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Eye On Candidates
March 9, 2016

Sanders and Trump Have Best Nights

Yesterday’s contests provided more than enough fodder for analysts and commentators to assess and come up with opinions on what it all means. The biggest story of the night seems to be Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ upset win in Michigan over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even after trailing her by as much as 20 percentage points. Starting with that, here’s part of the analysis from Bloomberg Politics’ Jennifer Epstein:

Sanders’ Michigan Upset Offers Warning Signs to Clinton

Even with the Democratic front-runner leading by 20 points or more in most polls, Bernie Sanders and his team insisted that a win was possible. And, leaning hard on his opposition to trade deals and Clinton’s past support of them, he eked out a win. While it won’t go far toward bridging her overall pledged-delegate lead, the victory—as well as polling debacle that failed to predict it—offered warning signs for Clinton in the midwestern states next up on the primary calendar….

In Michigan, Sanders benefited from an open primary in which seven in 10 independents voted for him, according to exit polls. They made up 28 percent of voters. Clinton had a 57 percent to 41 percent edge over Sanders among the Democrats who made up 69 percent of those who voted.

Those numbers may not bode well for Clinton next Tuesday, when Ohio and Missouri hold open primaries, and Illinois and North Carolina allow voters to request Democratic ballots on primary day. Only Florida, with 246 delegates to the Democratic convention—the most to be awarded from a single state since the start of primary season—has a closed primary, and Clinton appears poised to win there….

While exit polls showed Clinton won the African-American vote in Michigan, Sanders did much better Tuesday with those voters than he had in states across the south, earning 30 percent support. 

The New York Times provided a similar take on Sanders’ win:

If Mrs. Clinton had crushed Mr. Sanders in Michigan, their contest might have been over in all but name. But his narrow win there ensures the fight will go on.

Yet in the bigger picture, the basic battle lines of the Democratic race have barely moved in weeks. In Michigan, Mr. Sanders dominated with young voters, independents and more affluent white liberals — his core constituencies all along.

Mrs. Clinton handily won partisan Democrats, low-income whites and black voters in Michigan, and routed Mr. Sanders in Mississippi with overpowering black support.

The outcome in Michigan showed how difficult it could be for Mrs. Clinton to knock Mr. Sanders cleanly out of the race, but Mr. Sanders has still not attracted the kind of coalition that would make him a genuine threat to win the nomination.

This seems to be a common theme in this morning’s coverage, that Sanders did well and definitely will be able to continue to compete with Clinton, but he’s still fighting an uphill battle. This general assessment contributes to The Hill’s decision this morning to lump him in the “mixed” category of their “winners and losers” article:

Sanders delivered the one big surprise of the night, stunning Hillary Clinton in Michigan. The margin of victory for the Vermonter was modest — about two percentage points — but it came in the face of recent polls that gave the former secretary of State a lead of more than 20 points.

So why did he not make the winners list? Delegate math. 

Despite the Michigan shock, Clinton won more delegates on Tuesday than Sanders did, thanks to her enormous margin of victory in Mississippi. The means the former secretary of State will add slightly to her 200-plus lead among pledged delegates, which is bolstered by an overwhelming advantage among super-delegates.

Still, Sanders and his supporters will take heart from the Michigan result. They can also argue that it shows he can make inroads with black voters outside of the Deep South. Clinton’s showing with African-Americans in Michigan, where she beat Sanders 65 percent to 31 percent, was strong — but it was also a far cry from Mississippi, where she won black voters 89-11.

Clinton was labeled a “loser” of the evening in the same article:

If she had won Michigan by anything like the margins the polls had predicted, she could have signaled that the race, as a competitive contest, was coming to an end. After all, she performed very strongly on SuperTuesday and, before that, had thwarted Sanders in early contests in Iowa and Nevada.

Her loss instead ensures the race continues for some time. It also raises questions as to whether Clinton’s more centrist position on trade hurt her in Michigan — and, if so, whether that vulnerability will prove telling elsewhere in the industrial Midwest.

