With five candidates from two parties remaining in the 2016 presidential race, yesterday’s nominating contests spread the victories around. Everyone except John Kasich woke up this morning with something to brag about.
But as the dust settles on this week’s primaries and caucuses, the frontrunners also took one step closer to their goal.
The western state primaries represented another step in forts to amass support in the race to the nomination, with both Trump and Clinton hoping that they may tally an outright majority of their party’s respective delegates before the summer conventions get contentious.But Cruz and Sanders both got some great news that can help stall the momentum each of their rivals have received with recent wins.
Among Republicans, yesterday’s two contests went exactly the way everyone expected them to go. Donald Trump, who was expected to win easily in Arizona did exactly that, beating Ted Cruz by more than 20 points. This is no small prize: the primary in the Grand Canyon State was the first major contest in the West, and with 58 delegates on the line, Trump walks away with all of them in the winner-take-all affair.
Cruz mitigated the damage by winning the Utah caucuses in a one-sided landslide, crushing Kasich by more than 50 points (Trump came in third for only the fourth time this year). The key for the Texas senator was clearing the 50% threshold that would allow him to receive all of Utah’s delegates, which he did easily, ending up with roughly 70% of the vote.
That will give Team Cruz some bragging rights, but the fact remains that Trump added a net gain of 18 delegates last night, padding his advantage over his next closest rival. Cruz doesn’t need a morale boost; he needs to narrow the gap. Tuesday’s contests actually left the senator worse off.
Among Democrats, the results were also in line with expectations, and just as importantly, they fit into a familiar pattern.
For months, Bernie Sanders has won easily in caucus states with smaller, less diverse populations, and yesterday was no exception: the Vermont senator walloped Hillary Clinton in Idaho and Utah by roughly 60% margins in both contests. Anytime a presidential candidate wins a state with a landslide that large, it’s impressive.
But the big prize was Arizona – a primary state with a larger, more diverse population – where Clinton appears to have prevailed by about 18 points. The defeat must sting a little for Sanders, who invested heavily in the state – the senator’s campaign outspent Team Clinton in Arizona TV airtime by a two-to-one margin – but who nevertheless came up short.
At a distance, Sanders’ supporters may conclude that two landslide victories and one landslide loss represents a pretty good day, and there’s some truth to that. But as things stand, the net delegate gain from these contests is quite modest, and doesn’t change the nature of the race in any meaningful way.
Team Sanders emphasizes that the calendar, at least in the short term, looks favorable: Alaska, Hawaii, and the state of Washington each hold caucuses this Saturday, and according to both campaigns, the Vermonter is likely to win each of these contests with relative ease. But given Sanders’ delegate deficit, he has an enormous amount of ground to make up and these wins represent only modest steps.
Or put another way, the presidential race now looks an awful lot like it did 24 hours ago.