(Super Tuesday is finally behind us; voters from twelve different states (and American Samoa!) have made it resoundingly clear that front-runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are here to stay. With another round of voting set to take place this Saturday, it’s worth decoding what Tuesday’s results mean for the future of the race.

We’ll start with the Democrats—a two-way competition that, in comparison to the frantic struggle on the Republican side of the aisle, looks rather prosaic. Clinton claimed victory in seven states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and even American Samoa for good measure. Meanwhile, Colorado, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Minnesota were feeling the Bern.

Of course, what really matters here are how many convention delegates each candidate picked up in the process. Super Tuesday’s results widen the gap between Sec. Clinton and Sen. Sanders to a whopping 1,052 delegates to 427. This includes Clinton’s significant lead among superdelegates, Democratic officials who are free to vote for either candidate during the national convention. That said, even without the superdelegates, Clinton leads by around two-hundred pledged delegates, which means that it’s largely smooth sailing for her from here on out—barring some major campaign catastrophe.

However, you wouldn’t know it from talking to the Sanders campaign. Senior aides suggest that Senator Sanders will be staying in the race all the way until the convention. At first glance, this seems to make sense; delegate-rich states like California haven’t had their say yet, and there are certainly enough unpledged delegates remaining to cut into Clinton’s lead. The demographics of these states, however, tell a different story.

Nearly all of Sanders’ victories thus far have come from young white voters, save for possibly Nevada, where he may have seized a majority with Hispanic voters. He also performed admirably in many Latino-heavy counties in Colorado. However, Tuesday’s results highlight the limits of Sanders’ appeal. Bernie’s revolution simply isn’t spreading. Particularly in Southern states, Clinton was able to ride huge waves of support among minority voters to victory. In Alabama, for instance, Clinton led Sanders 93-5 among African American voters and won 7 out of every 10 Latino voters in Texas. Sanders could gain ground this weekend with strong performances in Kansas, Nebraska, and Maine, all of which are predominantly white. But the electoral calendar isn’t in his favor.

The key issue is that for every state in which Sanders could conceivably put up a strong fight, there’s another state in which Hillary leads by a significant margin. For every Kansas or Michigan (though Clinton is likely to win there too), there’s a Louisiana or Mississippi. Democratic convention delegates are assigned proportionally based on votes in each state, so Sanders would need massive victories in these states to close the gap. Clinton on the other hand only needs to do reasonably well from here on out. Particularly troubling is that Sanders lost the crucial state of Massachusetts, which he was expected to win. Though he lost by less than a point, it’s an ominous sign of what’s yet to come. If Clinton can keep the race that tight on Bernie’s home turf, she’s unlikely to perform poorly in states with more diverse demographics. It’s possible that Hillary’s ongoing battle over emails will hamper her ability to succeed in the crucial states of Florida and Ohio, but if she has a night like Tuesday again, she’s all but guaranteed the nomination.

The GOP race is far more contentious. Donald Trump, as expected, claimed the spoils of Super Tuesday by seizing Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. Ted Cruz put up a respectable performance as well by taking Texas, Alaska, and Oklahoma. Marco Rubio did manage to eke out a victory in Minnesota, but his campaign is still struggling to gain traction.

Like the Democrats, it’s pretty clear at this point that the GOP has a presumptive nominee in Trump. Naturally, establishment Republicans are not happy about this. Their strategy is a strange one; instead of focusing on winning primaries outright, establishment darling Marco Rubio hopes to force a contested convention. The theory goes that if the Republican nominee isn’t clear after one round of voting during the national convention, then delegates, who will be free to vote their conscience, will opt for Rubio. The name of the game now is merely to stop Trump from gaining enough delegates to clinch the nomination securely.

Unlike with Hillary, there’s actually a somewhat reasonable chance that Trump may lose—but it’s still not very likely. He’s only received about thirty-four percent of the Republican vote. This means that if this turns into a one-on-one race, it’s within the realm of possibility for Trump to cede the nomination to a candidate who consolidates the support of the others. However, what complicates matters is the strange winner-takes-all system of delegate apportionment that some GOP primary states use. Starting on March 15th, certain states, most notably Florida and Ohio, guarantee that all of their delegates will go to the victor of their primaries. This means that if Rubio (or Cruz) can claim a victory, it will be mathematically difficult for Trump to win on the first round of voting.  However, Should they fail the race is effectively over.

Or is it? As Walter Shapiro of Roll Call points out, even if Trump manages to secure a majority of pledged delegates, it’s possible that convention officials will change the rules to allow delegates to vote for whomever they’d like to vote for. House Speaker Paul Ryan will chair the conference, and given his vocal distaste for Trump such a maneuver isn’t out of the question. All Ryan would need to do is put the rule change up for a vote. If such a rule was adopted, Trump’s hard-earned delegates could abandon him at will. There’s even some precedent for this idea. In 1980, Ted Kennedy tried to unseat President Jimmy Carter during the Democratic convention by using this very tactic. It’s worth noting that this didn’t work, and indeed, trying such an underhanded move now could push Trump to pursue a third-party bid.

The bottom line is that March 15th is the date to watch. For both Hillary and Trump, solid performances in Florida and Ohio will end this primary season. If they lose either state, however, all bets are off.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Mr. Tirumala’s assessment of the Democratic primary is misleading.

    1) There actually isn’t a Mississippi for every Nebraska, as he claims. The majority of states with mostly black electorates have already voted. The majority of states left are either predominately white or Hispanic. And as Mr. Tirumala pointed out himself, Sanders is doing well with Hispanic voters.

    2) Only fifteen states have voted–most of them being, as I said, states with predominately African-American electorates. There are a whopping 35 left. This competition is far from over.

    3) Recent polls show Senator Sanders narrowing the gap in California–another state with a mostly white and Hispanic Democratic electorate. And Sanders has plenty of time to gain ground in California; the state does not vote until JUNE.

    Let’s have a real election–not a “smooth-sailing” coronation.

    1. 1. Sanders is doing TERRIBLY with Hispanic voters, actually. He lost 7 out of 10 Hispanic voters in Texas, and he lost by comparably terrible numbers in other states. I’m not sure where you got the idea that he’s doing well with them. The Nevada margins are highly suspect (Nate Silver has the best analysis on the topic) and Colorado was really the only other place where he did decently with non-white voters. The point of my analysis is that the gap between Sanders and Clinton is so large at this point that it would take a real miracle for Sanders to win. Hillary doesn’t need to all too well at this point, but Sanders needs enormous victories. Almost no analysts at this point would grant Sanders a real shot at the nomination–particularly not if Clinton locks up Florida and Ohio on March 15th.

      2) Sure, that’s true, but again, Hillary only needs to do decently in these states; she doesn’t even really need to win. Hillary generally does well in states with more diverse sets of demographics. It’s possible that Sanders could win, but it’s highly unlikely.

      3) Which polls are these? There is indeed plenty of time for Sanders to gain ground, but in the race for delegates, if Clinton locks up major swaths of pledged voters on the 15th, it’s not mathematically possible for Sanders to win. Again, he needs MAJOR victories because Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally. Even if the races moving forward are close at this point, Clinton still wins.

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