As Hillary Clinton underwhelms in Iowa, barely eking out a tie with Bernie Sanders a thought that would have been ridiculous six months ago her supporters cling to the hope that she has a firewall in the later primaries due to her preponderance of support from African-American voters.
While Sanders has been getting only 20 percent of the black vote in most polls, he recently jumped to 27 percent in the Fox News's Jan. 24 survey. The Vermont senator, who has created a big and sustained lead in New Hampshire, will likely emerge from the first two skirmishes confident and full of momentum.
Then he'll hit South Carolina, a state where Clinton's African-American firewall will protect her and give her a big victory.
But after South Carolina, will the firewall hold?
We'll know on Super Tuesday (March 1), when the Democrats will select 1,017 delegates, about 43 percent of the 2,382 needed to for the nomination. The Super Tuesday states fall into three categories.
First are states where there is a large enough black vote to let Clinton dominate. These include Alabama (60 delegates), Virginia (110) and Georgia (116). In these states, the African-American proportion of the Democratic vote will likely top one-third and could go higher.
Next are states where there are enough black voters to deliver certain congressional districts to Clinton but not enough to control the vote throughout the state: Texas (252), Tennessee (76) and Arkansas (37). Texas, for example, selects about two-thirds of its delegates by district and the remainder through state-wide voting. African-Americans are only 12 percent of the Texas population and probably about 20 percent of the Democratic primary vote.
That leaves American Samoa, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Vermont (a total of 366 delegates) where the black vote is negligible.
So the solid black support for the former secretary of State should it continue would deliver to her strong wins in Virginia, Georgia and Alabama, for 286 delegates, and partial success in Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas, which account for 365 delegates, and would have no important impact on the remaining 366 delegates.
All this adds up to a Clinton plurality on March 1, but not the thumping sweep she would need to put the race away. Sanders will emerge from March 1 trailing but still alive, kicking and vigorous.
On March 5, 6 and 8, Kansas (37), Louisiana (58), Nebraska (30), Maine (30), Michigan (147) and Mississippi (41) select their delegates. Obviously, the Mississippi and Louisiana delegate selection will be dominated by the African-American vote, giving Clinton the edge on their combined 99 delegates. In Michigan, the black population will likely deliver certain districts to her, but with a statewide black population of 14 percent, it is unlikely to control the entire process. And the remaining delegates come from states with few black voters.
The nomination will probably be decided on March 15, when Florida (246 delegates, 17 percent black), Illinois (182 delegates, 15 percent black), Missouri (84 delegates, 12 percent black), North Carolina (121 delegates, 22 percent black) and Ohio (159 delegates, 13 percent black) all vote. The winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio will probably decide the nomination, but to win these states, Clinton cannot depend on ethnicity to deliver the delegates. She has to win them on her own.