It’s been another momentous week in U.S. politics, as two Democrats and four Republicans slug it out for their respective nominations in this year’s presidential election.
Bowdoin Professor of Government Janet Martin puts the debate under a microscope, looking back at Super Tuesday, this past weekend’s contests, and the challenges that lie ahead in the coming months for the six White House hopefuls.
According to the headlines and lead stories after Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are comfortably on their way to their respective Democratic and Republican party nominations, with a fall match-up between the two front-runners. On the Democratic side, on March 1, “Super Tuesday,” Clinton won seven primary contests—in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, with a caucus win in American Samoa, amassing more than 435 delegates. Bernie Sanders won two primaries—Oklahoma and his home-state of Vermont—and two caucus states, Colorado and Minnesota, winning around 121 delegates.
On the Republican side, Donald Trump also won seven primary states—Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia, with 168 delegates, and Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas, and neighboring state Oklahoma, as well as the Alaskan caucuses, with 129 delegates, and Marco Rubio scored his first win with the Minnesota caucus, and 17 delegates.
The wins of Clinton and Trump are both impressive, given the number of state contests each has now won. Nevertheless, in both the Democratic and Republican Party nominating contests held thus far “delegates” are the prize, not state wins, and delegates have been awarded proportionately.
This Past Weekend
Over the weekend the Democrats held four more state contests, with Bernie Sanders winning the Caucus states of Kansas, Nebraska, and Maine, and Hillary Clinton winning the Louisiana Primary. With these wins, and the proportional allocation of delegates, Clinton gained about 62 delegates, with Sanders picking up about 63 delegates; Clinton maintained her sizeable lead in pledged delegates and super-delegates, with more than 1100 delegates to Sanders 484.
The Republicans had five contests over the weekend, with Trump winning the Louisiana primary and the Kentucky caucuses, and Ted Cruz winning the Kansas and Maine caucuses. In Maine, Marco Rubio failed to win any delegates on Saturday, although John Kasich picked up two delegates. With such a stinging loss, and shut-out from the delegate count, voices could be heard urging Rubio to drop out of the race for the White House so the party could coalesce around one candidate, Ted Cruz.
However, in the ever-changing political landscape, Rubio pulled out a win in Puerto Rico on Sunday, his first primary win. By the end of the weekend, the delegate count separating the candidates had significantly narrowed, with the New York Times reporting Trump ahead of Cruz, 384 to 300 delegates, trailed by Rubio with 151 delegates.
For Republicans, the delegate hunting game changes on March 15, when the national GOP guidelines for state contests allow winner-take-all contests. However, in looking more closely at the delegate map ahead, even though the Republican Party does allow states to award delegates in a winner-take-all process after March 15, most states have opted for a proportional or hybrid system in the awarding of delegates. For this reason, the four candidates remaining on the Republican side, down from the original 17 or so, will be able to remain in the race, at least for the foreseeable future.
Reporters and pundits alike have been emphasizing two races in particular on the calendar ahead: Florida and Ohio. Not only is Marco Rubio trying for a primary contest win in his home state of Florida, John Kasich is attempting the same in his home state of Ohio. Florida and Ohio will be the first of the winner-take-all states, with the prize of 99 delegates by winning Florida, and 66 delegates by winning Ohio.
However, all four candidates have an opportunity, or should have an opportunity, to share in the pick-up of delegates on March 15. In addition to Ohio and Florida, several other large states have contests on the 15th: Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina. These three states are forgoing a “winner-take-all” primary, allowing delegates to be divided among the candidates in either a proportional or hybrid system.
But just as the awarding of delegates changes, the nature of the contests will also be changing. With the arrival of winner-take all contests, and a relative lull in contests between March 15 and April 19, the air game will become more important, with a need to reach voters in a sustained way, over an extended period of time, in contests that will soon find the candidates seeking delegates simultaneously in all regions of the country.
Here is where fund-raising and, more importantly, the strategic spending of money is important—one can’t concentrate on all states, nor appear in all states, with the same degree of attention given voters of Iowa, New Hampshire, and even South Carolina or Texas. Candidates need to reach voters—a lot of voters, across the country, in the next six weeks. But campaign fund-raising isn’t as important this year, as Jeb Bush’s failed candidacy can attest.
There is an abundance of free media—from regular debates and town halls. It may be that appearances by Cruz and Trump in Maine just days before the Republican caucuses helped those two candidates win delegates; Rubio failed to campaign in Maine, and won no delegates on Saturday from the Maine caucuses. But candidates go to states where they are likely to win—to reinforce support. With incredibly low rates of participation, a few strong supporters and good organization can win a caucus. But the remaining states will mostly be primaries.
If Thursday’s Republican debate from Michigan is any indication, the “free” airtime available to the candidates is being squandered. The current Republican debate format, with candidates allowed to speak beyond their allotted time, and over the voices of other candidates, without a moderator insisting that a question be answered, with few follow-up questions, is not of help to either voters or candidates.
