Arizona primaries, Utah caucuses, and the Democratic caucus in Idaho happen in a few hours. Here’s what I’m paying attention to once the returns start coming in tonight.
On the Republican Side
Trump and Cruz are expected to win Arizona and Utah, respectively. Cruz needs something like 80% of remaining delegates to win, but he might just do that, and Trump’s path to an easy nomination is so tenuous at this point, it likely runs all the way to the California primary and that doesn’t happen until June.
It’s vital that both campaigns at least meet expectations. A surprise upset in either of these states will be a harbinger of disaster for one candidate and a windfall for the other.
What Ted Cruz Needs
Cruz needs all of Utah’s delegates and he needs a strong second in Arizona, even though he’s probably losing. Because credibility.
Utah is the closest thing to a lock Cruz has had going in since he started. It’s more certain than his home state of Texas was. Mormon Republicans distrust Trump almost as much as liberals do. His hate speech against immigrants, the way he runs his businesses, and his conduct on the stage all fly in the face of Mormon teachings.
You might not know this. When all the Republican governors issued a joint statement saying they would not accept Syrian refugees awhile ago, Utah’s governor was the only Republican governor who refused to sign on. He has said publicly in recent days that Trump can’t win the general election in Utah.
Mormonism has as many faults as any other religion, but tolerance and acceptance of outsiders is deeply, deeply ingrained in their theology. Which makes sense when you consider they fled to Utah to escape persecution in the east. They have not forgotten where they came from, and they do not appreciate Donald J. Trump one bit.
Trump will be lucky to win 15% of the vote in Utah. Probably less than 10. He’s polling behind Kasich there by quite an astounding margin.
What Donald Trump Needs
Trump needs all of Arizona’s delegates, and he needs Cruz to win less than 50% of Utah so either he or Kasich can shave off some of those delegates. Even if Trump does so poorly he gets none, if he wins enough votes to keep Cruz below 50% — which is the threshold for winning them all in Utah — that’s a win for him.
He also needs to beat Cruz convincingly in Arizona. Cruz is Hispanic, has a good ground operation, appeals to religious Republicans who actually go to church once a week, and has talked about immigration. Unless I am wrong, neither of these candidates will win Arizona emphatically. But one of them is getting all the delegates because AZ is winner-take all.
Trump needs a 5-point win, and ten would be better. He’s put a lot into this state and is backed by several high-powered state officials. If he loses here, or even if it’s super-close, that’s an indication his support might be flagging. The technical problems with his campaign like not enough fundraising and a mediocre ground operation will be exposed a little and he runs the risk of the media getting wise and turning on him.
What John Kasich Needs
Kasich needs to keep Cruz from getting 50% of the vote in Utah, to make the most of the media time that gets him, and to get himself to Wisconsin as soon as this round is done.
At this point, I think he is an establishment ringer. His job is to keep Ted Cruz from winning outright. He’s working for the faction of the Republican party that would rather risk a Trump nomination than a Cruz Presidency. His job is to get as many votes as he can everywhere, and to come in second where Trump is weakest so as to prevent a head-to-head matchup until the math says it’s impossible for either of them to win outright.
That’s why he’s all over Utah, but barely seen in Arizona. The moderates are playing for a contested convention, and Kasich is their agent to make that happen. He will never be President, or even VP. He may not be viable as governor of Ohio or even as a high-profile Republican once this is done. Seems like he’s just in this race to save us from Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
On The Democratic Side
(This one isn’t nearly so complex)
What The Democrats Need
Clinton needs to widen her delegate lead. There were no projections for Utah, Arizona, or Idaho last time I looked because there’s been too little polling for anyone to make reliable predictions. She doesn’t need big wins. She just needs wins, and she can absorb close losses if need be.
Sanders needs wins also. A big one would be good, and he can’t afford to get blown out. Since I last posted about the delegate margins, some uncommitted delegates have been assigned, and Bernie only needs to win 65% of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination. He was looking at 75% a week ago.
Bernie has to either narrow the delegate gap, or come close enough to make news. Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington State Democrats caucus this weekend. Even if Sanders only breaks even today, he could win a small advantage going into these next three states, and I have to think he has a chance to do well in two of them.
All About Wisconsin
Assuming there are no big surprises that change the whole character of the race, these primaries today are really about influencing Wisconsin. Every candidate in this race needs Wisconsin. It’s a slighly-blue state that’s easy to flip and doesn’t compare to any other state in its region. Wisconsin is as inscrutable as Florida in its own unique way, and it’s one of 10 or 15 states that can swing the general election.
Wisconsin votes on April 5 and after that, the next major contest is New York on April 19. Then the whole thing moves to the East Coast at the end of April. We have a handful of primaries in May (Indiana and Oregon, yay!). And suddenly it’s June 7 and we have six states, including California and New Jersey, all on one day.
So these elections are important today because if there are surprises on either side, the winners get two weeks to spin their victories and use Wisconsin to work up some serious momentum going into New York.
I’m pretty sure Trump and Cruz will win AZ and UT. Not at all sure Cruz is getting all Utah’s delegates. And got no idea what’s happening today on the Democratic side.