Washington CNN  — 

Eight days ago, the political world was preparing for one of two scenarios:

1) Bernie Sanders runs away with key Super Tuesday states like California and Texas – and, in so doing, builds a delegate lead that begins to look insurmountable

2) Joe Biden shows some strength on Super Tuesday, staying within shouting distance of Sanders in the delegate count and setting up an extended delegate battle between the two men.

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Instead, a third scenario developed: Biden racked up a series of unexpected wins in places likes Texas, Minnesota and Massachusetts and kept it relatively close in California – producing a delegate lead for the former vice president heading into Super Tuesday II tomorrow.

All of which brings us to this: Does Sanders have to win Michigan on Tuesday to continue to make the case that he is a viable alternative to Biden?

The answer is probably.

Here’s why: Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Michigan primary. The electorate – 70%+ white and more than one-third white non-college-educated – should favor Sanders’ demonstrated base of support.

And it’s more than just the raw numbers. The dominant story in the national news media since Super Tuesday is of an energized Biden – buoyed by the support of many of his former rivals including, most recently, Sens. Kamala Harris (California) and Cory Booker (New Jersey).

If Sanders loses Michigan by a wide margin – and several post-Super Tuesday polls suggest that is what will happen – while also losing badly in places like Mississippi, which also votes on Tuesday, the Vermont senator could find himself in a deeply unenviable position: too far behind Biden in the delegate chase to make a reasonable case to all but his most loyal supporters that he has a chance to make a comeback.

The Point: Sanders’ fundraising ability and the loyalty of his core supporters mean he can stay in the race as long as he wants. But hanging on is very different from having a chance to win.