Republicans headed to the polls in Utah and Arizona on Tuesday, the latest to offer their ballots in a presidential race that, at the moment, has real estate billionaire Donald Trump as its leader. Democrats, too, were clashing in those states, plus Idaho.
The day offered a relatively small pot of delegates and was unlikely to upend the contours of a contest that is heading toward a spring lull in voting. The end of the fundraising quarter is next Thursday, and the candidates were already looking to spend time around the Easter holiday collecting checks to offset spending.
That’s not to say either party could blow off the contests.
Republicans are still facing an undecided nomination race, a messy intra-party fight that still has Trump atop the field with Ted Cruz and John Kasich trying to block him from collecting the 1,237 delegates required to become the GOP’s nominee on the first ballot when the convention begins in Cleveland this summer. Clinton remains the likely Democratic nominee, and she has largely shifted her campaign rhetoric to take on Trump.
Ahead of the results in those Western states, she used Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Belgium to criticize Trump as someone unprepared to be America’s Commander-in-Chief.
“This is time to reaffirm our commitment to our allies individually and through NATO,” Clinton said during one of her calls to broadcast networks. It was a swipe against Trump, who just a day earlier questioned the worth of U.S. investments in NATO, a security cooperative for Atlantic nations.
Polls suggested a split decision: Trump was favored to win Arizona, Cruz was likely to prevail in Utah. With every delegate closely watched, though, even the small pot of winnings could prove useful to those who wished to stop Trump.
Trump’s advantage was in Arizona, a state that once hosted one of the most stringently anti-immigrant laws in the country and a place where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is popular among conservatives who cheer his tough policies on those suspected of being in the United States illegally.
Trump often touts the backing of Arpaio as well as former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who became the public embodiment of the anti-immigrant law that critics said encouraged racial profiling. The Supreme Court declared three provisions in it were unconstitutional.
The state’s 58 delegates will go to the winner, with the second-place finisher getting no delegates.
In Utah, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cruz stands to have a good night—so good, in fact, that there was talk that he could claim more than a critical 50% threshold, taking all 40 delegates. Trump’s brand of brash, in-your-face style was unlikely to win him much support among the state’s more staid Mormons. Heading into voting, Trump seemed on Monday ready to concede the state: “It wasn’t one of the states that I was projected to win,” he told reporters as he gave them tours of his new hotel a few blocks from the White House.
Kasich remains in the race. But if Trump wins Arizona and Cruz wins Utah by a majority of votes, then Kasich will be left in a position where it would be mathematically impossible for him to earn the required 1,237 delegates needed to become the GOP nominee, leaving him in the role of spoiler. He was fine with that casting as he looked ahead to larger pots of delegate in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York.
Establishment-minded Republicans, who once scorned Kasich’s long-shot campaign, have been rushing to speak kindly of him. If they are to derail Trump’s nomination, they’ll need Kasich to pick off delegates here and there, and Kasich’s advisers are plotting a strategy to arrive in Cleveland as a consensus candidate to foil Trump.
That’s not to say Trump cannot win the nomination outright. If things go as expected on Tuesday night, Trump would still need to win 39% of the remaining vote to become the nominee on the first ballot when the GOP meets in Cleveland to crown a nominee. That’s not impossible, and he certainly enjoys better odds than Cruz. The Texas Senator’s number is a mind-numbing 86%.
The goal for Cruz and Kasich now is to pick off enough delegates to thwart Trump. But with each passing week, it’s getting more and more difficult to picture Trump being denied the biggest prize in Republican politics. Trump was in Washington this week to meet with Republicans who have viewed his candidacy with loads of skepticism.
But he’s realizing that his coronation is anything but certain. “Mathematically, it’s unfair,” Trump told CNN on Monday. When the campaign started, there were 17 Republicans chasing the nomination, he lamented, and the long-time frontrunner lost out on delegates before candidates exited. (Lindsey Graham bowed out in December, before voting started. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee Jim Gilmore left the race after February contests. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio stuck around into March, but collected delegates.)
Trump has been making the pitch to Republican leaders that it’s time for them to drop their protests. “If they want to be smart, they ought to embrace this movement,” he told reporters at his Washington hotel. If not, Republicans would lose in November. “You cannot be that spiteful, because you will destroy the country.”
On the Democratic side, the biggest contest was in Arizona, where Clinton has a large lead in polls. Sanders, whose chances of winning the nomination are increasingly dim, has been campaigning heavily there in hopes of winning over Latinos. He delivered a foreign policy address there Monday night.
Democratic voter registration has jumped up in the state recent weeks, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, suggesting there could be high turnout in the state on Tuesday: More than 30,000 voters registered as Democrats between Jan. 12 and Feb. 24, significantly outpacing Republicans.
Sanders suggests that favors him. “The political reality is, if there is large voter turnout, we will win,” he said last week in Phoenix. “If there is a low voter turnout, we will lose.” Still, recent polls show Sanders trailing by about 25 points.
Republicans also were holding contests in the territory of American Samoa. Nine delegates were up for grabs. Democrats were having their caucuses in Idaho. A total of 27 delegates, including super-delegates, were up for grabs. Democrats need 2,383 to win the nomination.
-With reporting by Tessa Berenson.