Super Tuesday: Six things to watch for as 12 US states vote

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton look to extend leads over their nearest rivals

A man looks on as he waits for Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign rally on Super Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio March 1st. Photograph: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

A man looks on as he waits for Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a campaign rally on Super Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio March 1st. Photograph: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

 

Voters in 12 US states go to the polls on Tuesday as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who have had the most success in the early nominating contests, look to extend their delegate leads over their nearest rivals.

Here are some of the things to watch:

Trump’s America

Know what you usually call a presidential candidate who wins a swath of states ranging from liberal Vermont and Massachusetts to conservative Oklahoma and Alabama, including a centrist bellwether like Virginia? The nominee. Super Tuesday offers Trump an opportunity to send a resounding message about the depth and breadth of his support. His string of recent victories - in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada -suggests his anti-establishment message has wide appeal. And while he might not be able to overtake Senator Ted Cruz in his home state, Texas, were Trump to sweep the remaining 10 states, winning in nearly every region of the country on a single day, there would be little doubt he is positioned to become the Republican standard-bearer.

Trump has begun to render obsolete the defining divisions of region, religion and ideology that have characterised recent Republican presidential primaries. If he can do so on a wider map - winning evangelical conservatives in the rural South and secular moderates in the urban Northeast - he will demonstrate that he is leading a realignment and creating something new: a Trump coalition.

Clinton and Black Voters

Clinton is poised to sweep the South, but her margin of victory depends on how well she does among black voters. Clinton won 87 percent of the black vote in South Carolina - a larger share than president Barack Obama won in the 2008 primary - helping her win the state in a landslide, 73 percent to 26 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders. If Clinton were to repeat that performance Tuesday, she could post similar victories in states like Georgia and Alabama. She could top 60 percent of the vote in other Southern states with large black populations, like Virginia, Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas.

The margin matters, and for more than just appearances: Democrats allocate all delegates proportionally, so Clinton will be rewarded if she maximizes her support among black voters.

The Race Within a Race

Trump is favoured Tuesday in every state except Texas, but the battle between Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio for second place is an important one. If one of the freshman senators were to emerge as a decisive runner-up, he could make the case that the other should exit the race to give the party a better chance at stopping Trump.

But the results might not lend themselves to such a clean outcome. Cruz and Rubio could trade second-place finishes across the map. And even if Rubio were to capture second place in all 11 states, Cruz could still win Texas outright and hold that victory up to argue that, as the only other candidate to beat Trump and win a state, he has every justification to go forward.

But after emphasising the importance of March 1st to his campaign, and investing so much in winning support from evangelicals, Cruz would be in a rough spot if he were to finish behind Rubio in such Bible Belt states as Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

There is also pressure on Rubio to find a state he can win Tuesday, and Minnesota may represent his best opportunity.

Texas, Rich in Delegates and Symbolism

With 155 delegates, the Lone Star State is the big enchilada (or, keeping with current Texas trends, the big breakfast taco) of Super Tuesday. But even more important, it is a crucial test for Cruz, who would face intense pressure to withdraw from the race if he were to lose.

And the Texas prize for Trump is found as much in its symbolism as in its delegate distribution. Not only is the deep-red state a citadel of the national Republican Party, but it is also home to George W. Bush, Rick Perry and Cruz. They may be the three most influential Texas Republicans of recent vintage - and Trump has viciously attacked each of them. If he can do that and still win there, there will be little doubt about whose Republican Party this is now, in Texas and beyond.

Super Tuesday Delegate Math

Even a Trump sweep would not necessarily allow him to amass a majority of all the delegates in play, since party rules prevent states from apportioning their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. But there is one number that could let Trump run up the score: 20 per cent.

Candidates must reach that percentage of the vote in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont to be allocated any delegates in those states. The delegates they forfeit by not clearing the threshold will go to the candidates who do. That poses a real danger for both Cruz and Rubio: Polls in all five of those states show at least one of them in danger of missing the delegate threshold. If both Cruz and Rubio can breach the threshold in every state, they will almost certainly prevent Trump from earning a majority of delegates. But if they fall short, Trump could extend his lead to more than 165: the number of delegates at stake in the winner-take-all contests of Ohio and Florida, which hold primaries March 15th.

Can Sanders Win a Landslide?

Clinton’s strength in the South, particularly among black voters, places a big burden on Sanders, who needs more than a few narrow, feel-good wins to make up for getting crushed in the nation’s most populous region. Based on the makeup of the Democratic electorate, Sanders needs to outperform Clinton among nonblack voters by a significant margin to counter her success in attracting black voters. So far, Sanders hasn’t been able to do that anywhere outside western New Hampshire, a liberal, overwhelmingly white region that borders his home state, Vermont.

Sanders has a few good options Tuesday: Massachusetts, Colorado and Minnesota are three states with few black voters and large numbers of white liberals. And Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses, which tend to attract disproportionally liberal electorates.

If he can’t win these states in landslide fashion, it will be hard to chart a plausible way for Sanders to overcome his weakness in the South and earn a majority of delegates.

New York Times