As always, Super Tuesday — the first Tuesday after the end of the pre-primary window — has done a lot to at least outline the shape of the race for the White House. Because at this point, the race becomes all about the delegates (and not about exceeding expectations), there are clear tasks for the candidates over the next two weeks.
On the Democratic side, through 16 contests, Hillary Clinton has exceeded her 2008 performance in 11 states. More significantly, in several states — Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia from last night and South Carolina from Saturday, Secretary Clinton has far exceeded her 2008 performance turning losses into big wins. In each of these five states, the swing in favor of Secretary Clinton was in excess of 30 delegates. In the five states that swung away from Secretary Clinton to Bernie Sanders, the biggest swing was 16 votes (in Massachusetts which was much closer this time than in 2008). The overall net change from 2008 so far is a swing of approximately 300 delegates. Considering that Secretary Clinton only lost by 104 delegates in 2008, Senator Sanders needs to find some state to alter these numbers soon.
Over the next two weeks, three states are key to whether Senator Sanders can make it a competitive race or whether he will become a gadfly who stays in the race long after its over. These three states are Michigan (March 8), Illinois (March 15), and Florida (March 15). Michigan and Florida are key because of their size and because of the weird role that they played in 2008 that led to Secretary Clinton winning those states by large margins (18 and 26 delegates respectively). If Senator Sanders is to win the race, needs to gain significant delegates in the large states that went to Secretary Clinton in 2008. If he can’t put a dent in Secretary Clinton’s numbers in these two states, it is hard to figure out where he makes progress. Additionally, at some point, Senator Sanders has to win some of the large states. So far, the largest state that Senator Sanders has won in Minnesota with Secretary Clinton winning the four largest states.
Illinois is key for two reasons. First, it is a large state. Second, in 2008, President Obama won it by a 2-1 margin in 2008. Secretary Clinton is practically assured of doing better in Illinois this time, but the question is by how much. A clean win by Secretary Clinton would significantly increase the swing in her favor from 2008.
On the Republican side, the results last night were good for Donald Trump but not great. Other than Massachusetts and Alabama, Trump failed to break 40% in any of the remaining states. and finished under 35% in seven states. Those numbers give hope that there is still an opportunity for somebody else to win if they can consolidate the field — or if there is strategic voting and the three remaining candidates target specific states.
For Ted Cruz, the next round of key states is on Saturday in Louisiana, Kansas, and Kentucky. He needs to win at least two of the three to shore up his argument that it is a two candidate race.
For Marco Rubio, they key states over the next week are Maine, Puerto Rico, and Michigan. Similarly for John Kasich, Maine and Michigan are key. Last night, Rubio got his first win to at least give him the argument that he just needs for the race to move away from Senator Cruz’s deep red home ground to the purple states. Governor Kasich now needs a win to justify continuing in the race to Ohio. For both Senator Rubio and Governor Kasich, the goal is to do just enough to convince donors that they can win their home states (both winner-take-all) on March 15. If they fail in that effort and Donald Trump takes both Florida and Ohio, the race is over.