(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m Henry Olsen, and this is Round 30. Thankfully, I qualified just under the wire with enough individual donors to keep writing these things.

The Commentary

There’s a lot of talk about the positions of the Democratic top three. The assumption is that past is prologue, that Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders will drop out early after a few losses and determine who squares off in the endgame. But that just might not be so.

Brace for math.

Unlike the Republicans, Democrats’ jurisdictions award delegates proportionally. Moreover, a 15 percent floor for garnering any delegates means that as long as you are consistently getting a bit of the vote, you’re theoretically in the hunt. The race is also front-loaded, with about 40 percent of the delegates awarded by the end of Super Tuesday — which includes, in addition to Warren’s Massachusetts, the homes of some lower-tier candidates: Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke’s Texas; Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s California; and Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Minnesota. It stands to reason that these candidates will at least contest their home states even if they fail to win early. That sets up the following scenario:

Suppose Warren wins Iowa and New Hampshire but both Biden and Sanders break 20 percent. No one has a reason to drop out, as no competitor is on track to win a majority of delegates and each has the resources to continue the fight. If Harris hits 10 percent in both states, she would probably gamble on heavily black South Carolina as a place to resurrect her chances.

Suppose this pattern continues — only Biden’s strength among moderate black voters propels him to a South Carolina win while Warren’s weakness there drops her to third or fourth. Again, none of the top three has a reason to drop before Super Tuesday.

And once they all contest Super Tuesday, the die is cast. It would be extremely hard for anyone to subsequently win enough delegates to secure a clear first-ballot majority. Warren backers in this scenario would plead with Bernie Sanders to drop out for the good of the progressive cause, but why should he? Staying in the race allows him to hold on to one last hope he can win and at worst makes him a kingmaker at the convention.

A brokered convention is every political junkie’s dream. But unless someone breaks out of the pack or one of the top three plummets, it’s more likely this year than any time in the past six decades.

— Henry Olsen

The Ranking

Ranking not showing? Click here.

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Elizabeth Warren
2. Joe Biden
3. Bernie Sanders
4. Kamala D. Harris
5. Pete Buttigieg
6. Cory Booker
7. Amy Klobuchar UP 1
8. Julián Castro UP 1
9. Andrew Yang UP 1
10. Beto O’Rourke DOWN 3
11. Tim Ryan RETURNS TO RANKING
12. Tom Steyer DOWN 1
13. Steve Bullock DOWN 1

Falls off ranking: Michael Bennet, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Marianne Williamson

Last week’s ranking: Round 29 | Kamala Harris is ‘fading.’ But so was Joe Biden.

Don’t forget to click on the yellow highlighted text above to expand the Ranking Committee’s annotations. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Or if you didn’t qualify, maybe for one in October.

Read more on 2020:

Henry Olsen: Joe Walsh is a laughable candidate. So why are Never Trumpers promoting him?

Jennifer Rubin: Kirsten Gillibrand knew when to exit

Greg Sargent: Trump is a disaster on trade. Here’s Beto O’Rourke’s answer.

Eugene Robinson: Trump’s trade war could get him kicked out of office