By Ben Kamisar - 03/08/16 06:00 AM EST
Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump hopes for boost from Brexit vote Sanders shares star power with NY House hopeful Trump, Clinton fundraising off Brexit vote MORE and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hopes for boost from Brexit vote Trump's first fundraising email had 60 percent spam rate Trump, Clinton fundraising off Brexit vote MORE are positioning themselves for big victories Tuesday in Michigan’s primary, where they will attempt to stunt their challengers’ momentum.
Both have led polls in Michigan for some time and are heavy favorites, but they also have rivals seeking to close the gap.
Here are five things to watch in Tuesday’s primary:
Can Clinton hold off Sanders in Michigan?
Sunday’s debate in Flint, Mich., showed that both Clinton and Sanders are acutely aware of the stakes in the state’s primary.
The importance of the state to both campaigns was evident during the debate, one of the most contentious yet.
Clinton cast Sanders as a traitor to Detroit by voting against the bill that sent bailout money to the auto industry, and Sanders accused Clinton of backing trade deals that dealt decisive blows to the state’s manufacturing sector.
Before March, most polls had Clinton more than 20 points ahead of Sanders. But Sanders has inched closer, with two more recent polls showing her ahead by 11 points and 17 points.
Whether Sanders is able to close that gap will likely rest largely on how Michiganders view that debate.
Will Trump rebound from a weak Saturday?
The real estate mogul still holds a substantial delegate lead over the rest of the field, but he’s taken a step back since a big night on Super Tuesday, when he won seven states.
Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzVa. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes Our most toxic export: American politick 'Never Trump' group ad compares Trump to Reagan MORE (R-Texas) won more delegates than Trump during Saturday’s contests, claiming 69 delegates to 53 for Trump and 18 for Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioGun-control supporters plan next steps versus NRA Va. GOP delegate files lawsuit over bound convention votes The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Fla.). Heading into Tuesday, that puts Trump 84 delegates ahead of Cruz.
So Tuesday represents an important opportunity for Trump to seize back the narrative ahead of the pivotal winner-take-all races in Ohio and Florida on March 15.
The GOP front-runner held two rallies in the Wolverine State in March, and the RealClearPolitics average of recent polling has Trump 18 points ahead of both Cruz and Kasich.
Can Kasich score an upset?
Michigan is a crucial contest for Kasich a week before Ohio heads to the polls. He needs to win his home state if he hopes to keep his shrinking path to the nomination open, so he’s desperate for any momentum he can get from Michigan.
The Ohio governor is way behind in the delegate count. His 37 delegates put him at a quarter of Rubio’s haul and less than 10 percent of Trump’s delegate total.
But Kasich supporters see a strong performance in Michigan as a prelude to next Tuesday’s Ohio primary, the governor’s judgment day. He has guaranteed he’ll win there and said that he’d hang on until the convention if he wins the state’s 66 delegates.
A poll in Ohio shows him pulling within 3 points of Trump there, so an upset in Michigan could give him the push he needs to get over the edge.
But the Michigan polling doesn’t look as good. One poll from March put Kasich ahead of Trump, but every poll since 2015 has had Trump up by double digits. Kasich’s best shot may be to finish second, and the RealClearPolitics average has him tied with Cruz.
Will Rubio turn it around?
While Rubio earned some momentum on Sunday with a resounding win in Puerto Rico, Michigan doesn’t look to be the state where he can build on that win.
Michigan is one of the rare states where the dynamics have flipped — while Rubio usually crowds out Kasich to win over more moderate voters, it’s now Kasich elbowing him. And while many states’ primary electorates have a conservative base large enough to support both Cruz and Trump, polls suggest that there’s room for only one moderate on the podium, which will likely be Kasich.
Many see Rubio as the establishment’s best hope, but Rubio still sits near the bottom of the barrel in delegates. He has only won half as many delegates as Cruz and sits further back from Trump.
The odds are against Rubio pulling together a strong performance in Michigan, where he’s last in recent polling, so he’ll likely have to wait for another state. But with the Florida senator’s home state holding its primary next week, he could use a good showing somewhere.
How will candidates fare in other Tuesday races?
Republicans will award another 91 delegates spread out over Hawaii, Idaho and Mississippi, while the Democrats have 36 up for grabs in Mississippi.
Recent polls show both Trump and Clinton up big in Mississippi, and both are expected to cruise to victory.
Clinton is expected to secure a win with significant support from black voters, and Trump looks to add Mississippi to his win column after winning primaries in every state bordering it.
Polling is more scarce in both Hawaii and Idaho; Trump led one poll from last week in Idaho. The Gem State typically turns out a very conservative primary electorate, good news for Trump and Cruz.
There hasn’t been recent polling in Hawaii, and there are not publicly available exit polls from its 2012 primary. That year, Mitt Romney narrowly defeated Newt Gingrich.
Endorsements have had mixed success in the presidential race. But Rubio has won the endorsement of Idaho Sen. James Risch, Kasich has the backing of former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and Cruz has the endorsement of Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador.
Democrats control Hawaii’s congressional delegation, so there’s no chance for Republicans to pick up any useful endorsements in the state.
None of the Republican candidates has visited either Hawaii or Idaho for campaign trips, according to National Journal’s travel tracker, so how the delegates will shake out remains unclear.