Super Tuesday offered few surprises. Donald Trump won big, but not as big as he had hoped. Hillary Clinton won, but not as big as she had hoped, with Bernie Sanders winning four of 11 states. It is still early – only 15 states have voted – but views on these candidates are beginning to harden.
On the Democratic side, Clinton cleaned up in the red states of the South where Democrats have no chance in the general election, while Sanders ran close or won in blue states that actually vote Democratic in the general. Super Tuesday was designed by conservative Democratic Leadership Council-allied Democrats (who the Rev. Jesse Jackson dubbed “Democrats for the Leadership Class”) to provide an early boost to the more conservative candidate. It also dramatically raised the importance of African-American voters, foiling DLC plans in 1988 when Jesse Jackson ran strong and in 2008 when Barack Obama swept.
This year, Hillary Clinton won the southern states – Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. She barely edged Sanders in blue Massachusetts, while winning in swing-state Virginia by a solid margin. Sanders won the caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado, and also took Oklahoma big, while sweeping his home state of Vermont. In the delegate race, Hillary now has a lead of 200 delegates, garnering 544 of the 2383 needed to win.
As in South Carolina, Clinton’s victories were propelled by huge support from African-American voters. She also won Hispanics two-to-one in Texas. Sanders continues to win young voters, independents, first-time voters and white men. Sanders likely won the Hispanic vote in the Colorado caucuses (there were no exit polls there), but Clinton’s margin in Texas showed her strength there.
Clinton talking heads will now clamor about the race being over and call on Sanders to concede. But as Sanders stated, “We have come a very long way in 10 months,” pledging to take the fight to all 50 states. The Clinton campaign hopes that Sanders’ grassroots financial support will begin to dry up. But Sanders supporters are likely to double down, insuring that he can carry the fight all the way to the convention floor.
In the predominantly conservative Southern states, more Democratic voters emphasized experience and electability over honesty and trustworthiness. Even in Massachusetts, by large margins, Democratic voters wanted the next president to continue the policies of President Obama rather than change them. The economy and jobs was the number one issue for both Republicans and Democrats, with terrorism fourth. More than three in four Democratic voters were worried about the direction of the economy, but Clinton won majorities of those who said they were worried.
Republicans continued to enjoy record turnout, and are voting in larger numbers than Democrats. Trump won seven states from Massachusetts to Virginia to Alabama. Senator Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas, Oklahoma next door and Alaska. Marco Rubio avoided a shutout by winning the Minnesota caucuses.
Trump continued to add to his delegate lead. Despite all the calls for unity to stop him, no one has dropped out. Rubio will wait until his home state of Florida; John Kasich until his home state of Ohio. Trump, of course, benefits from having more people in the race to divide up the vote. Cruz, the scourge of the Republican Senate, risibly called on the party to unite behind him to stop Trump. But Super Tuesday was supposed to be Cruz’ firewall. His base, evangelical voters, were strongest in these states, but they did not go overwhelmingly to Cruz and Trump did remarkably well among them.
Trump won pluralities among men and women, old and young, rich and poor. He did far better among non-college educated than college-educated. His strength continues to lie with voters who value someone who “tells it like it is” and “will bring change.”
A good portion of Republican voters are angry – at their party, at their establishment, at Washington, and clearly at Obama. Democrats are more protective of Obama. In early exit polls, by 50 to 40, Republican voters preferred someone who is an “outsider” over someone who has experience. By 84 to 14, Democrats preferred someone who has experience over someone who is an outsider.
On both sides, the challengers have driven the race. In reaction to Sanders, Clinton has changed her policies (on trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example), her rhetoric (on Wall Street and corporate tax dodgers), her positioning (embracing Obama closely) and her posturing (presenting her campaign as fueled by contributions of “little people”).
On the Republican side, Trump keeps dragging the debate into the mud. Now Rubio and Cruz are exchanging schoolyard taunts with him, ignoring the rule about getting into it with a skunk. Reports from the Clinton campaign – that they plan a “scorched earth” assault on Trump – suggest that he’ll succeed in drawing her into the muck as well. Sanders has every reason to carry on the fight. The spreading spitball brawl will make his call for a political revolution ever more compelling.