Voting in 13 states plus one territory kicked off this morning, and by this evening it’s possible that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump will have effectively seized control of the nomination for their parties’ nominations. Several media outlets offered their take on what viewers should be looking for this evening as results come in, starting with ABC News:
For Hillary Clinton, it’s time to pull away. After a blowout of a win in South Carolina, Super Tuesday is a chance for Clinton to start putting together a delegate lead that could easily prove insurmountable. The truth is she only needs a middling night to make that the case. She could lose as many as five states to [Bernie] Sanders and still claim an overwhelming victory, given delegate allocation rules –- all states award proportionally on the Democratic side -– and her potential to rack up blowout wins in the Deep South. Texas, Georgia, and Virginia stand as the biggest opportunities for Clinton to leverage her advantage among African-American voters, and to test Sanders’ early strength among Latinos. Her team is well-positioned to teach a lesson Clinton’s own 2008 campaign learned painfully well: This is a battle for delegates, not just states, and demographic and regional differences –- along with voting quirks in some states – are more important than momentum in a drawn-out race.
CBS News offers a similar assessment for Clinton:
Since launching his presidential campaign last year, Bernie Sanders has shocked the Democratic establishment. The relatively unknown Vermont senator, who identifies as a Democratic socialist, nearly beat Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and soundly defeated her in the New Hampshire primaries.
Even so, Clinton managed to pick up her fair share of delegates in those first two contests and has since re-established her position as the dominant front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Clinton crushed Sanders in South Carolina on Saturday, and her strong support from African-Americans suggests she should do very well in the multiple, large Southern states that vote on Super Tuesday. Recent polls suggest the same.
Be sure to watch for her margin of victory in states like Texas, Georgia and Virginia, where Clinton could tally up a large number of delegates. It's also important to watch for whether she can claim victory in some of the states that Sanders hopes to win -- such as Massachusetts or Minnesota. If she does, Sanders' momentum may have fizzled out for good.
Over on the Republican side, most expect Trump to win nearly everywhere, but the question is, by how much? CBS also weighs in here:
Republican front-runner Donald Trump is poised to do very well on Super Tuesday. He has a huge lead in a new national poll, while he's in first or second place in surveys out of the larger Super Tuesday states.
One thing to watch for will be his margins of victory: Will Trump effectively sweep Super Tuesday, or will he have to share delegates with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio? It will also be worth watching the results, as well as exit polling, to find out what matters to voters: Do they care about the aggressive attacks, both personal and professional in nature, that Cruz and Rubio have thrown his way?
Another thing to watch is the GOP's reaction to Trump's performance. There are signs some in the establishment are ready to accept Trump as their nominee. For instance, he recently received his first Senate endorsement, from Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. On the other hand, Trump revealed on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that he doesn't feel he has the support of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, GOP insiders like Mitt Romney continue to criticize Trump.
The question for Trump is how big of a win he walks away with today. Two other Republican candidates face more crucial tests against each other, The New York Times reports:
Mr. Trump is favored on Tuesday in every state except Texas, but the battle between [Ted] Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio for second place is an important one. If one of the freshman senators were to emerge as a decisive runner-up, he could make the case that the other should exit the race to give the party a better chance at stopping Mr. Trump.
But the results might not lend themselves to such a clean outcome. Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio could trade second-place finishes across the map. And even if Mr. Rubio were to capture second place in all 11 states, Mr. Cruz could still win Texas outright and hold that victory up to argue that, as the only other candidate to beat Mr. Trump and win a state, he has every justification to go forward.
But after emphasizing the importance of March 1 to his campaign, and investing so much in winning support from evangelicals, Mr. Cruz would be in a rough spot if he were to finish behind Mr. Rubio in such Bible Belt states as Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
CNN refers to today as “The biggest day of Ted Cruz’s political career,” given the priority his campaign has placed on doing well on Super Tuesday’s southern states:
The first big question: Does he win Texas -- and by a big margin? If Cruz loses his home state, it will be both embarrassing and mean he's in for a very tough night nationwide, leaving him with no path forward in the campaign.
