Nearly two-thirds of delegates to party’s July convention will be awarded in March

WASHINGTONBernie Sanders is investing in California. Elizabeth Warren is rivaling Michael Bloombergs staffing presence in delegate-rich states. Joe Biden plans to press a nationwide advantage with a diverse swath of the Democratic electorate.Several of the leading Democratic candidates are girding for a long fight for the presidential nomination by making a series of bets on states that will be part of a slate of Super Tuesday contests and other primaries scheduled for March, when nearly two-thirds of the delegates to the partys July convention will be awarded.Even as the candidates are seeking a boost in Iowa, which holds its caucuses Feb. 3, and in New Hampshire, which will have the nations first primary Feb. 11, the front-loaded nature of the 2020 primary map is forcing campaigns to make decisions early about which states to target after the first round of Democratic voting wraps up in Nevada and South Carolina by late February.
They cant be everywhere, said Steve Elmendorf, a senior adviser to three Democratic presidential campaigns in previous cycles. I dont think any of them are capable of competing in all of these states. They have to look at the map and figure out where is my best chance of breaking through.
Mr. Biden remains a national front-runner and has an edge with black Democrats in South Carolina. But polling in the early states shows a tight contest between Messrs. Biden and Sanders and Ms. Warren. Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in close contention in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is banking on a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses.
Candidates typically try to win in the first four states to create a sense of momentum. But in a crowded field that could see multiple candidates win early contests, the rules set by the Democratic National Committee give them an incentive to look toward March. That is because Democrats dont award delegates based on a winner-take-all model in states. Instead, a candidate collects a proportional share of delegates by winning at least 15% of the vote statewide or in any congressional district.
Super Tuesday, on March 3, includes 14 states and two other contests, accounting for more than one-third of the total delegates at stake. California, Texas and North Carolina offer the three biggest prizes on that day.
Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Mr. Sanders, said California has received his campaigns biggest investment of the March 3 states because it has the most significant delegate haul and early voting ballots are mailed a month before the primary. Mr. Sanders has more than 80 staffers and will have 16 offices in the state.
But the Sanders campaign has staff on the ground in at least a half-dozen other states and has tweaked its strategy to learn from his previous White House bid. Mr. Weaver has written that Mr. Sanders concentrated in 2016 on a handful of states because he didnt have the resources to compete in every Super Tuesday battleground, including in the South.
Mr. Weaver said in an interview that in addition to winning some states outright, you also have to make sure that even in the states you dont win, that you maximize the number of delegates so you dont end up in a delegate deficit, something that happened to us last time.
Mr. Biden is devising a strategy for March that doesnt emphasize any state but instead revolves around winning delegates broadly, helped by his well-known political brand and his solid support among black and Latino Democrats. He has about 400 staffers in his Philadelphia headquarters and around the country and has hired state directors or senior advisers in seven of the 14 states that are holding contests on March 3.
Mr. Biden has followed the path laid out by the past nominees Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama by seeking to win over black Democrats and other members of the partys diverse electorate and cross the 15% threshold in many states. The former vice president has locked down endorsements from 15 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who represent many of the delegate-rich districts where he is expected to compete in such places as Dallas; Birmingham, Ala.; Durham, N.C.; and Hampton Roads, Va.
There are some places where your dollar goes twice as far, said Becca Siegel, the Biden campaigns chief analytics officer. Our strategy is more about districts than about states, and frankly what it really is about iswere drawing the tightest line between a dollar spent and a delegate won.
Ms. Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, is betting that deploying tons of people across the country will help keep her viable even if she cant string together raw-vote wins in places like Iowa. Ms. Warrens campaign manager, Roger Lau, said Friday that she had more than 1,000 staff on the ground nationwide in 31 states, spread across roughly 100 offices nationwide, in addition to workers in Washington, D.C.
We expect this to be a long nomination fight and have built our campaign to sustain well past Super Tuesday, Mr. Lau said. He said the campaign would stay resilient no matter what breathless media narratives come when voting begins in Iowa.
In the days after the caucuses, Ms. Warren is planning to do TV interviews by satellite in Super Tuesday states, according to a person familiar with the matter.
We are organizing everywhere from the first four states to Super Tuesday and beyond, said Brendan Summers, Ms. Warrens delegate adviser. He said that in addition to hoping to win states outright, the campaign was undertaking a nuts-and-bolts, how do you get around 1,990 delegates on the first ballot kind of way to the nomination.
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Her staffing at this point could rival that of Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire entrepreneur and former New York City mayor, who is skipping the first four states and has poured hundreds of millions of dollars of his own fortune into a Super Tuesday-focused campaign strategy. He has field offices and staffers in every March 3 state, with more than 1,000 staffers on payroll overall.
Mr. Bloomberg has spent nearly $93 million on ads in Super Tuesday states. Of that amount, his campaign has spent about $55 million on ads in California and Texas.
Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar have followed the traditional Democratic model of trying to make a splash in Iowa. The former mayor has generally relied on volunteers outside the four early states, with paid staffers overseeing those efforts, a senior campaign aide said. In California, the campaign hired a state director and a small team.
Ms. Klobuchar, a lower-polling candidate with fewer resources than some of her rivals, has focused almost exclusively on Iowa, where she is pitching herself as a Heartland native.
—Eliza Collins and Tarini Parti in Washington and John McCormick in Chicago contributed to this article.
Write to Ken Thomas at ken.thomas@wsj.com and Joshua Jamerson at joshua.jamerson@wsj.com
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