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On the Campaign Trail

Ken Gude
Senior Fellow

For those who believed the election of President Barack Obama heralded the dawn of a post-racial era in American politics, the 2016 campaign cycle has been an unwelcome jolt with race playing a large role in the primary campaigns in both parties. Outside of the presidential campaign, massively important fights over so-called religious liberty and other social issues are occurring in the states and in the U.S. Senate. After a series of elections in which the economy was the dominant issue, race and religion have roared back to prominence this cycle in ways that were both difficult to predict and pose serious questions about the state of American politics after this campaign.

First, let’s update the status of the two primary campaigns following the mid- and late-March contests. The presidential campaign has entered a lull in actual voting before the April 5th Wisconsin primary for both parties, which will mark a two-week break on the Republican side and only a slightly shorter respite for the Democrats following their caucuses in three Pacific states last Saturday. The state of the races remains largely unchanged since the early March primaries, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in commanding positions.

Even with a string of loses in the caucuses in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii, Clinton maintains a huge lead in pledged delegates of around 230 over Bernie Sanders. To put this in perspective, the final margin between Obama and Clinton in the 2008 primary among pledged delegates was only 105, and was never close to 200 at any point during the campaign. Sanders would need to win 56% of all remaining pledged delegates to draw even with Clinton, and with all Democratic contests awarding delegates proportionally, it’s a very tall order. Especially as the New York primary looms, the state with the second most delegates of all which Clinton represented in the U.S. Senate and the kind of ethnically diverse electorate that has given her wins in earlier contests.

And the pledged delegate counts do not include the Superdelegates—comprised of Democratic elected and party officials—which are overwhelmingly backing Clinton. Sanders could do well in some of the remaining states, like Wisconsin, which boasts a large under-30 population in its college towns, and borders Michigan and Minnesota, states that Sanders won. He likely will continue to the end of the primary season, but his chance of gaining the nomination is practically zero.

In any other campaign year and with any other frontrunner, the Republican race would be over by now. Trump has a commanding lead in delegates and of his two remaining opponents, only Ted Cruz has even just a mathematical shot at gaining enough delegates to reach the 1,237 necessary to secure the nomination, and to do that he would need to win more than 90% of remaining delegates, which is virtually impossible because some remaining states award delegates proportionally. John Kasich has won so few delegates so far that there is no way he can reach 1,237 at all. In such scenarios in the past, these candidates would have conceded the race to Trump and the primary would be over.

But this is not like any other primary campaign and there is now a serious effort among Republicans to do whatever is necessary to prevent Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates. He has won roughly 48% of delegates allocated so far and would need to win 59% of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination. Given the smaller field, the fact that some of the remaining states are winner-take-all primaries, and Trump’s gains in national and state polling, obtaining that percentage of delegates is feasible. The possibility of a contested convention exists, however, and should that become a more likely proposition, it will certainly be discussed in a future update. Suffice it to say, many norms of the primary process are being broken in this campaign, and the tradition that candidates concede when they can no longer secure the nomination is just one more of them. 

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