They say numbers don't lie, but in politics momentum is paramount. In the Democratic race for the White House, Hillary Clinton has the math and the mojo on her side. She was able to brush off her loss in Michigan and claim the lead over Senator Bernie Sanders—twice as large a lead as President Obama had over her at this point in 2008. Continuing her southern state dominance, and netting wins in Missouri, Ohio and Illinois, Clinton swept the Vermont senator and finds herself firmly on the path to the nomination.
In the Republican contest, the numbers point to the importance of the second ballot vote at the Republican National Convention in July, because it is growing less likely that a candidate will capture the required 1,237 out of 2,472 delegates. By our math, with Senator Marco Rubio out of the race, Donald Trump needs to capture 54% of the remaining delegates, Senator Ted Cruz 69% and Ohio Governor John Kasich 88% in order to hold a majority going into Cleveland.
To date, the front-runner has claimed about 40% of committed delegates. If it remains a three-man race, the map does provide a path for Donald Trump to claim a majority, given the winner-take-all nature of the remaining contests. The same map suggests Sen. Cruz and Gov. Kasich would have to capture the proverbial lightning in a bottle to overtake Trump, but at least one of these men could be in striking distance and prevent an outright majority. If that is the case, when 80% of the GOP delegates become "unbound" after no candidates captures a majority on the first ballot of the GOP convention, both men hope to make their case for the 1,977 unpledged delegates.
Hillary Clinton continued her dominance of pledged delegates and super delegates. Her victories over Sen. Sanders in Ohio and Illinois, and the razor-thin margin separating the two in Missouri, repudiated the damaging narrative that Sen. Sanders was appealing to more independents and older white voters and that his campaign had found a weakness in the front-runner's coalition. The contests in these states were open primaries that allow all registered voter to participate in either party's race. Exit polls suggest not only that independents voted for Clinton, but also that she was able to shore up her base as well—denying Sen. Sanders the critical voting bloc that had propelled him in Michigan.
The very public effort to flood the airways with anti-Trump ads failed to prevent him from grabbing four out of five contests, though Gov. Kasich won the 66 delegates available in his home state of Ohio. The governor will have the hot hand in the coming days, but next week's contests in Arizona and Utah are not favorable territory. His low fundraising numbers will force him to shift focus to the races in April, with their potentially more accepting Republican electorate, as he looks to fill his coffers. The hurdle for the campaign: Among those early-April contests, all but Wisconsin are closed primaries and do not allow registered independents—who swung dramatically to Gov. Kasich in Ohio—to participate.
Sen. Cruz does have strong command of second place in the delegate race, but outside of Texas his victories have been limited to caucus states and small-state primaries. Pundits openly question his ability to attract voters in the more urban Northeast and West. We do know that, of all the campaigns still in the hunt, the Cruz campaign has the best understanding of the rules that govern the primaries, caucuses and delegate selection in the states. And this will be critical going forward.
Compounding the math problem for both Sen. Cruz and Gov. Kasich, of the next 10 races that take us through the end of April, only one awards delegates on a proportional basis and the nine others are either winner-take-all or winner-take-most. If Trump continues to appeal to Republican turnout in the low 40% range, and if his competitors continue to split the anti-Trump vote, he will claim the vast majority of the delegates. The Cruz and Kasich campaigns will point to the closed nature of the upcoming primary contests (i.e., not allowing independents to vote) as a benefit to the more organized candidate. The Trump campaign can counter by pointing to Florida, where he over-performed in a closed primary.
After seemingly throwing good money after bad, the Republican establishment finds itself approaching a crossroads, where they are forced to either embrace Sen. Cruz (who happens to rally against them on a daily basis), quickly fund a Kasich campaign without a clear path forward or begin to accept Trump as this year's reality.
As the Clinton campaign clearly shifts to general-election mode, the battle for the Republican nomination seemingly has become a battle to ensure Donald Trump does not reach Cleveland with a majority of delegates.
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