(The beginning of) the end of the beginning

Although Super Tuesday was bigger both in number of states and number of delegates at stake, today (yesterday in America) may be even more significant in deciding on both parties’ nominees. Five big states have been going to the polls: Florida, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri.

All but Missouri (which is 18th) are among the top ten most populous states. Even more significantly – at least for the Republican race; I’ll come to the Democrats shortly – Florida and Ohio are winner-take-all, with big chunks of delegates at stake, while Illinois and Missouri are winner-take-all at congressional district level, meaning the leading candidate is likely to win a large majority of delegates. Only North Carolina is proportional.

Donald Trump starts with a clear but not overwhelming delegate lead: according to the Green Papers he has 473 to Ted Cruz’s 372, with Marco Rubio well back on 166 and John Kasich on 63. (Other sources differ slightly, but not enough to matter.) The total needed for a majority at the convention is 1,237; with 358 available today, a series of big wins by Trump would make him almost impossible to beat.

Conversely, if Trump has a bad day it will put us well on the way to a contested convention – or conceivably to Cruz being able to win a narrow majority beforehand.

But it’s more complex than that, because to some extent these things are a matter of degree: a convention where Trump is, say, ten votes short of a majority would have a very different dynamic to one where he was 200 votes short. So although today is important, there will still be a lot of interest in the remaining big primaries, particularly Arizona on 22 March, New York on 19 April, Pennsylvania on 26 April and California on 7 June.

On the Democrat side things are simpler: Hillary Clinton leads with 712 delegates to Bernie Sanders on 486. (The Democrat convention is much larger – 2,383 are needed for a majority.) That doesn’t include superdelegates, who are not technically pledged to either side but are likely to favor Clinton quite strongly.

Because the Democrats don’t do winner-take-all, a lead like the one that Clinton has already opened up is very hard to overtake. Sanders needs to not just win most of the big states from here, but to win them by large margins. That’s not impossible, but the odds are very heavily against him.

Polls closed an hour ago in Florida, and it looks as if Rubio can already be written off: with 45% of precincts reporting, Trump leads by nearly 18 points, 45.4% to Rubio’s 27.6%. Cruz has a respectable 16.7%. AP has just called it for Trump – and for Clinton, who is beating Sanders about two to one.

Ohio and North Carolina are half an hour later; very early results show modest leads for Kasich and Trump respectively. Illinois and Missouri (and the western extremity of Florida) have just closed, so there should be some numbers coming in soon.

Updates to follow.

——–

*UPDATE 12.20pm (Melbourne time)*

And then there were three: Rubio’s exit is now official, after his dismal performance in his home state. With 84% in, Trump has 45.7% to Rubio’s 27.0%.

Bernie Sanders hasn’t yet pulled out, but he’s equally finished, after Clinton was declared the winner in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina – with margins in the first two approaching two to one – and has comfortable leads on early counting in Illinois and Missouri.

Trump, however, is not getting things all his own way. Kasich has taken his home state of Ohio with its 66 delegates, and although Trump leads in the other three states, only Illinois (where Cruz and Kasich are splitting the anti-Trump vote evenly) looks safe for him.

The betting market now has Kasich at an 11.8% chance for the nomination and 5.0% for the presidency, which reflects the fact that of the three remaining Republican candidates he’s the only one that most Republicans can stand to be in the same room with.

*12.50pm*

Sanders has now hit the front in Missouri, 50.0% to 48.1% with 15% reporting, so he might salvage something from the night. Clinton has a 6.1% lead in Illinois after 30% counted, so I doubt that will change, although you wouldn’t want to call it yet.

I don’t know why they haven’t called Illinois for Trump yet; on 30% counted he looks very safe, with 40.2% to Cruz 25.9% and Kasich 22.3%. Granted it’s a pretty heterogeneous state, I still can’t see them catching him.

North Carolina is closer, but with more than half the precincts in, Trump has a lead of 3.8% over Cruz; that’s probably going to hold up. But Missouri is still a chance for Cruz: he needs to make up 2.9% with only 20% reporting. Still, odds are that Trump will end up with four out of five, which is a very good night for him.

*1.15pm*

Illinois and North Carolina have both been called for Trump, and he’s still holding off Cruz by 1.7% in Missouri (but still only 28% reporting). That will keep him well on track for the nomination, although by no means unbeatable.

Incidentally, Rubio’s appeal to his supporters to vote for Kasich in Ohio seems to have had quite a bit of effect: Rubio’s sitting on 9.0% of the vote in Illinois, but only 2.6% in Ohio. Given that Kasich’s margin of victory is only 7.3%, that might have made the difference.

For once the Democrat contest is more interesting: Illinois and Missouri are still close. Clinton is up by 4.7% in Illinois with 47% in, while Sanders is holding on by 4.3% in Missouri after 32% counted.

*2pm*

Cruz has now taken a wafer-thin lead in Missouri: about 900 votes, or 0.1%, with 59% of precincts in. In terms of delegates it won’t make a lot of difference (since the majority are awarded at the congressional district level), but three out of five wouldn’t be nearly as good for Trump’s momentum as four out of five.

Clinton’s lead in Illinois still looks pretty solid: 51.2% to 47.9%, with 65% reporting. Ditto for Sanders in Missouri, where he’s 3.8% ahead.

*2.25pm*

Missouri is going right down to the wire on both sides. For the Republicans, it’s back to Trump in the lead, but by just 0.4%, with 82% now in.

For the Democrats, Sanders is still in front, 50.7% to 48.1%, but most of the vote to come is from metropolitan St Louis and Kansas City, which have been good for Clinton. So it’s not over yet. On the other hand, I think Clinton’s got Illinois in the bag: she’s on 50.9% and Sanders 48.3%, with 75% counted.

With further counting, Kasich’s winning margin in Ohio has come up to just over 10%, or about 180,000 votes. It’s winner-take-all so it doesn’t matter, but it looks good.

*3.40pm*

Missouri still nailbitingly close with just a handful of precincts to come in. Trump should hold on unless there’s something unusual happening – he’s almost 2,500 votes ahead. But on the Democrat side there’s only going to be a few hundred votes in it. I just did a projection that gave me Sanders by 268 votes.

*4.15pm*

And that’s a wrap. Trump wins four out of five, taking Missouri by 1,634 votes. And Clinton gets all five, overtaking Sanders in Missouri at the last minute to win by an eerily similar 1,531 votes. There will probably a Republican recount; it’s less likely on the Democrat side because proportional delegate allocation means that winning by a handful has much the same effect as losing by a handful.

No doubt Sanders will stay in – he has basically nothing to lose – but there’s no longer any doubt that Clinton will be the nominee. The Republicans, however, still have three options: two of which their leadership can’t stand, because they’re downright loopy (albeit in different ways), and one that their voters won’t tolerate, because he’s not.

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