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Bernie Sanders wins Colorado Democratic caucuses

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders has won Colorado's Democratic caucuses, according to NBC's projections.

Sanders definitely needed a win in Colorado to keep his campaign alive, and he was expected to pull it off. The state's electorate is heavy on white liberals, among whom Sanders has done very well, and Latinos, among whom he's been competitive. And Colorado was one of the states the Sanders campaign focused its energies on in the days leading up to Super Tuesday.

Along with wins in Oklahoma and Vermont, and a possible win in Minnesota, the Colorado win is evidence that Sanders has maintained the momentum he's had since the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary with certain segments of the electorate. But it's not clear that will be enough to carry him to a competitive finish in the Democratic race.

What does this mean for the Democratic race?

The real measure of how important Colorado is to the broader Democratic primary battle is whether it makes it more or less likely that Bernie Sanders will be able to catch up to Hillary Clinton's support. Because the primary calendar is spread out, it's totally plausible that Clinton could come out to an early lead as her stronger states vote early — then watch it evaporate as pro-Sanders states turned out to the polls later. (Or vice versa.)

One way to figure out if Clinton's lead is temporary, or if Sanders is running out of time to close the gap, is to work backward. If Sanders and Clinton had exactly equal amounts of support among all Democratic primary voters in America, what would the race look like right now? What would have happened in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, and what would happen in the Super Tuesday states tonight?

Nate Silver and the team at FiveThirtyEight have one way of estimating that. They use the demographics of each state to predict how much that state would "lean" toward Clinton or Sanders if the race were tied nationally.

According to that model, if Sanders were tied with Clinton nationally he'd be beating her by 11 points in Colorado. In other words, his win in Colorado isn't going to help him catch up to Clinton — it's just keeping him on pace. And since Sanders has underperformed in other states, including Massachusetts, it's not clear whether this win will be enough.