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Eye On Candidates
March 23, 2016

Western Tuesday Results, Analysis

Four of the five remaining major presidential candidates had what, to varying degrees, might be considered good days yesterday on so-called Western Tuesday. The Washington Post offers the following report this morning, declaring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump the biggest winners of the night:

Winners and losers from the Arizona, Utah and Idaho votes

Arizona was the big prize of the night, the third-biggest winner-take-all state on the map, with 58 delegates. There was some chatter in the days before the vote that Ted Cruz might be sneaking up on Trump — the senator from Texas spent time in the state — and could be poised to pull an upset. Nope. Trump won by 22 points, taking 47 percent of the vote. Would Trump have had a better night if Cruz had won less than 50 percent in Utah? Sure. But only by a little because Trump was never going to take more than a small handful of delegates out of the heavily Mormon state.

Nothing that happened Tuesday night changed the dynamic of the GOP race. Trump, at 739 delegates, is clearly in first place and still the only candidate with a genuine chance of winning the 1,237 delegates to formally claim the party's nomination. That's a good night for him….

The only way that Clinton isn't the Democratic nominee is if she starts losing big states by large margins. That didn't happen Tuesday night. Clinton won the big delegate prize of Arizona while losing Idaho and Utah by big numbers to Bernie Sanders. The Sanders folks will focus on his two wins, but the truth of Sanders's delegate deficit is that he needs to win states like Arizona with 80 percent of the vote, not states like Utah or Idaho. There just aren't enough delegates in those to narrow Clinton's lead. And she knows it. Notice that her speeches in the past week or so — since the March 15 votes — have turned their focus to Trump almost entirely. Clinton is in the midst of a pivot to the general election. Tuesday night proved, again, why this nomination fight is close to over.

CNN weighed in with their perspective on how Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich fared last night:

Ted Cruz won Utah and met the 50% threshold necessary to claim all 40 of the state's delegates, according to a CNN projection.

The victory keeps the Texas senator within striking distance of Trump and bolstered his argument that he deserves a one-on-one race against the GOP front-runner -- even as Ohio Gov. John Kasich shows no signs of exiting anytime soon….

That Cruz was able to rally those establishment Republicans to his side, and convert their support into votes, underscores a remarkable political metamorphosis: Once hated by GOP elites, Cruz is now increasingly their champion in their bid to stop Trump….

Kasich, strapped for cash, under mounting pressure from Cruz to exit the race, and desperate to prove he can compete across the map, wasn't expected to win Tuesday, and he didn't.

Yet he started the night trailing Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race last week, in Arizona. The large numbers of early votes cast meant the state wasn't a true test of how Kasich would do in a three-person race, but embarrassing nonetheless, which Roe enjoyed on Twitter. "And, for levity, watching Rubio beat Kasich on early vote is really funny," he wrote.

Next up, Kasich is heading to California, where he'll campaign and try to add to the $1.25 million he had in the bank at the end of February, CNN's Phil Mattingly reported. His top aides, too, are fanning out across the state over 72 hours, courting money-men and -women, many of whom supported candidates who have exited the race. If they fail, his improbable pathway starts to disappear entirely.  

As for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, NBC’s Morning Read suggests he didn’t do much to improve his standing last night, although winning two out of three contests isn’t terrible:

Meanwhile, in the Democratic contest, Bernie Sanders scored big wins in Utah (80%-20%) and Idaho (78%-21%). The problem for him: Clinton won delegate-rich Arizona, 58%-40% (with 78% in), which means that Sanders netted just seven delegates for the entire night (Sanders 61, Clinton 54) -- with 10 delegates still unallocated in Arizona and six in Utah.

According to our math after last night, Clinton needs to win just 34% of the remaining delegates to hit the Dem magic number of 2,383 delegates, while Sanders needs to 66%, which is an almost impossible task when all of the Dem contests are proportional. "These decisive victories in Idaho and Utah give me confidence that we will continue to win major victories in the coming contests," Sanders said in a statement last night. And he's right -- he's expected to win big in Saturday's contests in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington. But notice what Sanders didn't say: that he has confidence he'll win the Democratic nomination. Sanders could end up netting 30-40 delegates on Saturday, but he'd still trail Clinton by a bigger margin in pledged delegates than he did before March 15, when Clinton held a 213-delegate lead.

In the end, Western Tuesday didn’t do anything other than reinforce the status quo: Clinton is well ahead and Sanders has a daunting, nearly-impossible task ahead of him if he’s going to claim the Democratic nomination, while Trump continues to enjoy a commanding lead while Cruz and Kasich continue to try to deny Trump the majority of delegates he needs to claim the nomination on the first ballot. While that might sound like it’s not news, the absence of anything that might change the dynamics of the races is, in and of itself, news. Next up will be the Democratic caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington this weekend, and then the Wisconsin primary on April 5 where both parties’ candidate will be competing for a rich delegate haul.