What if Bernie *doesn't* win big today?

If this mixed up Democratic primary season has taught us anything thus far it’s that the “conventional wisdom” has been repeatedly falling on its face. We’ll see if that continues tonight, but for the moment it appears that everyone still believes Bernie Sanders will cruise out of Super Tuesday with a bunch of wins and large herd of earned delegates. Or at least that’s the prediction being made at The Hill this morning, among other sites holding similar positions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is poised to win the most delegates when 14 states vote on this cycle’s Super Tuesday, while former Vice President Joe Biden is looking to solidify his position as the centrist alternative.

Sanders is headed for a top finish in California and Texas, the two largest states to vote. The progressive independent should win California in blowout fashion, and he’s maintained a healthy lead in polls of Texas throughout the early voting period, when more than 1 million people cast ballots in the Democratic primary.

Centrist Democrats are frantically throwing their weight behind Biden in an effort to keep Sanders from building an insurmountable lead.

This was pretty much the position I was taking up until yesterday because it seemed so obvious. As recently as Sunday I was scoffing at the idea that Joe Biden was suddenly the “inevitable” nominee because Bernie was beating him in the Super Tuesday polls everywhere except for North Carolina. There are still reasons to believe that it will play out that way (which I’ll get to in a minute), but what if the conventional wisdom is once again wrong?

The only reason I’m raising the question this morning is that my earlier prognostication was based on the assumption that both Buttigieg and Klobuchar would still be in there swinging, at least until tonight, continuing to splinter the more centrist voters. But after yesterday’s somewhat surprising developments, the “moderate” lane has basically been cleared for Biden with the exceptions of the completely irrelevant Tulsi Gabbard and Mike Bloomberg, who has been taking broadsides from everyone else for weeks.

There obviously wasn’t time to do any comprehensive polling in the past 24 hours, so all of those polls showing Sanders with strong leads in delegate-rich states might be turning stale very quickly without any foreshadowing. If Biden is somehow able to consolidate the majority of the Buttigieg and Klobuchar voters today, it could add up to a ton of delegates and pretty much erase Sanders’ lead. And if that happens, Uncle Joe just might be Mr. Inevitable tomorrow morning.

There are a couple of reasons to believe that might not happen, however. One of those came with the surprising (at least to me) Morning Consult polling showing that the second choice for Klobuchar’s voters was actually split four ways, with the largest slice leaning toward Sanders. Also, she was on NBC this morning saying that there is no secret plan to crush Bernie to save the party. So Biden may not be the default benefactor. The Buttigieg voters probably lean a little more heavily toward Biden now, but that’s probably not a clean sweep either.

The next thing to remember is the effect that early voting, both by mail and at actual polling stations, is going to have. Particularly in California (but other states as well), millions of people have already cast their votes and those ballots can’t be reeled back in. All of the votes for Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar are now basically wasted unless they still somehow come in above 15% somewhere. Early voting will put a ceiling on how much of a surge Biden can realize from yesterday’s realignment.

The other wildcard in this game is Mike Bloomberg, of course. He’s been hit hard, but he’s still running a massive advertising campaign that’s reaching a lot of the less-motivated voters who aren’t glued to cable news all day. Well after the beating he took at the debates, Mike is still hitting 17% in California and 20% in Texas. He’s doing nearly that well in several other states and that’s primarily coming at Biden’s expense.

By the end of the night, roughly 1,300 of the less than 2,000 delegates needed to secure the nomination will have been awarded. If Sanders can hang on to the momentum we all thought he had until yesterday, he could realistically be nearly halfway to the delegate total he needs for the convention. Or at least he could be hanging on to enough delegates to stop anyone from reaching 50% if Bloomberg bags a large enough number.