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What Happened Last Night?

March 9, 2016

I wasn’t planning on talking about Bernie Sanders winning Michigan this morning. The Democrats have a race on their hands now. As every pundit will tell you, the math still doesn’t work for Sanders, but if a candidate keeps winning, it’s tough to say they should vanish.

Marco Rubio had low expectations for the evening and managed to fall well short of them. John Kasich did well enough in Michigan to continue, not well enough to upend perceptions. His big win was Rubio coming further undone.Ted Cruz can once again say he was the only candidate to defeat Donald Trump. He had a solid win in Idaho, but Trump took Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii with relative ease. The last one is actually the important one. He was supposed to win the first two.

Can we draw any lessons you may not have already heard 50 times?

Democratic polls in the Midwest are highly questionable

It’s not just Michigan. According to Nate Silver, this was the biggest miss in primary polling since Gary Hart beat Walter Mondale in New Hampshire back in 1984. That’s a big miss.

It happened while polls (often from the same pollsters) got the Republican side almost exactly correct. A particular culprit, Mitchell Research, had Hillary Clinton up by 37 in their final poll, but only overshot Trump’s final result by a few points.

Naturally, people are wondering if this is a fluke, or the beginning of a trend. Hillary leads Bernie by large margins in Ohio and Illinois. Missouri is light on polling. If he were to win those three states next Tuesday, the hell with inevitability or delegate math.

So far, somewhat like-minded states are acting similarly. Sanders won Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine easily. Clinton won Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, et al by practically identical landslides.

Kansas and Nebraska stuck together and with Bernie. So did Colorado which shares a border with them. The trick is figuring out where the lines are. Massachusetts parted company with its New England neighbors.

Missouri is across the border from Arkansas, which voted strongly for Hillary. It also shares a border with Kansas. Bernie has yet to lose a state where he’s leading in the poll average on voting day. But what if Hillary is up 20?

Elmo will take a more in-depth look at this very soon, but with the South mostly done voting (completely finished after next Tuesday), we simply have no reliable data on how Democrats will vote going forward.

There was one poll taken in Minnesota ahead of the caucus in 2016. Hillary led Bernie by a 2 to 1 margin. He won easily. There was one poll taken in Kansas. Hillary was up by 10, with scads of undecided voters. Bernie won 2 to 1.

It’s apparently a Midwestern phenomenon. The limited Nevada polling was accurate. If anything it gave Bernie slightly more credit. In retrospect, people can say they should have figured Bernie would do well in Michigan.

But those same people thought he should do well in Massachusetts. The polling that showed Hillary taking a lead in the final week was correct, if slightly off on the margin.

Bernie underperformed the already negative polls in the South. So we know there’s a problem, but can’t get our arms around it just yet.

Hawaii was the deciding state yesterday

With the exception of Kasich squeezing past Rubio to finish a distant third in Mississippi, the GOP night was going exactly how I expected until Hawaii’s returns started coming in.

I mean exactly. Like stupidly proud of myself exactly. Let’s just say I couldn’t fit my head through a doorway when the Idaho results were announced.

Michigan is a Trump state. Yesterday’s total turnout across both parties broke the state record set in 1972, when George Wallace won. Many Wallace Democrats and their offspring are now Trump Republicans. The remainder voted for Bernie.

His victory there was the price of admission for winning other Midwestern states. If he couldn’t win there, he wasn’t going to win anywhere. Now we should expect him to follow the polls and contend in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, etc.

None are quite as Trump-favorable, but he’s definitely in the running. We’ll look at those in more detail over the next few days.

Mississippi is entirely surrounded by Trump states. Cruz did well to get over a third of the vote. It wasn’t what he would have hoped for a month or two ago, but fits well within our current understanding.

Make no mistake, Trump would have won this, even one-on-one with Cruz. He fell just short of 50% against three opponents. Ted won’t beat him in an open primary in a state that already favors Trump.

The state Cruz really needed was Idaho. He can win the best 1992 Ross Perot states even when other non-Trump candidates are around. After completing this victory, He’s now won the first, second, fourth, and fifth best states for Perot.

The missing link is Utah, which votes later in the month. You can safely assume Cruz has this one. Maine, Alaska, and Kansas were all caucuses. Idaho had a primary, so it shows he can win one of these even without a caucus format to lean on.

So at this point, Trump was hanging in as a very solid but not completely insurmountable front runner. Cruz was the clearly strongest alternative. What we didn’t know was if Rubio still had a pulse, or if The Donald’s reach extended to Hawaii.

Cruz won Alaska. Rubio won Puerto Rico. It might not seem like these places on the margin, away from the Lower 48 matter, but if this becomes a delegate scrape, everything matters.

It was also a test of whether Trump does well everywhere except some Western and Plains states, or if his strength is mostly limited to the South and grouchy places in the North, the majority of which have already voted.

Hawaii was a state Rubio would have likely won a couple weeks ago. Betting markets had him as a big favorite until the March 5 results came in. If he fell short, it would mean he was getting abandoned everywhere, a bad sign heading in to Florida.

Having Michiganders abandon him for neighbor governor Kasich, unfortunate, but understandable. Anti-Trump Mississippi voters picking Cruz instead, sure. Ted got more than double his vote in Idaho, but Rubio stayed in front of Kasich like he was supposed to and again, you can see how Cruz could do better in Idaho.

No excuse for Hawaii. The notoriously conservative Rubio spin squad mentioned it as a place where they could do well. They don’t like to predict victory, but they wouldn’t have mentioned it if they expected him to finish 30 points behind Trump and 20 behind Cruz.

Outside of Florida, he literally has no floor now. Without polling, we don’t know if voters abandoned him last minute, as the several hour time difference between Michigan and Hawaii did him in . We don’t know if it was a bad March 5.

Maybe it was losing to Cruz on Super Tuesday. Perhaps it was the debates. Maybe he was never that strong there in the first place. Either way, any path to doing well enough to have a chance at a contested convention involved getting several post-Florida wins.

Rubio absolutely had to do well (if he could survive that long) on the West Coast. It was a place you could argue he had a competitive edge on all of his opponents. Hanging on until then was another story, but if he does well in places with an upscale multi-ethnic audience, particularly in blue states, Hawaii would have turned out differently.

Trump argues Cruz has no chance against him in California in a one-on-one race. I wasn’t inclined to agree. There aren’t that many moderate Republicans left in the Golden State and Democrats can’t cross over in the GOP primary (Independents can).

I still think Ted could easily win, and if Kasich is still around, no telling how he would influence things. Still, a victory in Hawaii, however far offshore, indicates Trump might well have significant strength in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Hawaii went for Romney in 2012. Seeing Trump pick up an establishment-friendly state from last cycle isn’t a good sign for the #NeverTrump crowd.

The narrative for the evening was baked in long before Hawaii results were out. The result didn’t cause anyone to take back what they’d said earlier. That still doesn’t mean this wasn’t important.

Donald Trump is a threat to win each of the 5 states voting on March 15. He could also lose each of them. Needless to say, there’s a huge difference in the race depending on whether he lands on one of those extremes or in the middle.

If Hawaii was the final nail in the Rubio coffin, it helps The Donald in Florida. It doesn’t matter in Ohio, where Marco had no remaining support. However, it might aid Kasich and/or Cruz in Illinois and Cruz in North Carolina, by eliminating Rubio as an alternative.

It looks like March 15 is shaping up at least as exciting as any over-obsessed observer could possibly hope.

 

 

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