The Republican debates thus far cry out for a moderator to mute the microphones of candidates who go over their time, are speaking over the responses of other candidates. I would suggest going even further—silence a candidate who fails to provide a direct answer to a question. John Kasich’s relatively dignified approach in Thursday night’s debate appeared to receive favorable and supportive applause. And Ted Cruz appears to have benefitted in the weekend contests by having let Rubio go on the attack against Trump during Thursday night’s debate. Both Rubio and Trump appear to have been damaged by their debate performance.
As the country moves closer to the summer conventions, each nationally televised event should be used as an opportunity to look, sound, and act presidential. Donald Trump ‘s press conference on the night of Super Tuesday presented the trappings of the presidency, with flags positioned behind the candidate, and East Room style chairs, but presidential demeanor and rhetoric has been a missing element in his staged events. Trump himself had stated his rhetoric would change once the nomination contest was closer to being decided. That time has come, and may even have passed.
The role of Independents has been decisive in awarding Donald Trump delegates. However, in a number of upcoming primaries, participation will be limited to those already enrolled in a party. Spirits of Republican strategists have been buoyed by the flip in turnout from 2008 to 2016. The historic and competitive race between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008 spurred an increase in voter turnout and participation in the nominating process.
In contrast, this year there has been a reversal in turnout and participation, with three million more voters thus far participating in the Republican contests than in the Democratic contests. This point is important because the enthusiasm surrounding a new and different type of candidate—a Barack Obama in 2008, a Donald Trump in 2016—could lead to an increase in turnout of the electorate in November, and votes for the top of the ticket could influence candidate selection going down the ticket; an inspirational Obama helped keep the Democratic Congress in the hands of Democrats in 2008.
At present, the House and Senate are in the hands of Republicans. But, with Republicans defending 24 Senate seats (34 seats are up this year), with 21 Republican incumbent Senators seeking reelection, and the mood of the country anti-establishment, the Republicans may have a harder time retaining those 24 seats.
This is where the “establishment” of the Republican Party is voicing concern: while sitting Senators up for re-election and all House Members facing election are the establishment, it is unclear how that term is being used this year, by political pundits, the media, and even Republican operatives. An anti-Trump move has been identified, and supported by conservative PACs. However, the two candidates who have won at least one contest against Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are hardly “establishment” candidates.
To my knowledge, Ted Cruz, the apparent beneficiary of an “anti-Trump” move in the past few days, has failed to receive a warm, enthusiastic, and resounding endorsement from any of his Senate colleagues. John Kasich, governor of a crucial electoral state, and former chair of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, is overlooked by the media as a potential candidate the “establishment” could turn to. But then Kasich himself emphatically ran away from that label after the debate Thursday night.
In this year of the “outsider” Kasich faces a choice of taking on the label of the “establishment” candidate, with accompanying financial and political support of the mainstream Republican Party, or running away from a label that has left candidates such as Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, at the bottom of the pack. Kasich faces an uphill battle. Just days before Maine’s Republican caucus, a local Republican county program chair, was quoted as saying, “Republicans in Maine get the opportunity to vote on three who, …, are not only viable candidates but who could go on and win the election,” referring to Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. In this “anti-establishment” year, Rubio won no delegates in Maine; Kasich, the omitted candidate from the list, won two delegates.
On the Democratic side, the public is learning about “super delegates,” which have been around since the 1980s, and have played a role in solidifying the party around candidates such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and the Democrats have seen one of their rule changes actually work in producing a candidate which the rest of the party has a way of embracing and helping to get elected.
The proportional allocation of delegates in all Democratic contests—from Iowa to California keeps Bernie Sanders in the race. And it makes sense for Sanders to stay in, since he helps sharpen and focus the message of the candidate who will emerge from the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia in July as the party’s nominee.
Fear of super delegates deciding the outcome of the Democratic contest is not warranted. As Hillary Clinton’s super delegates in 2008 gave their support to Barack Obama when he became the apparent nominee in June 2008, the super delegates’ role is to ensure a united convention, to help the party’s nominee win the November election. Hillary Clinton may be winning in the hunt for super delegates, but she is also ahead in the pledged delegates fought over in each primary and caucus state.
In both parties, candidates remaining in the mix until the party national conventions can help influence party platforms, as well as the primetime line-up of speakers at the national conventions.
Both sides need to understand that the rules can change—and a caucus is a multi-stage process. Caucus outcomes in February and March may not reflect the delegates candidates take with them to the July conventions. And states which have held primaries could still opt to have a state party convention for the purpose of choosing delegates.
There are important contests in March, but some of the states richest in delegates have primaries in April, and even in June. New York and Pennsylvania have their contests in April, with California and New Jersey in June. The race for the White House is an endurance contest. Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump appear to be in it for the long haul. Hopefully, civility will return to the campaign trail.