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On The Campaign Trail

Ken Gude
Senior Fellow

Tuesday’s New York primary produced big wins for the two frontrunners, ending what had been both Republican Donald Trump’s and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s worst stretches of the campaign so far.

Trump had suffered defeats at the polls and appeared helpless as his principle rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, used his superior campaign organization to scoop up vital delegates at state party conventions. Trump has responded in a way that many observers felt was beyond him, bringing on experienced and professional Republican campaign operatives and reorganizing his campaign to focus on the delegate fights across the country in the run up to the Republican Convention in July. Clinton had retained her overwhelming lead over challenger Bernie Sanders, but the Vermont senator had won seven consecutive primaries or caucuses leading up to New York and his string of victories had raised doubts about the strength of the Democratic frontrunner.

Clinton took 58 percent of the vote and captured 139 of the 247 available pledged delegates, increasing her lead over challenger Bernie Sanders to roughly 270 pledged delegates. Even the Sanders campaign now admits it is virtually impossible for them to overtake Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates, relying instead on superdelegates, which are comprised of Democratic elected representatives and state and national Democratic Party officials. Leaving aside the fact that one of Sanders’ central campaign messages has been to criticize the rigged political system that advantages insiders over the will of the people, the superdelegates that have committed to a candidate so far are supporting Clinton over Sanders by 502-38.

The tenor of the Democratic primary campaign had taken a sharply negative turn, which had raised concerns that the divisions evident in the party between Clinton and Sanders supporters would make it difficult to coalesce around the eventual winner. Those concerns were mostly overblown. Sanders will himself campaign for Hillary in the general election against a Republican candidate. And while the run up to the New York primary featured some sharp attacks, this primary fight is nowhere near the level of animosity between the candidates as was evident in the 2008 Democratic primary, and Democrats united around Barack Obama and turned out to vote in November.

Trump won more than 60 percent of the vote and at least 89 of the 95 delegates available, with three delegates yet to be awarded at the time of this writing. Cruz finished a distant third place, with less than 15 percent of the vote. Trump now has approximately 845 delegates, a lead of nearly 300 over Cruz, and puts him within striking distance of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the majority of delegates and win the Republican nomination. Neither Cruz nor the other remaining candidate, Gov. John Kasich, has a mathematical chance of reaching 1,237 delegates before the convention. By the norms of all previous campaigns in the primary era, that would mean Cruz and Kasich concede the nomination to Trump. But this is not a normal campaign and I will discuss below the prospect and process of a contested convention on the Republican side.

Five mostly Northeastern states hold primaries on Tuesday, April 26th, with Pennsylvania being the largest which also allocates its delegates in a winner-take-all on the Republican side. Trump has done well in other Northeastern primaries and is leading in the relatively few public polls of these states. There are similar numbers of Republican delegates on the line on April 26th (172) as there are in the entire month of May (199), so next Tuesday’s vote will be critical in setting up the final stretch of the campaign before the big contests of June 7th, headlined by California. Trump momentum will certainly change the narrative of the campaign heading into this crucial stage before the convention.

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