There have been many twists and turns in the Presidential contest both on the Republican and on the Democratic side, although both Hillary Clinton (who will likely win all five contests) and Donald Trump (who will likely win four out of five contests) got the electoral oxygen they needed last night.
Hillary Clinton dominated the Election Night narrative, as she started off the evening with overwhelming wins in Florida (65-33% victory over Sanders), North Carolina (55-41% win), and Ohio (57-43% win). Her Ohio win was crucial for two reasons: not only did it reverse her Michigan loss, but it re-established the narrative that the three legs of the Democratic electoral base (unions, Hispanics, and blacks) remain solidly in her corner.
These three solid victories served another purpose: they were large enough and were clinched early enough in the evening for her narrow wins in Illinois and Missouri to escape notice. Even though Illinois is her home state (as well as the presence of the Chicago Democratic machine), she could only eke out a 34K vote margin against Sanders, while in Missouri, it appears that she will only win that state by about 1500 votes.
Throughout the Presidential contest, we’ve been noting repeated instances of lessened Democratic enthusiasm, and this was again the case last night: turnout was down 22% from the 2008 contests.
While Hillary will ultimately win the nomination, Sanders will make her fight for every remaining state, and now that the North Carolina primary has concluded, she no longer has the benefit of a monolithic black vote that is a feature of Southern Democratic electorates today. In other words, there are no more “easy wins.”
Last week, we had noted three factors that seem to govern the electoral highs and lows of Donald Trump:
- As long as the GOP field is divided, the only thing that can hurt Donald Trump is his tendency to “push the envelope” with his controversial statements and/or actions (i.e., skipping debates);
- GOP attempts to stop Trump have predictably backfired and only add fuel to the fire, since his entire candidacy is built on not being an “establishment candidate”;
- Trump’s only apparent electoral vulnerability comes from closed primaries where only registered Republicans can participate.
We also noted in previous contests that while Donald Trump was on a winning streak, he has not established electoral dominance by getting more than 50% of the vote in a series of contests. A similar dynamic was at play last night, although with three plot twists: (1) John Kasich finally earned a win – in his home state of Ohio, (2) Ted Cruz did not win a single contest, and (3) Marco Rubio’s departure after a disastrous (27%) showing in his home state of Florida makes the Republican contest a three man race.
Can either of Donald Trump’s two remaining opponents (John Kasich and Ted Cruz) win the nomination? Each brings strengths and weaknesses to the table. John Kasich cannot mathematically get enough delegates for the duration of the campaign to be nominated outright, although the Deep South (his weakest region) has finished voting, and after next week’s contests in Arizona and Utah, the seven contests held in April will be held in more favorable territory – Midwestern/Northeastern states carried by Barack Obama. In other words, these more moderate Republican primary electorates should be more “Kasich friendly”, particularly now that there are no “moderates” left as electoral competition. However, “friendly” hasn’t yet translated into “dominance” – even as he was winning Ohio 47-36% over Trump, Kasich could only get 20% of the vote in Illinois and 10% in Missouri. He’ll obviously have to do much better than that in upcoming contests if he wants to be taken seriously as a contender.
Ted Cruz has a different challenge: his candidacy hasn’t really caught on anywhere, with only a handful of wins to show for his efforts. And except for the Arizona and Utah contests next week, the next nine contests are in much less favorable states. This means that Cruz’s campaign messaging has to pivot from his issue stances to being the only ‘non Trump” candidate who could get enough delegates to be nominated.
GOP primary voters were again enthusiastic about voting in last night’s contests: not only was the GOP turnout of 7.9 million 34% higher than it was in 2008 (and 64% higher than in 2012), but 54% of voters in all five contests chose a Republican ballot, compared to only 41% in the 2008 race, which was monopolized by the Obama/Clinton contest.
A final note about the contest: three more states (Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio) held Congressional contests last night, and again, there was little evidence of Trump/Cruz voters’ seeking to overthrow GOP incumbents – all contested seats were easily won by the incumbents.
The tempo of the nominating contest will now slow down: Arizona and Utah vote next Tuesday; after that, only Wisconsin votes on April 5. Two weeks after Wisconsin is the April 19 New York primary, while there is a “Super Tuesday 3.0” of sorts on April 26, when Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island all vote on the same day.
While the Democratic contest is largely settled, the Republican contest still has some life to it, and upcoming contests will finally illustrate whether the Trump vote is a large plurality or an actual majority of Republican primary voters that will enable him to get enough delegates to win on the first ballot.