Tuesday marks the latest presidential battleground as challengers look to make their last gasps in the fight against front-runners Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSanders's Nevada director floated two-sided coins for tiebreaks: report Trump hires ex-Cruz aide as communications director GOP senator on Trump’s VP hunt: 'I know nothing’ MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonRepublicans to release Benghazi report Tuesday Sanders's Nevada director floated two-sided coins for tiebreaks: report Benghazi Blues MORE.
Voters on both sides of the aisle will head to the polls in Arizona and Utah, while Democrats will also vote in Idaho, in races that will help show whether Ted CruzTed CruzTrump hires ex-Cruz aide as communications director Overnight Tech: Judiciary leaders question internet transition plan | Clinton to talk tech policy | Snowden's robot | Trump's big digital push Kasich doesn't expect to speak at convention MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders's Nevada director floated two-sided coins for tiebreaks: report Overnight Finance: McConnell tees up Puerto Rico vote | Britain's credit rating slashed | Clinton vows to appoint trade prosecutor The Trail 2016: Warren takes VP batting practice MORE have any fight left.
Here are five things to watch as results roll in Tuesday night.
Can Trump hold off Cruz in Arizona?
Arizona is the largest winner-take-all state left on the map, with Tuesday’s winner bagging all 58 delegates.
For Trump, a first-place finish would move him closer to winning the nomination outright. If Cruz triumphs, it will greatly increase the likelihood of a contested convention.
Polls show Trump will enter election day as the favorite.
There have been only two surveys of Arizona released this month, with one showing Trump ahead by 12 points and the other showing him up by 14.
Republicans on the ground in Arizona believe the race has tightened considerably since then, and several say they believe Cruz could pull the upset.
Cruz has a far superior ground organization in the Copper State. The Texas senator has proven to be a strong closer and has nearly caught Trump in several states where the front-runner was the heavy favorite.
Furthermore, Trump could be hurt by the state’s closed primary.
To date, Trump has been able to run up the score in states that allow independents and Democrats to cast ballots in the GOP primary.
That won’t be the case in Arizona, cutting out a potentially huge pool of voters for Trump. Arizona is a rare state where registered independents outnumber registered Republicans or Democrats.
Can Cruz turn Utah into a winner-take-all contest?
Polls show Cruz is tantalizingly close to the 50 percent support mark that would turn Utah from a proportional contest into winner-take-all.
If Cruz can take a majority at the caucuses, he’ll get all of Utah’s 40 delegates, furthering the likelihood of a contested convention.
However, if Cruz finishes even a fraction below that mark, it will greatly diminish his delegate haul. He’d then have to split the delegates proportionally with the other candidates, assuming Trump and Kasich meet the 15 percent minimum threshold.
A Y2 Analytics survey released this week found Cruz at 53 percent support, followed by Kasich at 29 percent and Trump at 11 percent.
However, polling is scarce, and caucuses are notoriously difficult to forecast.
Cruz has done well in caucuses so far, earning big victories in Iowa and Kansas, and he should benefit from Mitt Romney campaigning on his behalf there. The 2012 GOP nominee keeps a home in Utah and is one of the highest-profile Mormons in the country.
However, both Trump and Kasich are motivated to avoid a shutout. Neither is likely to win, but both have made a late play for the state.
Their aims are low but significant: Keep Cruz below the 50 percent mark and take home at least 15 percent for themselves.
Does Kasich play spoiler?
John Kasich is not expected to compete for the top spots in either Arizona or Utah on Tuesday, but his portion of the vote will be closely watched for the impact it could have on the outcomes in both states.
Kasich has been criticized for staying in the race despite not having a pathway to the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination. The Ohio governor, who has won only his home state so far, is purely making a play for a seat at the table at a contested convention.
But some Republicans fear Kasich’s presence will cut into Cruz’s support among those seeking an alternative to Trump, thereby delivering the nomination to the billionaire businessman.
Arizona’s winner-take-all contest appears headed down to the wire between Trump and Cruz, with Kasich running a distant third place. If Trump edges Cruz there and takes home all 58 delegates, some Republicans will blame Kasich for having siphoned support from Cruz.
Similarly, if Cruz comes close to the 50 percent mark in Utah, which would give him all 40 delegates, but falls just shy and has to split the delegates with the other candidates, Kasich could again take the blame.
Kasich doesn’t seem to care at this point, arguing that if he hadn’t stayed in, Trump would likely have won Ohio and would be that much closer to the nomination.
But pressure will increase on Kasich to drop out if he’s perceived as making life easier for Trump.
Can Bernie regain momentum?
Clinton dealt the Sanders campaign a major blow on March 15 with wins in Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio and Illinois. The latter two states hurt the most, as Sanders’s team had hoped his success in Michigan the week before could carry over into nearby states with strong working-class ties.
Now, the Vermont senator’s camp is looking to rebound as the race shifts back toward the more homogeneous electorates that gave Sanders his initial jolt.
Sanders has fared better in states with smaller percentages of minority voters — likely to be the case in Utah and Idaho. And his campaign has touted Tuesday’s contests as the start of a primary calendar much more favorable to his chances.
He’s worked to woo the significant portion of Arizona Hispanics — a group that made up 18 percent of the state’s 2008 Democratic primary electorate, according to Pew Research — with English and Spanish spots featuring popular progressive Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). And he’s held large rallies in both Utah and Idaho.
While Clinton has also made a full-court press in Arizona — she, former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonPoll: Voters divided on role of government in gun control Trump details '50 facts' attacking Clinton Clinton slams Trump on immigration in Arizona op-ed MORE and Labor Secretary Thomas PerezThomas E. PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE all held events there — she never made it to Utah and Idaho herself, according to National Journal’s candidate tracker.
So as the Sanders campaign hangs on for dear life, wins in Utah and Idaho would go a long way toward asserting that he still has some fight left.
Can Clinton put delegate lead further out of reach?
The former first lady holds a firm lead over Sanders in the pledged delegate count, 1,147 to 830, according to The Associated Press. When Clinton’s overwhelming support from superdelegates is added, she sits at twice the delegates of Sanders, 1,614 to 856.
That means Clinton is almost 70 percent of the way to the delegates needed to secure the nomination, so Sanders’s window is closing.
Democrats award all delegates proportionally, which makes it difficult for Sanders to make up his pledged delegate gap without blowing out Clinton.
The delegate allocation helps to explain the reason behind Clinton’s emphasis on Arizona over Utah or Idaho. Arizona’s 75 delegates are more than the other two states combined: Utah will award 33 delegates and Idaho will award 23.
A small margin of victory or even a tight loss by Clinton in any of the states might throw some momentum to Sanders. But any scenario outside of a huge loss by Clinton in Arizona, a state where she polls well ahead of Sanders, would likely not do much to cut into her delegate lead.