Voters in five states headed to the polls Saturday for four GOP presidential contests and three Democratic ones. While there was certainly less emphasis placed on the caucus states that provided the bulk of the action — Louisiana was the lone primary — there was plenty to comb through in the results.
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– Ted Cruz: Cruz won just two of the four states on Saturday, but the two he lost wound up being closer than expected — and will probably be cast as signs of potential Cruz momentum. In perhaps the most significant development of the night, primary-day votes in Louisiana turned a primary that basically all of the major networks called early on into a competitive race. Donald Trump had a huge margin among early voters, but as the night wore on, Cruz’s much-stronger primary-day performance made it a competitive race. Could that primary-day performance reflect a shift in the race more broadly? It’s possible. We would note that Louisiana is probably a state Cruz should compete with Trump in and maybe win. But insofar as this is still a momentum race, Saturday suggested Cruz momentum. And given many were declaring Trump the presumptive nominee and Marco Rubio had such a poor night, that’s significant. Cruz still needs to start winning primaries that aren’t his home state of Texas or don’t border it, but Saturday was, all things considered, a good night for his narrative.
– Donald Trump’s delegate math: He still won two of four states on Saturday night, and both of them — Louisiana and Kentucky — are Southern states where Cruz was supposed to do well, thanks to his strength among evangelical Christians. Trump also won the night’s marquee contest — the Louisiana primary — in Cruz’s backyard. What’s more, Trump won the two biggest states. Cruz might have new life thanks to the closeness of Louisiana and Kentucky, but Trump is still winning the big prizes and heading toward the GOP nomination. We’ll see if that changes.
– Hillary Clinton: Clinton won just one of three states on Saturday. But it was the biggest one — Louisiana — and she will likely have maintained or grown her delegate lead even further when all is said and done. Basic math still points to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and Saturday did nothing to change that.
– Bernie Sanders, the guy who wants to keep running: Sanders won a couple states! It bears mentioning here, of course, that these were the same brand of heavily white states he has won before. Combine that with Sanders’s success at caucuses, and this is completely unsurprising. But he’s still winning states — even after many have declared the Democratic nominating contest to be Hillary Clinton’s. As long as Sanders keeps winning some states, it’ll be hard to completely stop talking about him. And given he’s made clear he wants to be a factor at the Democratic National Convention, that’s helpful.
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– Bernie Sanders, the Democratic nominee: Look, Sanders still hasn’t broken out of the mold of winning only heavily white states. He’s won seven states, and all of them rank among the 18 whitest states in the country. That’s not good enough to win the Democratic nomination — especially considering the most populous states have more black voters. Clinton’s massive margins of victory among black voters and huge delegate prizes in such states, combined with her massive lead among superdelegates, quite simply mean Sanders can’t keep relying so heavily on white voters; it’s just not good enough. Sanders won some states Saturday night, but he didn’t little to change the underlying reality that he remains a distinct underdog who needs something to change.
Sanders has won 7 states. All rank among the 18 whitest in the country, at 86%-plus.
– Ted Cruz’s path forward: Look, Cruz still hasn’t broken out of the mold set by Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012. He has still only won caucus states and Southern primaries. And in fact, he’s not even doing that well in the South, losing eight of 10 contests thus far — all to Trump. That now includes Louisiana, a state that borders Texas and Cruz would very much liked to have won. But he didn’t — despite his late momentum. Cruz still needs to branch out and win a wider array of states. We’ll see if that happens.
– Marco Rubio: This might be the biggest news on Saturday. No, there weren’t a lot of marquee contests, but Rubio absolutely tanked. He was taking 11 percent in Louisiana, 17 percent in Kansas, 17 percent in Kentucky and just 8 percent in Maine. Those are four of his six worst showings so far on the primary calendar. In Maine, Rubio finished fourth and didn’t even win a single delegate. In Louisiana, he’s on-track to finish well shy of the 20 percent threshold for delegates — thanks to Cruz completely stealing his voters on primary day. Rubio quite simply doesn’t look the part of a real contender at this point. We’re now 19 states in, and he’s won just one state — a caucus state, at that. Combined with Cruz’s growing number of wins, the case for Rubio is getting less and less convincing.
– Rand Paul: So, back when he was a real contender, Paul wanted to be able to run for both president and reelection to the Senate in 2016. But Kentucky law got in his way, and he couldn’t appear on both a presidential and Senate primary ballot at the same time. So he convinced the state party to set up a caucus. Well, of course, Paul’s presidential bid didn’t go like he’d hoped, and he dropped out. But the caucus remained, and on Saturday, Trump — the man Paul railed against repeatedly — looks primed to win his state, beating Paul’s regular Senate ally, Cruz. Would the results have been any different if it were a primary? Who knows. But Paul probably isn’t happy.
(C) 2016, The Washington Post · Aaron Blake