Wednesday, March 16, 2016

5 Thoughts on Last Night's Primaries

It's Wednesday morning, and you know what that means-it's time to recap a bunch of primaries.  Missouri, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio, five of the biggest electoral jackpots on the map all voted last night-let's see what their verdicts were with my five morning-after thoughts.

1. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Nominee

Perhaps no news last night was bigger than former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's massive victories across the country.  While it was expected that Clinton would dominate in Florida and North Carolina (she has done very well in the South), the double-digit victory in Ohio was a major coup for the campaign, and the (albeit slim, but still) victory in Illinois, her home state, had to have felt good and gave her a larger chunk of the delegates.  While Missouri may end up in a recount, it's worth noting that Clinton even currently holds the lead there, meaning she may well have picked up all five states and taken an almost insurmountable lead headed to the convention.  While Sanders will continue to stay in the race, and I suspect he'll even win a few states still left on the map (there's a couple of New England contests that seem ripe for him, and it's worth noting that Clinton still got numerous votes after she was no longer viable in 2008), but 300 delegates down and completely out-of-luck with the superdelegates as a potential fallback option, Sanders seems to be at a mathematical stand-still.  This isn't the Republican race where a brokered convention could well be likely-there's only two nominees, so Sanders will almost certainly go down in defeat at this point.  The question is whether or not he quits soon or whether he drags this out.  The Clinton campaign probably doesn't want him out at this point just because he gets more voters registered if he's still in (despite what the media protests, a vast majority of the voters Sanders brings in will transfer over to Clinton), so don't expect a push to have him end until June, but expect an entreaty (perhaps a prime-time speaking slot at the DNC?) to get him to shift to Clinton in a big way once voting is done.  Also, I suspect with the campaign all locked up we'll start to see the likes of Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid, and Gore all step out for Clinton on the campaign trail.

2. Donald Trump is Probably the Republican Nominee

So much was made last night about how Donald Trump lost Ohio that it's hard to realize that his victories in Illinois and Missouri were vast enough based on the delegate-take-all rules of the districts that he essentially wiped out the Ohio loss by winning those states by much greater-than-expected numbers even if Missouri essentially has ended in a tie.  Trump still has a tough road to the convention, but last night was probably the best he could have hoped for (particularly if he does end up on-top in Missouri and scoops up another dozen delegates as a result).  Trump now goes out into the next few weeks with John Kasich buoyed by his home-state victory in Ohio (more on that in a second), and with Ted Cruz still siphoning off establishment votes but probably not at a fast enough rate to ensure that Trump ends up at silver in some crucial winner-take-all states.  It's worth noting that most of the states where Cruz theoretically does the best have already passed, but Kasich's campaign is essentially dead (he mathematically cannot get to enough votes to take the nomination outright without help at the convention), so it's hard to make the argument that people should vote for him in the future.  All-in-all, Trump continues to command the race and seems like the probable nominee, though it's questionable whether or not the GOP will continue to throw massive roadblocks in his way in an attempt to throw a Hail Mary in Cleveland.

3. Whither Marco Rubio

It will be debated in political circles for a few years what the hell happened to golden boy Marco Rubio, a candidate out of central casting who just couldn't land any punches.  While most will blame Chris Christie's attack on him at a debate, I think that was just the moment that we saw the flaws come out, and really the problems were two-fold.  One, Rubio was always a general election candidate running in a primary, and while those sorts of candidacies have done well in GOP presidential primaries in the past, the Tea Party movement has shown to us that it's a difficult burden to bear in Senate and gubernatorial races (where the likes of Mike Castle get pummeled by Christine O'Donnell), and it was only a matter of time before one of these style candidates managed to nab their nomination (it's worth noting that four years ago, while Mitt Romney won the nomination, Gingrich/Santorum actually outperformed him in terms of popular vote percentage, which should have been seen as ominous by the establishment).  The second issue was that Rubio was seen as ambitious with no substance.  Sure, he made a great stump speech, but while the comparisons to Obama seemed apt at the time, he was really more John Edwards.  Rubio didn't help matters by making his most high-profile audition for the White House (being in the Senate) a part-time gig with so many missed votes and then not having a better explanation than "well, Obama did it too!" which wasn't going to resonate with base voters who loathe the president.  While the likes of Chris Cillizza and other journalists who drooled over him initially are now second-guessing the electorate and assuming that he'll be a future contender for the White House or the governor's mansion, I think Rubio is just done now.  This is not a substantive sort of John McCain or Ronald Reagan-style loss where they outperformed or clearly have a major base of support.  Rubio's base will transfer onto the next establishment favorite, leaving him more footnote than phoenix.

4. John Kasich and the Contested Convention

It says something about what dire straits the establishment Republicans are in when they were clearly celebrating John Kasich, arguably the most popular governor in the country, winning his home state over Donald Trump.  Home states are generally considered gimmes for the candidates (don't tell Marco Rubio that, though-he's suffered enough), and Kasich winning there shouldn't be a major deal.  It's also worth noting that while Rubio's support will have to go somewhere, it kind of already has (look at his rotten numbers in places other than Florida), being sucked up by Kasich, Trump, and Cruz a week ago and I think the minimal amounts of support he mustered last night will continue to be dispersed relatively evenly, perhaps with Cruz getting slightly more than a tied share of the votes.  The question now is what does the establishment do-it seems incredibly likely that this either ends with Trump winning the majority or the Convention deciding the nominee, but with Trump being the plurality holder of the delegates.  While I could see a Convention going with someone other than Trump, I can't picture it being Kasich except maybe in a veep situation-it's likely that even someone as hallowed as Paul Ryan would struggle to get enough Trump or Cruz supporters on his side, much less someone who ran against them and came up nearly empty.  At this point the RNC has to choose between Trump or whether it wants to risk Trump supporters revolting at the polls to get the nearly as reviled Ted Cruz as the nominee.

State Rep. Deborah Ross (D-NC)
5. The DSCC Gets Its Candidates

It's worth noting that it wasn't just the White House that was on the ballot last night-congressional primaries in North Carolina, Illinois, and Ohio all happened, all of which host competitive Senate races.  DSCC Chair Jon Tester took some hot water earlier last year by breaking the rule of the DSCC that they don't get involved in primaries that don't feature incumbents, but it paid off as Tester's preferred candidates in all three states last night emerged victorious.  The question now is a pivot to the general election.  Former Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe (who along with David Axelrod has become the Debbie Downer of the Democratic Party in the past year) came out sounding that Trump should not be under-estimated, but I suspect that Hillary Clinton, so close to the finish line, isn't taking any chances in that regard.  What could happen, though, if national opinion polls sustain in a Clinton v. Trump race, would be very important for the candidates in these races (State Rep. Deborah Ross in NC, Rep. Tammy Duckworth in IL, and Gov. Ted Strickland in OH), as a Clinton victory up-ballot in these states could make it a heckuva lot easier for them to win as ticket-splitting has gone out of fashion.  You can see that Trump will become a major campaign issue as commercials start to air showing the Republican incumbents in these races proclaiming that they will support the nominee "no matter what."  It's also worth noting that the DSCC easily won these primaries as they have considerably harder contests in Pennsylvania and Florida coming up that they'll need to defend to keep the Senate in play.

There you have it-it's looking likely to be a subway series between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. What was your most surprising moment of the night?  Where does Marco Rubio go next aside from K Street?  Share your thoughts below!

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