If you were looking for clarity in the race for the Democratic and Republican nominations, last night's results will disappoint. Both the Democratic and Republican front runners, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, captured the most delegates across the four states casting ballots, but neither campaign emerged unscathed from these contests.
The delegate math still favors Secretary Clinton, largely because of her overwhelming support from Super Delegates, as well as her lead in committed delegates. However her inability to convincingly translate her winning southern state coalition of women, African Americans, Hispanics and older voters above the Mason Dixon line has allowed Senator Sanders to win delegate-rich Michigan, keep the nomination race in play, and may even offer a narrow path forward for the Sander's campaign.
The GOP race wasn't so much about who finished first, but who would emerge as the front runner to challenge Donald Trump. Senator Ted Cruz looks to have ended the night with that mantle nearly in reach. While Trump remains on top, his lead is not yet insurmountable and a growing chorus of GOP strategists have concluded that a broader field of candidates offers the best chance for the party to advance a winning candidate in November. This means that the twists and turns, and insulting tweets, of the GOP nomination fight will continue well into May and probably until the GOP convention in July.
Secretary Clinton remains the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. She effectively battled to a draw with Senator Sanders in Michigan last night, and captured all but one of the delegates in Mississippi. To this point, Clinton's campaign has dominated the Southern state primaries, but has failed to mount sizeable victories in the Rust Belt states of the Northeast and upper Midwest.
Senator Sanders' message of fair trade, judicial and campaign finance reform, and voters' perception of him as both trustworthy and relatable has allowed him to build support among a diverse electorate of progressives, young urban African Americans, youth and working white men and women. This cohort has kept him competitive in key states.
This fact is not unknown to the Clinton campaign and as the race shifts to March 15th's delegate rich states of Ohio, Illinois and Missouri we expect to see Secretary face these perceived shortcomings head on, as is her practice. Her winning Southern Coalition should translate well in North Carolina and Florida. We expect her focus to shift to building support among working class white men and women as well as a more concerted effort to compete for younger voters which to date have been a mainstay of the Sanders coalition.
In the GOP primary, the race for the right to challenge Trump continues to evolve, but it is clear that Senator Marco Rubio's campaign faces significant hurdles. The Senator's inability to achieve sufficient voter support to reach the threshold for delegates in Michigan or Mississippi is a serious blow to the campaign and heightens the make or break nature of the Florida primary on March 15. Senator Ted Cruz won in Idaho, finished a strong second in Mississippi, and finished narrowly below John Kasich in delegate count for the number two spot in Michigan. Kasich had hoped to put more distance between him and the junior Senator from Texas who defied recent polling to come in second in the popular vote to Trump, but third in the delegate count.
Going into Tuesday night, many in GOP circles have concluded that a strategy to prevent Trump for gaining the nomination requires most of the current candidates to stay in the race. The strategy relies heavily on Rubio winning Florida and John Kasich winning Ohio on March 15, both of which are winner take all states. In light of Senator's Cruz's performance in last evening's primaries, paired with Rubio's significant underperformance, we expect the Texas Senator to strengthen his hand in arguing that he alone can challenge Trump.
And he will have help. Massive amounts of spending by anti-Trump, some argue establishment, groups have been saturating the airwaves in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri for a week and will continue at a breakneck pace into the March 15th contest.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have effectively "read" the dissatisfaction in the American electorate and made compelling cases to those who feel left behind. Whether it is enough to propel them to the White House continues to elude us.
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