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First Super Tuesday polls set to close as Democratic contest heads into crucial stretch

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Image: Voters will cast ballots in Democratic primaries in 14 states on "Su
Voters will cast ballots in Democratic primaries in 14 states on "Super Tuesday," March 3, 2020.   -   Copyright  Chelsea Stahl NBC News
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Polls are set to close within the hour in two Super Tuesday states — with 12 more and one U.S. territory to follow later in the night — as the contest for the Democratic Party's presidential nominee heads into a do-or-die stretch.

A total of 1,344 pledged delegates will ultimately be awarded as a result of the biggest voting night of the primary calendar. The goal of the Democratic presidential primary is to amass delegates to capture the nomination, not popular votes, and winning states does not necessarily mean a candidate will win the most delegates.

Heading into Tuesday evening, Bernie Sanders led in the pledged delegate count with 60. Joe Biden was second with 53. Elizabeth Warren had just eight. Mike Bloomberg, meanwhile, had zero because the Super Tuesday contests are the first for which he is on the ballot.

The race for the Democratic nomination has changed rapidly in the days leading up to Super Tuesday. On Saturday night, Biden, who had poor finishes in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, won the South Carolina primary in a landslide victory.

His big win — which signaled that he could be the presumptive favorite in the party's moderate lane — prompted Pete Buttigieg to exit the race SundayandAmy Klobuchar to follow suit on Monday. Both endorsed Biden Monday.

Polls in Virginia and Vermont close Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. ET, and in North Carolina 30 minutes later. Ninety-nine pledged delegates are at stake in Virginia, while 16 are at stake in Vermont and 110 are there for the taking in North Carolina.

At 8:00 p.m. ET, polls close in Alabama (52 pledged delegates), Maine (24 pledged delegate), Massachusetts (91 pledged delegates), Oklahoma (37 pledged delegates), Tennessee (64 pledged delegates) and Arkansas (31 pledged delegates). Most polls in Texas — the second-biggest prize of night with 228 delegates — also close at 8 p.m. ET.

A half-hour later, polls close in Colorado, where 67 delegates are at stake.

Polls in Minnesota, which has 75 delegates at stake, close at 9:00 p.m. ET, as do the last polls in Texas.

Utah is next, at 10:00 p.m. ET, with 29 delegates up for grabs.

Then, at 11:00 p.m. ET, California polls will close. With 415 delegates, it's the biggest haul of the night.

To earn pledged delegates, a candidate must get at least 15 percent support statewide or in an individual congressional district. Delegates are awarded proportionally in each state to candidates who surpass those thresholds.

The 1,344 total pledged delegates at stake Tuesday night account for about 34 percent of all the pledged delegates up for grabs in the entire Democratic primary. By the end of Super Tuesday, 38 percent of all pledged delegates will have been awarded

There are a total of 3,979 pledged delegates in the nominating race. A majority of that total — 1,991 — is required to secure the Democratic presidential nomination on the first ballot at the convention in July.