teresa, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frank Sinatra. Under Trump, the award’s recipients have included golfer Tiger Woods, supply side economist Arthur Laffer and Edwin Meese III, who was a top aide to President Ronald Reagan.

The 69-year-old Limbaugh also said some Democrats may believe they should “get a gay guy kissing his husband on stage, ram it down Trump’s throat and beat him in the general election. Really? Having fun envisioning that.”

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