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Even after the Bernie surprise, the reality of hard math

U.S. Election 2016

Even after the Bernie surprise, the reality of hard math

Senator Bernie Sanders acknowledges his supporters on arrival at a campaign rally in Miami. On the same day, Mr. Sanders won the Michigan primary, a key victory. The next big contests come on March 15, including Florida.

Senator Bernie Sanders acknowledges his supporters on arrival at a campaign rally in Miami. On the same day, Mr. Sanders won the Michigan primary, a key victory. The next big contests come on March 15, including Florida.

ALAN DIAZ/AP

Big victories like the Sanders campaign snatching Michigan from Hillary Clinton show new-found momentum. But the Democratic and Republican contests are also about winning the most the delegates. Affan Chowdhry looks at where the delegate math stands after Tuesday's contests in Michigan, Mississippi, Hawaii and Idaho.

Democrats: Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders

  • 2,383: Number of delegates needed to win the nomination
  • 166: delegates up for grabs in March 8 Michigan and Mississippi primaries

Bernie Sanders is on a roll. He has won four of the last six contests. And Michigan is by far the biggest surprise of the Democratic race so far. But big wins do not always mean a big haul when it comes to delegates, and that is where he needs to narrow Hillary Clinton's delegate lead.

The way delegates are awarded is based on a proportional system, which means he can win the most delegates in the Michigan primary. But there's one catch: "superdelegates."

They are the elites of the Democratic party – officials, elected representatives, and one-time politicians. They don't have to pledge to a candidate before the party's convention – but often, it is understood which candidate they are backing. And so far, the overwhelming majority are backing Ms. Clinton.

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That means that even in a state like Michigan, Mr. Sanders loses when it comes to combined total of delegates and superdelegates. According to Associated Press, Ms. Clinton gets 68 delegates and Mr. Sanders gets 65. Add on top of that the margin by which Ms. Clinton won in Mississippi, the former U.S. secretary of state clearly won the most delegates overall on Tuesday.

As an experiment, if we were to take out the superdelegates from the equation it would be a closer race on the Democratic side.

Republicans: Donald Trump versus The Rest

  • 1,237: Number of delegates needed to win the nomination
  • 150: delegates up for grabs in March 8 contests in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii

On the Republican side, there has been a scramble to try and stop front-runner Donald Trump ever since Mr. Trump's strong Super Tuesday showing on March 1 made him appear unstoppable.

In the four contests on Tuesday, Mr. Trump won in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii. Senator Ted Cruz won in Idaho.

The overall trajectory of the race on the Republican side is largely unchanged. Of the 24 contests, Mr. Trump has won 15, Mr. Cruz has won 7, and Senator Marco Rubio has won two.

It is looking hard, although not impossible, to catch and overtake Mr. Trump in the delegate math. By mid-March, about 58 per cent of the Republican delegates will have been awarded, which is why the March 15 contests are so crucial..

Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks during a campaign rally at Central Baptist Church in Kannapolis in North Carolina. The state holds its primary on March 15, a day that will see several key states and delegates up for grabs.

Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks during a campaign rally at Central Baptist Church in Kannapolis in North Carolina. The state holds its primary on March 15, a day that will see several key state contests and hundreds of delegates up for grabs.

GERRY BROOME/AP

Next up: watch out for the next Super Tuesday

  • 5: the number of states holding Democratic and Republican contests on March 15. The states are Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
  • 691: delegates up for grabs on the Democratic side
  • 367: delegates up for grabs on the Republican side

After the slew of Super Tuesday contests on March 1, the handful of contests on March 8, there is another big Tuesday shaping up on March 15.

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The five upcoming state contests present an opportunity to significantly narrow the gap in delegates, particularly on the Republican side. On that day, two states will be winner-take-all contests. Of the 367 delegates up for grabs that day, 165 will be go to the Republican candidate, or candidates, who win Ohio and Florida.

But the same winner-take-all contests could also put Donald Trump out of reach. Right now, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls in Ohio and Florida, the billionaire tycoon is leading..

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On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders will need a strong showing. But there is no winner-take-all system of awarding delegates. That means that the Vermont senator will likely see himself falling short in the delegate math, even if he wins some of those delegate-rich states like Florida and Ohio.

The Sanders campaign strategy is to keep winning states and, hopefully, enough momentum that the Democratic party superdelegates will be tempted to reconsider their support for Ms. Clinton. Right now, there is no sign that superdelegates are about to abandon the Democratic front-runner.

There is another hurdle: the RealClearPolitics average of polls in Ohio and Florida show that Ms. Clinton is leading. But polls can be wrong. That was one of the big takeaways from the Sanders win in Michigan on Tuesday, as pointed out by U.S. pollster Nate Silver on Twitter.

A couple of surprise wins on Super Tuesday 2 could super-charge the Sanders campaign, and turn the Democratic race into a hunt for delegates through March and beyond – and suck the air of inevitability out of the Clinton campaign.

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March madness: a rundown of what to expect

ContestsRepublicanDateDelegatesDemocraticDateDelegates
KansasprimaryMarch 540primaryMarch 537
KentuckycaucusMarch 546nonenone
LouisianaprimaryMarch 546primaryMarch 559
MainecaucusMarch 523caucusMarch 630
NebraskanonenonecaucusMarch 630
Puerto RicoprimaryMarch 623nonenone
HawaiicaucusMarch 819caucusMarch 2634
IdahoprimaryMarch 832caucusMarch 2227
MichiganprimaryMarch 859primaryMarch 8147
MississippiprimaryMarch 840primaryMarch 841
District of ColumbiaconventionMarch 1219nonenone
Northern Mariana IslandscaucusMarch 159conventionMarch 1211
FloridaprimaryMarch 1599primaryMarch 15246
IllinoisprimaryMarch 1569primaryMarch 15182
MissouriprimaryMarch 1552primaryMarch 1584
North CarolinaprimaryMarch 1572primaryMarch 15121
OhioprimaryMarch 1566primaryMarch 15159
Virgin IslandscaucusMarch 199nonenone
ArizonaprimaryMarch 2258primaryMarch 2285
UtahprimaryMarch 2240primaryMarch 2237
AlaskanonenonecaucusMarch 2620
WashingtonnonenonecaucusMarch 26118

New York Times

Delegates from winner-take-all contests in bold. Also, some jurisdictions do not hold Republican and Democratic contests on the same day. If the table indicates no contest and date, it is because the contest is scheduled for May or June. Or in the case of Alaska, the Republican caucus took place on Super Tuesday March 1st

Follow me on Twitter: @affanchowdhry


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