On the Republican side, businessman Donald Trump seemed to emerge in the same position as before – in the lead, with the clearest path to the nomination, but with plenty of obstacles. NBC News offers the following thoughts on the GOP race:

Donald Trump headed into last night losing some steam after Ted Cruz's gains over the weekend. And what did Trump do? He won the Michigan and Mississippi primaries by double digits over Cruz, and he even triumphed in Hawaii's caucuses. (Trump's one loss came in Idaho, where Cruz beat him, 45%-28%.) Still, the results don't truly change the overall math for Trump: He still needs to win Florida and/or Ohio to be on a stronger path to the 1,237 delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination. The good news for him: His top competition in Florida (Marco Rubio) and Ohio (John Kasich) certainly don't have the political winds at their backs….

According to The Hill, Trump was the only real winner on either side last night:

Trump was the only unambiguous winner of the night, racking up big victories in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii. 

The emphatic outcome – marred only slightly by a loss to Ted Cruz in Idaho — was particularly vital because the businessman’s many critics within the GOP had begun to gain steam. 

The anti-Trump forces insisted that a barrage of negative advertising was having an effect and that results from Saturday — when, in four contests, Trump eked out two comparatively narrow victories and suffered two heavy defeats —  showed the electoral winds shifting in their direction.

Tuesday put paid to that notion. Trump’s early wins came by double-digit margins and his performance in Mississippi was especially strong: With 99 percent of returns in, he had won 47 percent of the votes cast.

Commentary of Cruz and Kasich seems fairly uncommon (although The Hill did include both on the “losers” list) suggesting that neither did much to help or harm themselves yesterday, although Cruz surely benefits from being able to win another state (the Idaho caucuses). But Rubio seems to undisputed loser of last night, as NBC News writes:

Marco Rubio had a very rough outing last night. He finished fourth in Michigan and Mississippi, and finished third in Hawaii and Idaho. And there's this: He didn't pick up a SINGLE delegate last night. Now comes his biggest test -- his home state of Florida -- in six days. And yet another poll (see below) shows him losing to Trump in the Sunshine State. Rubio is trapped: His campaign is in a tough place, but if he quits, he hands Florida to Trump. It makes the most sense to go down fighting.

And the Rubio exit-watch appears to have begun, with Politico offering the following grim assessment:

With mounting losses and his chances that voters deliver him the Republican nomination near-nonexistent, Marco Rubio is flirting with the same political “death spiral” that swallowed Jeb Bush only three weeks ago.

He’s fending off rumors of quitting, defending undersized crowds and promoting polls that show him losing (even in his home state), while also whining about Donald Trump’s media coverage….

And that was before Tuesday’s devastating results, where Rubio sunk to single digits in Mississippi and Michigan, finishing last and losing so badly that he won no delegates in those two states. He was a distant third in Idaho at risk of getting no delegates there. After he came in third in Hawaii with 12 percent, he was a mere 2 for 24 in the campaign, and his wins came in the Republican hinterlands of Minnesota and Puerto Rico.

And much to the Rubio camp’s dismay, stories are popping up suggesting that some campaign advisors are urging him to withdraw:

Earlier in the week, the Rubio campaign moved swiftly to squash a report from CNN that there had been some discussion within the campaign of dropping out before Florida. Spokesman Alex Conant declared it “fiction” on air as he condemned the network.

But Stipanovich said the fact that the story caught fire was, in itself, telling. “Those kinds of rumors feed off the perceptions of weakness and the only way to fix that sort of thing is to demonstrate strength,” he said.

Sanders’ surprise win in Michigan should give pause to anyone ready to throw in the towel on Rubio, who appears to have made next week’s Florida primary a must-win, which means he’ll be fighting for his political life on his home field, which is likely to be of some advantage.

The final assessment of what CNN called Super Tuesday 2 seems to be that Trump won big, Sanders won too but still faces big challenges, Rubio lost badly, and the other three did well enough to maintain the status quo but not well enough to produce significant benefits for them. Meaning next week’s round of primaries is likely to be decisive for at least one candidate, possibly more.