ELECTION 2016: March could decide everything
WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – Super Tuesday voters handed Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton major wins and — more importantly — loads of delegates.
Those delegates will travel to the Republican and Democratic conventions in July to cast votes in the candidates’ favor.
The aim is to reach a magical delegate threshold, at which point presidential hopefuls become party nominees.
The Democratic benchmark is 2,382 delegates. Republicans need 1,237 delegates.
Tuesday’s contests accounted for a considerable chunk of those goals, with Democrats scrapping over 859 pledged delegates and Republicans able to capture 595 backers.
While campaigns crunch the final Super Tuesday delegate breakdown, the path forward is coming into crisper focus.
Clinton waltzed into Super Tuesday carrying 545 total delegates; Sanders held a comparatively meager 87 pledged supporters.
Now that voters in 11 states have spoken, representing one-third of total delegates needed to capture the nomination, Clinton appears stronger than ever.
Final tallies from Super Tuesday will add significantly to Clinton’s delegate advantage once the results are confirmed and 859 pledged delegates are awarded proportionally.
According to initial estimates, Clinton will nab a high percentage of Texas’ 222 delegates — the crown jewel of Super Tuesday. She also adds a healthy portion of Virginia’s 99 delegates and Georgia’s 102 reps.
Sanders will get a portion of each state, including the majority of Vermont’s 16 delegates and a goodly sum from Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota where he also won.
Clinton’s secret weapon: Superdelegates
The Democratic Party recognizes two types of delegates: pledged and superdelegates.
Pledged delegates are divvied up proportionally and are bound to vote for the candidate their constituency chose. For instance, if Clinton gets 60% of the California vote, she receives 60% of its pledged delegates.
Superdelegates, on the other hand, are free to vote as they please.
Numerically speaking, Clinton enjoys a fairly smooth path to her party’s nomination thanks to these electoral gimmes.
Clinton has nearly universal support among Democratic Party insiders — also known as ‘the establishment’ — who usually serve as DNC superdelegates.
She’s spent decades building political bridges, stumping for Democratic candidates and raising money for allies. Those beneficiaries are ready to scratch her back and become key supporters on the convention floor this summer.
Winning most of Tuesday’s contests means Clinton gets a healthy portion of pledged delegates — not to mention the lion’s share of Democratic superdelegates from state party leaders.
Heading into March, despite Sanders showing strength in select states and pledging to stay in the race indefinitely, Clinton could swagger to the nomination in short order.
Donald Trump dominated Super Tuesday, further transforming his once-longshot bid into a highly plausible nomination.
Going into Super Tuesday, Trump led the field with 82 delegates, followed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) with 17 and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 16. Bringing up the rear are Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) with six and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with four.
Super Tuesday will deposit more delegates into Trump’s rapidly swelling column, which Fortune theorized could put him “within comfortable shooting distance of being anointed by the end of the primary season in early June.”
Cruz won his home state, the largest of Super Tuesday, and Oklahoma. The freshman senator walks away with the largest share of the Lone Star State’s 155 delegates and the rest will be divided proportionally.
Cruz will use this victory to make the case that he’s now the only candidate to beat Trump thrice.
Rubio scored one win in Minnesota, his first victory this primary season. He didn’t interpret his otherwise consistent third-place finishes as campaign-ending, vowing to send a “loud and clear” message in Florida two weeks from now.
So far, such appeals have held little sway over GOP primary voters, who have proven highly attractive to Trump’s outsider message.
GOP opponents plot
Some of Trump’s opponents are more focused on machinations than primary map mathematics.
To understand their plan, the finer points of GOP delegate apportionment must be briefly explored.
The Republican Party allows fewer unpledged delegates, but muddies the water with a combination of proportional and winner-take-all contests after March 15.
In some upcoming states, the primary’s winner banks the entire balance of delegates if they capture at least 50% of the vote. If Trump wins Florida, he gets 99 delegates. If he loses, he gets zip.
Other states assign delegates proportionally. Within that category, some states further require candidates to hit at least 20% before claiming any delegates.
If no candidate reaches the 2,382-delegate threshold before July’s RNC meeting, campaign aides are preparing for a contested convention.
As Rubio’s campaign has highlighted, pledged delegates are required to vote for their assigned candidate — but only once. That means if Trump doesn’t capture the nomination on the first round of voting at the Cleveland convention in July, previously-pledged delegates can switch their votes.
Several campaigns are praying for a deadlock and already courting delegates in case it comes to pass.
For the time being, the only major obstacle standing between Trump and the Republican nomination, barring an unforeseen event, could be a chronically crowded field.
The Washington Post writes:
The more quickly the field is winnowed, the sooner the eventual winner can accumulate a majority of delegates. And this is why it matters how long each of the remaining Republican candidates can compete. If the field is winnowed to two candidates fairly quickly, it could be over soon. But if the field plateaus at three or four candidates, we could be in for a much longer primary season.
Clinton, neck-deep in superdelegates and facing a single opponent, is working with much simpler math.
Over the next two weeks, voters will head to the polls in several delegate-rich states, including Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina.
A blowout in Florida or Ohio could mean life or death for candidates on the bubble.
If Trump or Clinton pull off clean sweeps, the delegate count could catapult them to nominations — or, at a minimum, bestow the winning look of an unstoppable candidate.
The only certainty is that in the end, it all comes down to delegates.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales