Super Tuesday: 5 things to watch

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDem immigration platform courts Hispanics Dem platform draft adopts Sanders proposal on taxing foreign earnings Dem draft platform a full repudiation of Trump MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonLabor chief: Clinton-Lynch meet not ‘planned in advance’ Clinton scheduled to interview with FBI: reports Dem platform draft adopts Sanders proposal on taxing foreign earnings MORE are poised to build significantly on their leads in delegates on Super Tuesday and secure their standing as presumptive presidential nominees.

Nearly a quarter of the 2,472 total GOP delegates will be awarded on Tuesday, with Trump potentially taking a majority of the 595 up for grabs across 11 states.

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On the Democratic side, about 20 percent of pledged delegates will be awarded — 865 of the more than 4,000 total — with Clinton looking to run up the score on Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDem platform draft adopts Sanders proposal on taxing foreign earnings Sanders wins concessions in Dem draft platform Dem draft platform a full repudiation of Trump MORE (I-Vt.) as she did in South Carolina.

Here are five things to watch in both contests:

 

How much will Trump dominate?

The Republican front-runner looks like a runaway freight train barreling into Super Tuesday.

A national poll released on Monday found Trump with a 33-point lead over the rest of the GOP field and nearing 50 percent support, which should help him take advantage of a March 1 map that reaches from Alaska to Vermont.

At the state level, Trump leads in the latest polls in eight of the 11 contests. He’s behind in Texas, where there has been extensive polling, as well as in Arkansas and Minnesota, which have each seen only one poll this year. 

In several states with big delegate prizes — Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee — Trump has the potential to take a large majority of delegates because his rivals might not meet the minimum vote thresholds required to get any delegates at all.

Trump will enter Super Tuesday with 82 delegates, followed by Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThe Hill's 12:30 Report Trump hires Florida chief strategist, new pollster Lynch pressured to recuse herself after Clinton tarmac meeting MORE (Texas) at 17, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: Clinton-Lynch meeting ‘raises all sorts of red flags’ Which GOP pols will actually attend the convention? Poll: Rubio holds massive lead in primary MORE (Fla.) at 16, Ohio Gov. John Kasich at six and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at four.

Some analysts believe the real estate mogul is poised to take at least half of the 595 delegates that will be awarded, with the four challengers behind him dividing the remaining half among them.

That could potentially widen Trump’s lead to more than 200 delegates and set him up to deliver a knockout blow to his rivals in the critical winner-take-all states on March 15.

 

Can Rubio win anywhere?

Until Rubio can notch a victory, he’ll continue to face criticism that he’s a perpetual underachiever and the panicked creation of the GOP establishment and conservative media.

Rubio has raised the stakes for himself by going nuclear against Trump less than a week before Super Tuesday. Failure to make a dent in Trump’s armor now will only make the front-runner look stronger.

While the map does not look great for Rubio, there are opportunities for him.

He is spending election day in Minnesota, a caucus state that might be his best shot at a victory. Polling is sparse there, but Rubio held a small lead in a survey from mid-January.

Arkansas is also up for grabs, and Rubio will get a boost there from the state’s popular governor, Asa Hutchison, appearing in ads for him.

Trump leads in Oklahoma, but not by the margins he has elsewhere.

And nobody is sure how Alaska will shake out. No candidate has spent any time or significant money campaigning in the state, and the caucuses’ typically low turnout make them hard to accurately forecast.

Still, Rubio is not guaranteed a victory in any state on Tuesday, and a shutout could be devastating for his campaign.

 

Is a Texas win enough for Cruz?

The good news for Cruz is that he’s opened up a comfortable lead over Trump in Texas, which by his own account is a must-win state for him.

With 155 delegates at stake, the Lone Star State is the biggest prize on Super Tuesday.

The question is whether a victory in his home state will mean anything significant for Cruz’s campaign.

Texas’s delegates will be spread predominantly between the top two finishers — especially if Rubio, Kasich and Carson all fall below the 20 percent threshold to win any delegates.

Cruz is unlikely to run up the score much on Trump, who will likely win a significant slice of Texas delegates himself.

Furthermore, just last month, Cruz’s campaign was eyeing the other Southern Super Tuesday states — Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma — as his firewall.

That strategy fell apart after Cruz’s third-place showing in South Carolina, and now Trump appears headed for victory in all of those states.

Cruz is facing getting shut out of delegates in several states if he finishes third or fails to meet minimum threshold requirements.

That’s why a victory for Cruz in Texas is the nightmare scenario for the GOP establishment. It will keep him limping along in the race, and the continued fractured support will benefit Trump.

 

Will Tuesday winnow the GOP field?

Establishment Republicans are praying that Super Tuesday knocks out one or more contenders.

The logic is that the smaller the field, the more likely anti-Trump voters are to rally behind one candidate rather than spread their support across the four still in the race.

But that scenario appears unlikely.

If Cruz wins in his home state, as he’s favored to, he’ll carry on touting himself as the “conservative alternative” candidate and possibly the only man to have beaten Trump somewhere.

Rubio might not win any states on Super Tuesday, but he is staking his campaign on winning his home state’s winner-take-all contest on March 15.

Kasich is similarly banking on a victory in his home state of Ohio on March 15. He has also already turned his attention to Michigan, which will vote on March 8.

And while there are whispers that Super Tuesday will be Carson’s last stand, he is vowing to stay in the race rather than be pushed out by the pundits and party leaders he says are trying to silence him.

Carson is already campaigning in Kentucky, which will vote on March 5, and has instructed his state chairman in Michigan, which has a March 8 primary, to organize a concerted push there.

 

Is Super Tuesday the end for Bernie Sanders?

The Vermont senator will almost certainly stay in the race beyond March 1.

He has the money to go all the way to the convention and continues to attract massive crowds on the campaign trail, helping to amplify a populist message that has had a deep impact on the Democratic presidential race.

But Super Tuesday could be the day that Clinton drains the race of all tension and drama and allows her to look beyond Sanders to the general election.

Clinton appears poised to replicate her massive weekend victory in South Carolina, delivered on the strength of her overwhelming support from African-American voters, in several Southern states on Tuesday.

Clinton is set to win by huge margins in Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia.

Sanders, meanwhile, isn’t guaranteed a victory anywhere but in his home state of Vermont, which would just reinforce the notion that he’s a factional candidate with appeal to only white liberals in the Northeast.

To stay competitive, Sanders needs to win the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses. He needs to spring an upset in Oklahoma, where Clinton’s lead is smaller than it is elsewhere. And he needs to win in Massachusetts, which neighbors his home state but where polls show a tight race.

But victories in those states won’t do much for Sanders in the race for delegates. 

The superdelegates who are already supporting Clinton would only be emboldened to stick with the front-runner, though a few victories could keep Sanders moving forward in a race that threatens to quickly get away from him.

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