5 things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries

5 things to watch in Tuesday’s primaries
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Tuesday’s Oregon and Kentucky primaries may not flip the script on either party’s presidential race, but they will have much to say about the fall’s general election showdown.

Democratic hopefuls Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons remember former adviser Vernon Jordan Biden praises Vernon Jordan: He 'knew the soul of America' The parts of H.R. 1 you haven't heard about MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersIntercept bureau chief: minimum wage was not 'high priority' for Biden in COVID-19 relief Murkowski never told White House she would oppose Tanden Tanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief MORE will be on the ballot in both states as the former looks to inch ever closer to the nomination while the latter scrambles to stay on the scene.


On the Republican side, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE stands as the final active candidate, though a handful of his onetime rivals will still be listed on the ballot in Oregon.

While Trump and Clinton will both head to bed Tuesday night closer to clinching their party’s nominations, the results will speak to their strengths and potential pitfalls ahead of November.

Here are five things to watch on
primary night.  

Can Sanders turn wins into gains? 

Sanders’s first challenge is making a visible dent into Clinton’s lead among pledged delegates — and he needs to do it fast.

The Vermont senator is 283 pledged delegates behind the former secretary of State, according to The Associated Press, and he needs nothing short of a blowout to boost his chances of achieving an upset.

Unlike the GOP side, where candidates can amass big leads with winner-take-all states or by sweeping congressional districts, the Democrats award delegates by a strictly proportional system.

The difficulty that poses for Sanders was evident last week, when his 15-point rout in West Virginia only netted him only seven more delegates than Clinton.

So while Kentucky and Oregon will award 116 pledged delegates combined, Sanders will likely walk away with only a handful more than the front-runner. 

If Democratic superdelegates — party leaders who can vote for any candidate — are taken out of the equation, Sanders would still need to win about two-thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to pull ahead of Clinton. 

So he faces long odds. 

Will Clinton win a moral victory?

June 14, the last day of Democratic primaries, can’t come soon enough for Clinton, who is all but certain to clinch the nomination by then but would love to shake the pesky headlines touting Sanders’s primary victories.

Despite having an inside track to the nomination, Clinton has been overshadowed by Sanders at times in May, when he has stolen the spotlight with victories in each of the two state primaries that month. Clinton won a third, in Guam.

So a big day Tuesday would give Clinton control of the narrative for the three weeks ahead of the last day of contests, when she’s expected to seal her victory.

The reality has led to Clinton planting her flag in states such as Kentucky, where she beat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaClintons remember former adviser Vernon Jordan Vernon Jordan: an American legend, and a good friend A Biden stumble on China? MORE in 2008.

She hosted five events in the state in the two days before primary day, a significant increase compared to her recent primary schedule. Those stops included her repeatedly attacking Sanders’s vote against the auto bailout in 2008, a critique his campaign says is inaccurate because his opposition was to the larger financial bailout.

Team Clinton would love to turn the page on the primary race and focus its energy on the match-up with Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and that starts with a strong performance on Tuesday.

What tone will Sanders strike?

As the Sanders campaign remains publicly bullish, the bigger question centers on whether the Democratic Party will be able to pick up the pieces after a divisive race.

With less than a month to go in primary season, the rhetoric Sanders chooses for his reaction to Tuesday’s results will be telling.

Exit polls from West Virginia found that about a third of Sanders voters said they would back Trump over Clinton in a general election, so the party’s fate could rest on the tone Sanders sets: either marshaling his supporters to Clinton or digging in for a longer fight.

Sanders continues to launch critiques of Clinton meant to pin her as a moderate in progressive clothing on the stump, but he has also tried to temper those calls with others aimed at Trump and Republicans at large.

He has shown no indication he plans to back off even if he has a disappointing showing on Tuesday. But the longer he keeps up the heat, the harder it might be for the party to unify. 

How many will cast the anti-Trump protest vote?

The Republican side may be a one-man race now that Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Senate confirms Biden Commerce secretary pick Gina Raimondo MORE and John Kasich have returned to their day jobs, but that doesn’t mean Trump has an easy path toward unifying the party.

Since Trump became the presumptive nominee, each day has been dominated with stories about top Republicans wavering over whether they’ll ultimately back him, leading to concerns that a fractured party won’t come together to vote for Trump on Election Day.

But on Tuesday, Oregon’s more moderate GOP electorate could provide an important clue to Trump’s future. The Beaver State had been seen as Kasich territory, with Cruz agreeing last month to cede the state to Kasich in exchange for a clear path in Indiana.

While that ploy didn’t work, Oregon voters could provide an idea of how tough a climb Trump will have in winning over the more moderate wing of the party.

In last week’s West Virginia primary, nearly a quarter of Republican voters were committed enough to vote but resolute enough in their protest to cast ballots for someone no longer in the race.

A similar proportion of Republican protest voters in Oregon could be indicative of Trump’s fractured relationship with GOP moderates. 

Will Democrats get their man to take on Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate confirms Rouse as Biden's top economist Overnight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees Rand Paul criticized for questioning of transgender health nominee MORE?

Don’t forget, there’s also a Senate primary in Kentucky that marks the return of Rand Paul to the world of electoral politics. 

Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator, is back on the scene after failing to gain traction in his Republican presidential bid, and he is expected to cruise through the primary.

But things are a bit more complicated on the other side, where six candidates are vying for the chance to take him on.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray is his party’s pick for the spot, winning the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s endorsement. He also has an advantage in government experience and campaign cash, thanks in part to a $1 million personal loan.

Anything can happen in such a crowded and ideologically diverse field of candidates.

But the Democratic nominee won’t have time for much celebration, as the fight to unseat Paul is already a long shot. 

Democrats have posted four high-profile statewide losses since 2010, most recently for Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress MORE’s Senate seat and the open governor’s race in 2015.