The second big question: Does he win anywhere else?
Cruz's strategy of racking up Southern and evangelical votes has been wrecked by Trump. Now, Cruz is trying to win delegates wherever he can. Four states could represent Cruz's best hopes: Oklahoma and Arkansas, his two neighboring states; Alaska, with its libertarian streak; and Georgia, a delegate-rich state that all three leading contenders see as in play.
For Rubio, the biggest single question seems to be: can he win anywhere? A string of second-place finishes is better than a string of third-place finishes, but eventually he needs to win something, according to ABC News:
If Marco Rubio wants to win, when he will he start, well, winning? His Trump-style insults notwithstanding, it’s possible that Rubio gets shut out again on Tuesday, after coming in second, fifth, second, and second through the first four contests. Rubio himself has said he doesn’t think he needs to win any primaries until March 15, when his home state of Florida goes to the polls. That’s a hard argument to make, particularly given the geographic diversity and sheer number of delegates at stake Super Tuesday. And that’s an impossible argument to make if he isn’t collecting delegates along the way. Rubio will need to over-perform in states with a better-educated and suburban GOP electorate -– Virginia, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Oklahoma –- and keep from getting shut out in the South. His goal is to exceed 20 percent of the vote in states where that guarantees a chunk of delegates; Ted Cruz’s home state of Texas is on that list, as are Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. The national establishment has been quick to embrace Rubio as the best Trump alternative after Jeb Bush’s exit from the race. But insults alone won’t take Rubio from hyped top prospect to a delegate-producing long-ball threat.
Back on the Democratic side, CNN suggests that Sanders’ performance with minority voters will be important to understanding whether he has a realistic chance at the nomination:
His New Hampshire win and close call in Iowa came on the backs of white voters. But faced with a more diverse electorate in the past two races, he has faltered. Minority voters in Las Vegas helped Clinton win the caucuses there and the primary in South Carolina….
It's an increasingly important challenge for Sanders. After Tuesday, the next major states to vote are Michigan, followed by five on March 15, all with significant minority populations.
There are four key states to watch for Sanders on Tuesday. Wins in Colorado and Oklahoma could bode well for Sanders' ability to rack up delegates in more rural western states throughout the latter half of March and early April. A win in Minnesota is a good sign as Great Lakes states begin to vote. And a win in Massachusetts would underscore the strength of his support among liberals -- the types of people he hopes will eventually help him win California, and therefore, the nomination, on June 7.
But that's a very rosy scenario that doesn't look likely right now.
The GOP side features two additional candidates, although their scant attention (mostly negative at that) suggests few expect anything of either of them, as ABC News suggests with its analysis:
Why are John Kasich and Ben Carson still running? That’s a slightly easier question regarding Kasich, who is banking on a Midwest strategy where he wins Michigan March 8 and his home state of Ohio a week later. But he looks likely to be limping into that critical stretch without a single win under his belt, with a terrible map confronting him Super Tuesday. That’s why he’s running ads in Vermont, though even that won’t be enough to vault him into serious contention. Kasich will also need strong showings in states like Massachusetts and Minnesota to emerge as the anti-Trump candidate, and only then if Cruz and Rubio effectively kill each other off. As for Carson, he’s going nowhere, and slowly, with his candidacy looking like a marketing scheme-gone-haywire that has the side effect of siphoning away potential Cruz voters. Carson has no viable path to the nomination, short of a series of crazy upsets that no pollster or strategist in the nation sees coming.
Polls begin closing at 7 p.m. Eastern tonight (Georgia, Vermont, and Virginia), with several more wrapping up at 8 p.m. (Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Tennessee), according to an article on the CBS News site (here). Texas, the day’s biggest prize on both sides, has some polling stations closing at 8 p.m. and others at 9 p.m. Several Western states have caucuses that aren’t likely to have results until after midnight Eastern time, but results and predictions will begin pouring in shortly after 8 p.m. tonight and many of these questions are likely to be answered before most people head to bed.