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I saw this float around Facebook. It seems it originated from the Twitter account of People For Bernie,

Bernard Sanders is the only candidate in history (in a competitive primary) to win the popular vote in the first 3 states. - People For Bernie

I went looking to corroborate it and it seems only NewsWeek is repeating the claim and their source may just be the Tweet above as it's cited in the article,

BERNIE SANDERS BECOMES FIRST CANDIDATE, DEMOCRAT OR REPUBLICAN, TO WIN POPULAR VOTE IN ALL 3 THREE EARLY VOTING STATES

It goes on to explain this,

The Vermont senator garnered primary popular vote victories in Iowa on February 3, New Hampshire on February 11 and Nevada on Saturday -- a first among any Republican or Democrat in history.

Keeping the claim at the "popular vote" - is that still true?

Has no other Democrat or Republican won the first three states in the primary?

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    Sounds wildly unlikely (and also dependent on how you define "competitive primary") – Colin Feb 23 at 19:50
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    @DanielRHicks: The claims in the texts quoted is not about "primaries"; only Evan's title for the thread is. – GEdgar Feb 24 at 14:25
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    So this is just my opinion, but they're probably using the term "competitive primary" to define a primary where the party is not running an incumbent president. For instance, Donald Trump in 2020 will technically win the first three states in the republican primary, but he's a sitting president so it's not really noteworthy. Similarly, Barack Obama did the same in 2012, GWB in 2004, and Clinton in 1996. – DenisS Feb 24 at 16:28
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    @Tal the problem with that is that, if we establish an actual definition that looks like that, you only need to go back as far as the 2000 DNC primary when Al Gore swept the primary. But of course some people would say "that's not competitive" and all of a sudden we're in "No True Scotsmen" territory. – DenisS Feb 24 at 16:43
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    @GEdgar - Then the title needs to be edited. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 24 at 16:57
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No, Bernie Sanders is not the first candidate to win the popular vote in the first 3 state primary elections or caucuses in a competitive year. For instance, as user Tgr points out, Jimmy Carter won the first 3 contests in 1980 despite facing stiff competition from Ted Kennedy.

Depending on the definition of "competitive primary" used (which neither source articulates), there are potentially several more examples. For instance, as the Newsweek article itself notes, Al Gore won the first 3 contests against Bill Bradley in 2000.

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  • Although this answer is useful as preliminary research, I don't think it quite qualifies as an answer. As a minimum you would need to provide a link to the Al Gore vs Bradley contests. – BobTheAverage Feb 23 at 20:22
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    Still not an answer. If you think the question is not possible to answer you should flag it. – pipe Feb 23 at 22:03
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    Jimmy Carter also won the first three contests in 1980: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Even though he was the incumbent, I'm not sure the election could be called non-competitive. – Tgr Feb 24 at 1:11
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    I consider the referral to Newsweek that is part of the question as a reference. It would be nicer to quote the relative section, and even nicer to find a more primary source than Newsweek to support it. – Oddthinking Feb 24 at 1:43
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    @Tgr it shows that the claim cannot be sustained under any reasonable definition of contested primary. – Colin Feb 24 at 4:22

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