Americans in five states across the north-east voted in presidential primaries on April 27th. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Delaware opened up polling stations for the Republican and Democratic contests to select nominees for President.
The result was sweeping victories on both sides. The indefatigable Donald Trump took all five states with wide margins of victory, while Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton won four states, losing Rhode Island to Bernie Sanders.
Here are a few observations from the ‘Acela Primary’ results.
Major Wins for Trump With Majorities
The fact that Donald Trump won all five states on April 26th is not in itself surprising. The real estate mogul led polling ahead of voting, and his rival Ted Cruz has been unable to make significant inroads throughout the north east.
What is noteworthy, however, is the extent of Trump’s victory: 64% of the vote in Rhode Island, 54% in Maryland, 58% in Connecticut. Trump has been winning for months now, but usually through a plurality of the vote, not an absolute majority. His newfound ability to breach the 50% mark reveals both another level of depth in his support and the relative weakness of his rivals.
Once again, exit polls show Trump winning among college-educated and affluent voters, as well as blue-collar conservatives and the less educated.
Despite proclamations to the contrary in his victory speech, Donald Trump’s victories in these five states does not anoint him Republican nominee. That question will be answered in Indiana and California, two states that are central to the question of whether he can reach a majority of delegates. The significance of his wins on April 26th lies in their sheer dominance.
The Cruz-Kasich Pact Faces Questions
Ted Cruz did not expect to be especially competitive in the north east. The Texan Senator’s appeal is largely situated in southern and western states, and his campaign made little effort to wrest control of Pennsylvania or Maryland from Donald Trump.
That said, there is something worrisome when the GOP establishment’s ‘favoured’, albeit last-resort, candidate can’t crack 20% of the vote in any of these states in a three-person race.
Ohio Governor John Kasich is feeling the reality of his campaign’s limpness. Due to the state by state rules on how delegates are allocated, the Governor may only peel away delegates from Trump in Rhode Island. This is despite the fact that he should have been far more competitive in Pennsylvania, a neighbouring state of his home Ohio.
John Kasich has run a respectable and honest campaign, but this is not what the Republican base is looking for. They are seeking a grievance candidate, not a hopeful one. Kasich may have lapped up the remnants of the Rubio/Bush/Paul support, but this year that simply isn’t enough. Kasich has yet to even pass Marco Rubio in delegates, who dropped out over a month ago.
The Kasich-Cruz pact, announced earlier this week, effectively signalled that the two anti-Trump rivals would divide and conquer where possible, purely to prevent Trump winning a delegate majority. Right now, it’s questionable how valuable Kasich truly is.
Democratic Race All But Over
The Bernie Sanders campaign rode a wave of momentum into New York, powered by consecutive wins in the west. The mathematics of the race didn’t seem to matter at that point; the logic follows that Bernie was winning small states, but if he kept notching these wins how could he be stopped.
New York stopped Sanders in his tracks. April 26th knocked him down.
Hillary Clinton laid empathic blows onto the Sanders campaign with big wins in four of the five states voting. Only tiny Rhode Island went for Bernie, and due to the size of the state and the margin of victory, that win only netted the Vermont Senator two more delegates than Hillary.
The most significant results for the Democrats came in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the two largest states voting. Clinton won by 12% in Pennsylvania and a whopping 30% in Maryland. Given that Bernie already needed to win all remaining states with around 65-70% of the vote heading into New York, Clinton’s wide wins in these three states is effectively a knock out blow.
Bernie’s Next Steps
Despite April 26th effectively ending Sanders’ chances of winning the Democratic nomination, he will probably refuse to drop out.
The Sanders’ campaign is remarkably well financed thanks to a powerful small-donation fundraising machine, so can likely continue through to California. The question really is what kind of role Bernie Sanders envisions for himself in May and June.
Democratic Party insiders are hoping he will tone down his attacks on Hillary Clinton, lest he provide ammunition for her eventual Republican opponent later in the year.
Early indications are that Sanders will do just that. A statement released after the results of these primaries were announced spoke of “moving onto to issue-oriented campaigns in the 14 contests to come”, a tacit admission that overall victory was dropping off his radar.
From the beginning Bernie Sanders has sought to make his message of reining in Wall Street and getting money out of politics the primary focus of his campaign. To be brutally honest, Sanders was always a message candidate, and was caught off-guard by his own popularity. Going negative was not a natural transition for Sanders, and with Hillary’s wins in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland effectively precluding him for the Democratic nomination, he can return to the pure, message-based strategy of his campaign.
The burning question for Bernie will become how he decides to mould his relationship with Hillary Clinton, and whether he will endorse her for the general election. Clinton has infamously struggled to energise younger voters, and an endorsement from Bernie Sanders, should he feel compelled to do so, would be of massive political value.