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Eye On Candidates
March 16, 2016

Clinton, Trump Have Very, Very Good Nights

Last night’s results aren’t quite complete, with recounts possible in Missouri on both the Democratic and Republican sides, but the takeaway this morning seems to be that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had an excellent night and businessman Donald Trump did very well also. Dan Balz of The Washington Post summarized much of the conventional thinking this morning with the following article:

A good night for Trump and a better night for Clinton

It was a good night for Donald Trump and an even better night for Hillary Clinton. On one of the most important days of the primary season, the two front-runners continued what has become an inexorable march to their party’s presidential nominations and a general election matchup that was unimagined when this campaign began.

For Clinton, it was a night to bounce back after her surprising defeat in Michigan at the hands of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont last week. She did so in stunning fashion. With questions swirling about her candidacy, Clinton answered her critics with a series of victories that padded a lead in delegates that now has become almost insurmountable.

For Trump, it was a night in which he won at least three states and sent one rival, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, to the sidelines. But Trump was unable to put away a second, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Like Clinton, the New York billionaire added to his delegate lead over Kasich and his nearest competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. But the overall results still left open the prospect that the GOP nomination will not be decided until the party assembles in July in Cleveland for its national convention.

The great night for Clinton was of course a bad night for her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders:

The Ohio results represented a back-breaking blow to Sanders. His populist, anti-establishment insurgency has fired the energies of the party’s grass-roots progressives, and there is little doubt that he has both the determination and the resources to keep fighting. His campaign has accomplished far more than almost anyone anticipated and he has shaped the issue agenda and the dialogue in the Democratic nomination contest.

For all those assets, Sanders has fallen behind in the unforgiving arithmetic of the way Democrats choose their nominees. Clinton’s lead has been built by taking advantage of states where the demographics tilt heavily in her favor, particularly those with substantial populations of African Americans, while holding Sanders close in the states he has won….

Because Democrats award pledged delegates proportionally, Sanders needs not only a string of victories but also popular vote margins large enough to pick up delegates in bushel baskets, contest by contest. For those who have questioned the quality of Clinton’s campaign, there’s no doubting the effectiveness of her delegate-focused strategy.

The New York Times suggests this morning that last night’s results are further evidence of a “ceiling” for Sanders’ support:

Mr. Sanders has a strong and durable political coalition, just not one that ultimately adds up to victory in a Democratic primary. Young people continue to support him — he won among voters under 45 in every state but Florida on Tuesday — as do white voters in most states. But Mr. Sanders would have needed to make deep inroads with nonwhites by now to have a strong shot at the nomination, and he has not.

As things stand now, Clinton won four of the five contests and holds a narrow lead in Missouri, potentially giving Clinton a sweep of the day’s events. All in all, a pretty great day for the Democratic frontrunner – it’s not quite accurate to say she has clinched the nomination, but it will be very, very difficult for Sanders to catch up, as Politico reports this morning:

Bernie Sanders is falling further and further behind in pledged delegates — but even after Hillary Clinton’s Tuesday romp, his campaign says there’s a longshot strategy that lets him regain momentum and win the Democratic nomination by relying on superdelegates even if he comes into the Philadelphia convention still trailing Clinton.

Sanders’ campaign thinks the next few weeks of the campaign calendar favor him and is preparing plans to make the uphill case to the superdelegates—the 718 activists and elected officials who can vote however they please—that his late-breaking momentum would make him a stronger nominee that they should support over Clinton.

The Sanders forces have a big hill to climb: 467 of the superdelegates are currently pledged to Clinton, compared to 26 for Sanders, according to an Associated Press count. She also has at least a 324-vote lead in pledged delegates. But the Sanders campaign says that in a few weeks they will have the momentum to make their case.

On the Republican side, Trump had a pretty good day too, winning at least three and possibly four of the day’s contests (he holds a narrow lead over Cruz in the not-yet-finalized Missouri vote totals). National Journal writer Josh Kraushaar explains just how good of a day it was for Trump:

If it wasn’t already clear, last night’s res­ults un­der­scored that Don­ald Trump is a Te­flon can­did­ate who draws strength from the kind of con­tro­versy that would end most nor­mal cam­paigns. The fren­zied protests last week­end that led to Trump can­cel­ling a Chica­go rally only helped Trump build on his sup­port from a dis­af­fected Re­pub­lic­an elect­or­ate.  His clashes with the me­dia are win­ning him sup­port from con­ser­vat­ive voters who nev­er trus­ted the press in the first place.  His aver­sion to facts and de­tails are ir­rel­ev­ant to Re­pub­lic­ans who want strength and bluster from their stand­ard-bear­er.

In­deed, Trump went a long way in se­cur­ing the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­a­tion Tues­day night, slowly ex­pand­ing his sup­port with­in the Re­pub­lic­an party even as GOP res­ist­ance against him is in­tensi­fy­ing. He won 46 per­cent of the vote in Marco Ru­bio’s home state of Flor­ida, des­pite anti-Trump out­side groups sat­ur­at­ing the air­waves there with over $10 mil­lion in scath­ing anti-Trump at­tack ads. He nearly hit 40 per­cent in Illinois, win­ning com­fort­ably in the af­flu­ent Chica­go­land sub­urbs where his rivals’ mes­sage seemed a bet­ter fit. Even his lone loss in Ohio was something of a mor­al vic­tory: He tal­lied 36 per­cent of the vote in a state where Ohio Gov. John Kasich scores sky-high ap­prov­al rat­ings.

