First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Momentum shifts in both presidential races, but not the math
Last night’s primary and caucus results changed the momentum in both presidential races. But they didn’t significantly alter the overall math and trajectory of the two contests. Let’s start with the Republican race. Donald Trump headed into last night losing some steam after Ted Cruz’s gains over the weekend. And what did Trump do? He won the Michigan and Mississippi primaries by double digits over Cruz, and he even triumphed in Hawaii’s caucuses. (Trump’s one loss came in Idaho, where Cruz beat him, 45%-28%.) Still, the results don’t truly change the overall math for Trump: He still needs to win Florida and/or Ohio to be on a stronger path to the 1,237 delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination. The good news for him: His top competition in Florida (Marco Rubio) and Ohio (John Kasich) certainly don’t have the political winds at their backs. Here’s the GOP delegate math:
Trump needs to win 52% of remaining delegates to reach 1,237 magic number
Trump needs to win 59% of remaining delegates to reach 1,237 magic number
Trump needs to win 69% of remaining delegates to reach 1,237 magic number
Bernie’s YUGE win and YUGE delegate deficit
As for the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders got a huge – YUGE – win in Michigan, defying the pundits and the polls. We called it a last stand of sorts for his campaign, and it won the battle in surprising fashion. And now he has momentum heading into next week’s contest in Ohio. But Sanders has two problems: One, he actually lost ground in pledged delegates (due to Hillary Clinton’s big win in Mississippi). And two, next week doesn’t just feature Ohio – it’s also Florida, Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina, where we’ll likely see Clinton increase her delegate lead. The current math after last night: Clinton leads Sanders among pledged delegates by 761-547. And among all delegates (including superdelegates), it’s 1193-569. To reach the magic number, Sanders will need to win 60% of all remaining delegates.
Hillary won’t be able to shake Sanders anytime soon
Despite that math, however, Clinton doesn’t seem likely to shake Sanders anytime soon, especially with the kind of money Sanders is raising. In a way, she is Mitt Romney of 2012 (the sure bet to be the nominee, but who has to grind it out), and Sanders is Rick Santorum (who has a big chunk of the base on his side). Of course, Sanders has A LOT more money than Santorum ever did. On Monday, Clinton told Michigan voters, “The sooner I could become your nominee, the more I could begin to turn attention to the Republicans.” Her problem: She still has to worry about Sanders.
The importance of open vs. closed primaries
One of the big secrets to Trump’s and Sanders’ success last night was the “open” nature of last night’s primaries in Mississippi and Michigan. In Michigan, 31% of the voters were independents, and Trump bested Kasich among them, 36%-27%. And on the Democratic side in Michigan, Clinton won Democrats by a 57%-41% margin, but Sanders won among indies (who made up 28% of the electorate), 71%-28%. Looking ahead to next week’s contests, Florida is a closed primary, while Ohio isn’t as open as Michigan is. Per Ohio’s election law, you declare your political party affiliation by requesting the ballot of a political party in a partisan primary election. If you do not desire to affiliate with a political party in Ohio, you are considered to be an unaffiliated voter. An unaffiliated voter does not vote the ballot of a political party in a primary election. However, an unaffiliated voter may vote the Official Questions & Issues Ballot, if there is one for the voter’s precinct at the election.
Rubio’s campaign hits rock bottom – with his biggest test six days away
Marco Rubio had a very rough outing last night. He finished fourth in Michigan and Mississippi, and finished third in Hawaii and Idaho. And there’s this: He didn’t pick up a SINGLE delegate last night. Now comes his biggest test – his home state of Florida – in six days. And yet another poll (see below) shows him losing to Trump in the Sunshine State. Rubio is trapped: His campaign is in a tough place, but if he quits, he hands Florida to Trump. It makes the most sense to go down fighting. By the way, NBC’s Chuck Todd moderates a town hall in Florida with Rubio, which will air on MSNBC tonight at 8:00 pm ET. By the way, it looks like Kasich finished third in Michigan, which isn’t great news for his campaign.
Last night by the numbers
States won: Trump 3 (HI, MI, MS), Cruz 1 (ID)
Delegates won: Trump 68, Cruz 58, Kasich 17, Rubio 0
States won: Clinton 1 (MS), Sanders 1 (MI)
Delegates won: Clinton 88, Sanders 70
Trump and Clinton lead in the Florida/Ohio polling
Here are the latest polls of Florida and Ohio:
- Florida (R): Trump 40%, Rubio’s 24%, Cruz 19%, Kasich 5% (CNN March 2-6)
- Ohio (R): Trump 41%, Kasich 35%, Crux 15%, Rubio 7% (CNN March 2-6)
- Florida (D): Clinton 62%, Sanders 32% (Quinnipiac March 2-7)
- Ohio (D): Clinton 52%, Sanders 43% (Quinnipiac March 2-7)
- Ohio (D): Clinton 61%, Sander 34% (CNN March 2-6)
- Ohio (D): Clinton 63%, Sanders 33% (CNN March 2-6)
NBC/WSJ poll: 64% of all voters have an unfavorable view of Trump
Finally, despite Trump’s big wins last night, he has problems with the non-Republican electorate A majority of American voters in the new national NBC/WSJ poll believe his comments on the campaign trail are insulting; six in 10 say he’s harming the Republican Party’s image; and nearly two-thirds have a negative opinion of him - making Trump the most unpopular figure in the poll. What’s more, just half of Republican primary voters - 53 percent - say they’d be satisfied with Trump as the party’s presidential nominee. That’s compared with 72 percent of Republicans who said this about Mitt Romney in March 2012, and 78 percent of Democratic primary voters who currently say this about Hillary Clinton. Oh, and Clinton and Sanders easily beat Trump in hypothetical general-election matchups in the NBC/WSJ poll.
Countdown to FL, IL, MO, NC, OH contests: 6 days