Five states hold primary elections today, and on the Republican side the Northern Mariana Islands territory has already held caucuses as well (the islands are on the other side of the international date line, and so today’s caucuses have already come and gone – businessman Donald Trump won, receiving all nine delegates). This morning the media is filled with expectation-setting and explanations of what the various outcomes might mean. Here is some of what The New York Times will be looking for in the results this evening:
What We’re Watching as 5 States Hold Crucial Primaries
The Republican presidential campaign will not end next week, or even next month. But voters in the five states casting ballots on Tuesday will go a long way toward determining whether Donald J. Trump can win the 1,237 delegates necessary to claim the party’s nomination.
If Mr. Trump loses Ohio (possible) or Florida (less likely) and wins less-than-commanding victories in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, he would face the strong possibility of falling short of a delegate majority and entering a contested Republican convention this summer. But with victories in the home states of two of his rivals, he could end the campaigns of Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, leaving Senator Ted Cruz of Texas as the only candidate still standing in his way….
While Florida and Ohio have been receiving the lion’s share of attention because they are the home states of two of the four remaining contenders, there are some other big prizes as well, as the Times reminds us:
Illinois and Missouri, which allocate a handful of delegates to the statewide winner and the rest to the top vote-getter in each of their congressional districts, could be just as important. If Mr. Trump overwhelms his competition in each, capturing every congressional district, he could effectively turn them into winner-take-all states.
But Mr. Kasich has aggressively campaigned in the Chicago area, and Mr. Cruz has stumped in nearly every corner of both the states. If together they can win a substantial number of the combined 26 congressional districts in both contests, it would limit Mr. Trump’s haul and mitigate the impact of his winning Florida, Ohio or both.
The biggest wild card may be the heavily black congressional districts in Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City: They offer the same number of delegates as the most conservative Republican districts in the rural reaches of each state. Mr. Rubio has fared best in cities so far, but his collapse offers opportunities to the other Republican hopefuls.
CNN includes in their preview of the evening at the two candidates whose ability to continue the race could depend on winning their home states today:
The two most important Republican contests to watch are the winner-take-all states: 99-delegate Florida and 66-delegate Ohio.
Both have home-state favorites in Rubio and Kasich -- and both are fighting to save their campaigns by beating Trump.
Neither has left much doubt: It's win or stay home.
Rubio and Kasich have justified their decisions to stay in the race by pointing to their delegate-rich home states as turning points -- even though they haven't racked up many wins on the way.
For Rubio the “do or die” moment, as CNN puts it, is very real (at least politically speaking):
The situation is especially dire for Rubio, who has trailed Trump by a 2-to-1 margin in recent polls of his home state's likely GOP primary voters.
Backers have been patient with the 44-year-old Florida senator, buoyed by the political talent he has flashed -- especially on the debate stage. And there is a sense that he'd perform better when the race reaches more moderate coastal states. But a poor performance in his home state may mean the end for his 2016 ambitions.
On the Democratic side, USA Today suggests that depending on how well Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders does, it could set the stage for a “long Clinton-Sanders duel”:
Hillary Clinton had hoped Tuesday's primaries in five states in the South and Midwest would cement her grip on the Democratic presidential nomination.
Instead, they’re expected to make clear the race will be a slog for many weeks.
Clinton holds a wide lead in Florida and North Carolina, but recent polls show a tight race in Missouri and Sanders narrowing her advantage in Illinois and Ohio. After the Vermont senator pulled off a surprise victory last week in Michigan, closing a 20-point gap in polls, backers of both candidates expect more gains for Sanders on Tuesday….
What Tuesday's contests could mean, though, is that Clinton will be forced to spend significantly more time fending off attacks from Sanders as opposed to positioning herself for the general election. This is especially problematic for her on the issue of trade, an emotionally charged topic in industrial Midwestern states and one that Republican front-runner Donald Trump is also emphasizing.
The close competition in states like Illinois and Ohio demonstrates the difficulty Clinton is having in selling her proposals for creating manufacturing jobs versus Sanders’ more visceral focus on previous trade deals many voters believe contributed to the hollowing out of the Rust Belt, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed into law by her husband in 1993….
With all of the attention on Trump (how big will he win?), Kasich and Rubio (will they win their home states or be forced to drop out?) and Clinton and Sanders (will it continue to be a competitive contest?), not much attention has been paid to Cruz in the last few days – but he could wind up the evening’s biggest winner.
If either Kasich or Rubio drops out, preferably (from Cruz’s standpoint) both, that puts Cruz closer to the one-on-one contest his campaign believes it can prevail in, and he is also positioned to collect a large number of delegates tonight (but probably not as many as Trump).
The Wall Street Journal has been following Cruz, and it notes the strong ground game he is building in Missouri:
As rival politicians poured their energy into bigger states like Ohio and Florida, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz was determined not to overlook Missouri, hoping to unlock the support of voters focused on gun rights and religion.
With Missouri’s primary slated for Tuesday, Mr. Cruz deployed surrogates here tactically, sending his wife, Heidi, to speak at a Republican dinner outside of St. Louis on Saturday night and his father, Rafael Cruz, a preacher, to this city on Monday, stirring up voters who feared their rights to express their religious beliefs and to own guns were under siege….
Polls in Missouri suggest that Republican front-runner Donald Trump may have an edge over Mr. Cruz. But unlike winner-take-all states like Ohio, Missouri will award delegates on a proportional basis, meaning the strategically oriented Mr. Cruz could still have something to show for his efforts in the Show Me State….
Mr. Trump held a rally in Kansas City on Saturday, while contenders John Kasich, the Ohio governor, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have less of a visible presence here, disappointing some Missouri Republicans who prefer the two men but fear that supporting either would waste a vote. But Mr. Cruz, who appealed to voters at his own event in a St. Louis suburb on Saturday, is clearly playing to win in Missouri. His pathway for success could lie in part with evangelicals, who voted for Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee in the 2008 primary, nearly helping him defeat John McCain, the eventual nominee….
Another ingredient is what Republicans see as Mr. Cruz’s superior ground game, which was on display Saturday night at a dinner that attracted this state’s political stars. Mr. Cruz had posters plastered around a room at which there was little evidence that rival presidential campaigns were hustling for Missouri primary voters.
Last week’s contests did little to clarify the race on either side, but after today’s contests it’s likely that several storylines will develop or be cemented that could frame the nomination fight in both parties until the conventions.