BOSTON (CBS) – Return to your seat and buckle your seat belt. The race for president is about to encounter significant turbulence.

By the time the Super Tuesday results come into complete focus on Wednesday, we should have a clearer view of where the campaign is headed.

Joe Biden’s surprisingly strong showing in South Carolina, on top of his two best debate performances and a moving CNN Town Hall appearance, have revived his candidacy, but Super Tuesday could be perilous. Biden must run strongly in moderate southern states with large African-American voter blocs: Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas.

His biggest problem may not be Bernie Sanders, who’s been damaged by recent attention to the far-left elements of his ideology and been exposed as, for now at least, unable to compete with Biden for black votes. Instead, Biden must pray that the buzz around his resurgence overwhelms inroads made by Mike Bloomberg, who has been the only paid TV presence for weeks in some of these states.

If you see Bloomberg surpassing 15% (the threshold for delegates) in a bunch of states Tuesday night as you follow our coverage stream on CBSN Boston (8-10 p.m.) and watch us on TV38 (10-11 p.m.) and WBZ-TV (11 p.m.), it’s trouble for Biden.

Another key element to watch: is Elizabeth Warren breaking 15% anywhere? If she falls short and comes away with just a few delegates, the pressure for her to drop out of the race will intensify, Super Pac spending notwithstanding.

The exclusive Suffolk University/WBZ-TV/Boston Globe poll over the weekend showed Warren and Sanders in a virtual tie in Massachusetts, and while a home-court loss would be humiliating for her, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sanders nearly beat Hillary Clinton here four years ago, and polling before Warren entered the race showed nearly six-in-ten Massachusetts voters didn’t want her to run.

Should we wind up on Wednesday with a two-candidate race pitting the party’s leftward ideological drift versus the strategic imperative of nominating someone who can compete with President Trump among centrist and right-leaning voters, it will underscore something about campaign politics we’d all do well to keep in mind: underlying facts, often established very early on in an election cycle, are not often overwhelmed by the twists and turns of the campaign.

The underling facts here: this election is, like most that feature an incumbent on the ballot, going to be a referendum on that incumbent. Thus, the selection of a challenger is primarily a choice of who can best challenge the incumbent.

Jon Keller


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