Acela primaries: 5 things to watch

Acela primaries: 5 things to watch
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Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton slams Trump rally: 'The time has come again' to fight for democracy Trump blasts minority Democrats, rally crowd chants 'send her back' The Memo: Democrats debate Trump response – 'Being righteous and losing sucks' MORE are poised for big nights on Tuesday in contests playing out in five states along the East Coast.

The so-called Acela primary — most of the states up for grabs fall along Amtrak’s Acela train line between Washington, D.C., and Connecticut — presents an opportunity for the front-runners to establish themselves as each party’s presumptive nominee.

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After resounding victories in New York last Tuesday, both Trump and Clinton will enter election day as the favorites to win a majority of delegates in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Here are five things to watch for as the front-runners look to separate themselves from the pack:

 

Trump’s delegate haul

The pressure is on Trump to run up the score at a period in the race when the map has lined up favorably for him.

The GOP front-runner took care of business in New York last week, nearly sweeping the 95 delegates available in his home state.

Tuesday’s primary contests offer a similar opportunity.

Trump should win the 17 bound delegates up for grabs in Pennsylvania and the 16 at stake in Delaware’s winner-take-all contest. 

He should also be in good position to take home a strong majority of delegates in Maryland and Connecticut, where the bulk of delegates will be awarded in winner-take-all contests at the congressional district level.

Trump currently has 845 delegates, putting him 68 percent of the way to 1,237.

He needs to win about 58 percent of the remaining 674 still up for grabs in contests between now and the last day of elections on June 7 to secure the nomination.

Tuesday’s contests should give him some breathing room in that quest.

Based on his standing in the polls, it will be a disappointment for Trump if he takes fewer than 90 of the 118 bound delegates awarded on Tuesday — or about 75 percent.

Texas Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz calls for 'every penny' of El Chapo's criminal enterprise to be used for Trump's wall after sentencing Conservatives defend Chris Pratt for wearing 'Don't Tread On Me' T-shirt Google official denies allegations of ties to China MORE and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright, but both carry on in hopes of blocking Trump from getting the 1,237 he needs to win on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention.

Many believe that if Trump falls short of that mark, the delegates will turn their backs on him in the floor fight and deliver the nomination to someone else.

 

Unbound delegates in Pennsylvania

Polls show Trump is headed for a big victory in Pennsylvania, the biggest delegates prize of the day. 

According to the RealClearPolitics average, Trump leads by nearly 20 points over Cruz there.

That would give him 17 of Pennsylvania’s 71 delegates, but winning statewide is only a minor part of the equation in the Keystone State.

The remaining 54 delegates are elected directly by voters and will be unbound to any candidate heading into the convention in Cleveland in July.

The onus is on the campaigns to get their supporters elected as delegates, and Cruz has so far proved far superior to Trump at that inside game.

Pennsylvania’s unbound delegates will be the first major test for Trump’s newly revamped campaign team.

The GOP front-runner has brought on a host of veteran Republican operatives to help him compete with Cruz in the fight for delegates.

Another failure would not portend well for Trump’s chances. He needs a good chunk of those unbound Pennsylvania delegates if he’s to secure the nomination on the first ballot at the convention.

    
Will Clinton pivot away from Sanders?

The Democratic primary battle has gone on longer than Clinton and most Democrats wanted or expected. 

Clinton is tired of dealing with Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats react to 'send her back' chants at Trump rally Cardi B posts message of support for Ilhan Omar #IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'send her back' MORE and eager to turn her focus to Republicans and the general election. 

A strong slate of victories on Tuesday could finally make that possible.

Clinton will rally supporters at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Tuesday night, a site that’s important on two fronts.

First, it’s a sign of confidence that she’ll top Sanders in a state where he has campaigned heavily and badly needs an upset to extend the race.

Second, the convention center is only miles from where Clinton expects Democrats will crown her the nominee at the Democratic National Convention in July.

The optics of Clinton claiming victory at a convention center in Philadelphia on Tuesday night could go a long way in helping her convince Democrats that it’s time to shift their collective gaze to the general election.

Clinton already seems to be moving on.

After the bitterly fought and divisive primary in New York last week, she didn’t mention Sanders at rallies she held over the weekend.

Clinton won’t be able to mathematically eliminate her rival on Tuesday, but she’s poised to at least put him in her rearview mirror once and for all.

 

The Sanders campaign’s ‘reevaluation’

Sanders needs a few upsets on Tuesday to change the trajectory of a race that is quickly getting away from him.

Polls show he is at least running close to Clinton in Connecticut and Rhode Island, but the proportional allocation of delegates will make it difficult for him to ever catch up overall.

The math for Sanders is getting to the point where the Vermont senator will repeatedly be challenged over why he’s staying in the race. He will also be under pressure not to do anything that could damage Clinton.

Sanders strategist Tad Devine has said the campaign may “reevaluate” its strategy after Tuesday’s contests.

Sanders, however, has vowed to take the fight all the way to the convention. 

There is little incentive for him to bow out now, as he continues to rake in tens of millions of dollars and attract tens of thousands of supporters to his massive rallies.

But playing for the win, either by attacking Clinton or seeking to sway the scores of superdelegates who have already pledged their support to her, doesn’t seem like an option, either.

If Sanders does carry on, Democrats will want him to focus on the issues, rather than his rival.

There is still value in that for Sanders, as he’ll have the opportunity to use his newfound political capital to move the party’s platform to the left at the convention.


Are more Hail Marys in store?

Cruz and Kasich made a bold move Sunday night when they announced an unusual alliance in upcoming primary states designed to play to each other’s strengths.

By coordinating their efforts, Cruz and Kasich will seek to keep their hopes alive by forcing a contested convention.

That move might be too little, too late, but it signals a point in the race where everything is under consideration by those with an incentive to stop Trump.

Do they have any other tricks in their bag?

One or both candidates could announce a vice presidential partner meant to expand their appeal either in upcoming primary states or at a contested convention.

Or the anti-Trump groups might decide an alliance between Cruz and Kasich isn’t enough and ratchet up the pressure on Kasich to drop out.

There will likely be challenges to Trump to debate, full-scale pressure on unbound delegates to reject the front-runner and possibly even a move to recruit a Republican willing to launch an independent run for president.