For Trump, the name of the game is still win­ning a ma­jor­ity of del­eg­ates to avoid a con­tested con­ven­tion, a task that re­mains chal­len­ging. He needs to win about 55 per­cent of the re­main­ing del­eg­ates to hit the ma­gic 1,237 num­ber; my Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port col­league Dave Wasser­man cal­cu­lated he won about 67 per­cent of avail­able del­eg­ates last night. But equally im­port­ant, he shattered the no­tion of wide­spread GOP voter res­ist­ance, demon­strat­ing a geo­graph­ic and ideo­lo­gic­al breadth of sup­port that will make him tough to beat in many of the re­main­ing states, even with a con­sol­id­ated field….

…[T]he only can­did­ate that can real­ist­ic­ally win the nom­in­a­tion out­right is Trump. Circle two dates on the cal­en­dar to de­term­ine if he’s on a path to do­ing so: April 5, when Gov. Scott Walk­er will be­come the face of the anti-Trump move­ment in Wis­con­sin and April 26, when five North­east­ern states head to the polls. If Trump can pair his South­ern dom­in­ance with a Mid­west­ern near-sweep in three weeks, he will be hard to stop. These races will of­fer a test of wheth­er Cruz can ex­pand his sup­port out­side his com­fort zone and wheth­er Kasich can par­lay his home-state vic­tory in­to mo­mentum along the I-95 cor­ridor and in the Rust Belt.

Trump has two opponents remaining at this point, and while Kasich won Ohio it isn’t clear how he has a path to the nomination, as Politico reports:

John Kasich tasted victory for the first time in 2016 with a primary win in Ohio, and it came at precisely the moment he lost his chance to become the Republican presidential nominee without unprecedented chaos.

Despite the victory celebration at Kasich’s Ohio headquarters, there are not enough contests left – with enough delegates at stake – to lift Kasich to the top of the GOP field ahead of the Republican National Convention in July.

Indeed, Kasich would need to secure more than 100 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination without going to a contested convention….

His team now is left to hope that Donald Trump, too, fails to acquire enough delegates to seal the nomination before the convention.

The hope of the Kasich campaign appears to be in a contested convention in which he emerges as a consensus choice. But to do that he would need to rack up considerably more delegates than he has now – arriving at the GOP convention in Cleveland with far fewer than Cruz and Trump doesn’t seem like the obvious path to the nomination – and there doesn’t seem to be many opportunities ahead for him to make big gains to close the gap, as The Hill (and numerous others) suggest:

The importance of Kasich’s win shouldn’t be overstated. He has won no other state so far, and it is not immediately clear where he can hope to do so again. Even his 66-delegate haul from Ohio won’t be enough to overtake the now-defunct campaign of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for third place.  

Kasich could, theoretically, accumulate delegates over the rest of the process, deny Trump an outright majority, and make his case before the convention. But the idea that Nominee Kasich emerges from that scenario stretches credulity to breaking point.

While Kasich’s path to the nomination is implausible but not impossible, the one Republican with a realistic chance of beating Trump didn’t have a good night, according to The Hill:

Cruz did not suffer anything like as bad a night as Rubio or Sanders. He may yet emerge with a win from one state, Missouri. 

But it was a tough night for the Texas senator, all the same. He came in third in Florida and Ohio and, more to the point, won few delegates. Meanwhile, he will have been irked by Kasich’s Ohio win, which ensures a three-man race for some time to come. 

The map ahead is also challenging for Cruz. His southern heartland has already voted whereas more difficult territory in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions looms. 

Cruz is still Trump’s biggest threat, but the businessman had a much, much better night on Tuesday.

The departure of Rubio potentially benefits Cruz – or Kasich, or even possibly Trump. It will take a few more contests to find out for sure where the Florida senator’s supporters go. And a recount could potentially give Cruz the win in Missouri. But all in all, the Cruz team was likely hoping for a more decisive outcome, one that left them as the sole challenger to Trump, and they didn’t get it.

As expected, last night’s results clarified the race significantly – Clinton is in a commanding lead, while the Republican field has narrowed to a frontrunner, a clear challenger, and a single longshot with the ability to draw votes from the challenger but probably not the frontrunner. The Democrats have several more contests in March (caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and Washington, plus primaries in Arizona and Utah), and if Sanders is going to mount a comeback he needs to win most or even all of them, and win by large margins.

On the Republican side only two contests remain this month, primaries in Arizona and Utah, as well as Wisconsin’s primary in early April. The most likely outcome from these contests is that the candidates either pad their delegate totals or fall further behind, without really affecting the dynamic of the race. For that, we will probably have to wait until April 19, when New York votes, and the following week when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island hold primaries as well.