By DOUG HEYE – – – – –
Tuesday was a big night for Donald Trump, especially with a colossal win in Florida that knocked Sen. Marco Rubio–who was both gracious and optimistic in his remarks–out of the race. Wins in Illinois and North Carolina add to Mr. Trump’s lead in delegates, something he will no doubt remind us about repeatedly in the days to come.
By winning Ohio, Gov. John Kasich not only breathed new life (and funds) into his campaign, he also denied Mr. Trump a clean sweep of the GOP contests (and total domination of the media coverage). Meanwhile, while Sen.Ted Cruz drafted close behind Mr. Trump and won late-deciding voters in Ohio, Missouri, and North Carolina. This sets up the new fight to be the top contender to Mr. Trump: Both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich have valid arguments as to why he is the better Trump-alternative. And so the battle for delegates continues.
Yet remember: Mr. Trump, the clear front-runner, has not surpassed 50% in any primary. He dismissed this point in his remarks Tuesday night, but it’s an important one. Nothing is a slam-dunk for Donald Trump. Exit polling showed high shares of GOP primary voters–more than 40% in Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio–who would consider casting a ballot for a third-party option if the general election came down to Mr. Trump vs. Hillary Clinton. Third-party candidacies have traditionally gone nowhere, but the numbers show that the Republican Party is far from coalescing around Mr. Trump.
Meanwhile, in most Democratic contests so far,Mrs. Clinton has won big, and when Bernie Sanders wins he has done so narrowly. Her margins on Tuesday–winning by 31 points in Florida, 14 points in North Carolina, and 14 points in Ohio-demonstrate how she dominates most contests. Missouri and Illinois–where Mr. Sanders shrewdly tried to use Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s support for Mrs. Clinton against her–were the exceptions.
Mrs. Clinton’s delegate lead over Mr. Sanders has become all but insurmountable. Mr. Sanders outspent Mrs. Clinton in several states the past couple of weeks but did not prevail. He has the money to continue running, but any realistic shot of toppling Mrs. Clinton has disappeared. After the Michigan results dealt the Clinton campaign a serious blow last week, the Clinton team is breathing a serious sigh of relief.