Calling Tomorrow's Primary Races

Voting stickers at First Presbyterian Church in River Forest on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 in Chicago. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago T
Voting stickers at First Presbyterian Church in River Forest on Tuesday, March 15, 2016 in Chicago. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

It's time once again to play another installment of our ongoing game of "pick the primary winners." Now, whenever multiple states hold their primaries on the same day, it has become de rigueur for the pundits to slap some cutesy name on it. This started with the granddaddy of all cute primary names, "Super Tuesday" (which was also, confusingly, known as "SEC Tuesday" this year). However, because a lot of states seem to shift around their primary dates each election cycle, new names are constantly being thought up for the new primary groupings. For tomorrow night's primary, the punditocracy seems to have settled on "Acela Tuesday," but for some reason this irks my sensibilities. Maybe it's because I never thought "Acela" was all that cool a name to begin with. It sounds like something a drug company dreamed up to hawk their newest laxative, or something.

Tomorrow night the following states vote: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. Now, on strict geographic grounds, you simply can't call this "New England Tuesday" or even "Northeast Tuesday," since the first would exclude the three states south of New York and the second would exclude at least Maryland and Delaware (who are in the Mid-Atlantic region, not the Northeast). The only thing that would really fit would be Atlantic Seaboard Tuesday (purists might argue Pennsylvania isn't covered by this, but the Delaware River means they really should be). However, this might lead the more inventive among the pundit class to start calling it "Atlantic Seaboard States Tuesday," and then decide to just use an acronym to save time. Which is really an undeserved cheap shot, so we're going to reject this altogether and just call it "tomorrow night" to keep things simple.

Before we get to making predictions for these five states, as usual I have to update my own personal stats for the season. Last week, I called both New York races correctly. I even (for once) got the details right on the Republican side, although missed the mark completely in the Democratic race. In my final New York predictions, I said: "Trump in a landslide, with at least 90 delegates when the night is done; and Clinton wins the vote, but only by single digits." Donald Trump did indeed win 90 of New York's 95 Republican delegates (Kasich won five, and Cruz was shut out). But Hillary Clinton beat all expectations by defeating Bernie Sanders with an impressive 16-point margin. Still, I picked both winners correctly, which is what counts. So here are my new overall numbers:

Total correct 2016 Democratic picks: 28 for 37 -- 76%

Total correct 2016 Republican picks: 31 for 41 -- 76%

Total overall correct picks: 59 for 78 -- 76%.

All my stats edged up by a single percent. OK, with that out of the way, lets get on with calling all five races for tomorrow night. The states are presented in alphabetical order, to show no favoritism.

 

Connecticut

Connecticut's Republican race is pretty easy to call. Trump is going to romp home with a big win. He's at over 50 percent in the polling, and he's got a lead of at least 20 points, so this is a pretty safe bet. The interesting thing about Connecticut (and most other states voting tomorrow) is that John Kasich looks like he's going to take second place, relegating Ted Cruz to a distant third. One recent poll in Connecticut had Cruz at a dismal nine percent (to Trump's 54), although other polls do put Cruz in the teens. No matter what his final total is, though, it's going to be embarrassing for Cruz.

The Democratic race in the Nutmeg State is a lot closer, though. Hillary Clinton leads the three most recent polls, but only by single digits (from two to nine percent). Could this represent a late-breaking surge for Bernie Sanders? It is entirely possible. If Bernie outperforms expectations just a wee bit, he could easily take the state. However, while Bernie has a decent chance in at least three of tomorrow's primary states, I'm going to say he falls short here. Hillary won New York largely by winning New York City and the surrounding suburbs -- and there are a lot of New York suburbs in Connecticut as well. I'm betting her strengths in New York translate well in Connecticut and she emerges with the win -- even if it's a narrow one.

 

Delaware

Delaware may be the First State, but it is certainly not first in available polling data. Only a single poll even exists to gauge the temperament of Delaware voters, so mostly this one has to be a gut feeling (one poll could always be wrong). On the Republican side, however, it's a much easier call. Donald Trump will crush his opponents in Delaware, and John Kasich may win (a very distant) second place. In the single poll, Trump was up over Kasich by 37 points, and over Cruz by 40 points, so even if the polling is off, it likely won't be off by anywhere near that magnitude.

On the Democratic side, there is a lot more uncertainty. The single poll put Clinton at 45 percent and Sanders at 38 percent, but that leaves a huge amount as "undecided." With 17 percent of the people polled still making up their minds, things could easily go either way. However, if the poll is even close to being accurate, Bernie's still got seven points to make up. Somehow, I just don't think he'll manage to bridge this gap. Granted, Delaware loves personable politicians (it's Joe Biden's home state, after all), but I don't think enough young voters will turn out to put the state into Bernie's column. I feel the least confident of this prediction out of all of tomorrow night's calls, though -- Sanders could easily surprise me here. Still, I think Clinton's edge will hold and she'll get at least a narrow victory here.

 

Maryland

Maryland doesn't have a whole lot of polling data, but enough exists to make a fairly confident call on both sides. Donald Trump is up by roughly 20 points in the polls, and seems to have a pretty solid lead. Once again, John Kasich looks poised to come in second, although it will likely be a pretty distant second.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton also has a solid lead. She's got a double-digit lead over Bernie in the polls, and it will likely hold in the voting as well. The more interesting race in the Democratic primary will be the contest to replace the retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski, which has two strong contenders. Chris Van Hollen is the favored establishment candidate, while Donna Edwards has run a very progressive campaign. I wouldn't equate this race to the Sanders/Clinton campaign, but it does have the same establishment-versus-progressive flavor. I personally got the chance to hear Edwards speak last summer, and came away very impressed. She's a real fireball on the stump, but it may not be enough to overcome the establishment edge Van Hollen enjoys. Polling for this race was neck-and-neck last month, but recently Van Hollen seems to be pulling away. There is still the possibility of an upset here, but right now Van Hollen has the late-breaking momentum.

 

Pennsylvania

In terms of delegates, Pennsylvania is the big prize tomorrow night. Because of this, it also has had the most polling data available. However, the trendlines are pretty clear on both sides. Donald Trump will likely win big here, although he won't pick up all that many delegates by doing so. Pennsylvania Republicans have a rather arcane process for delegate selection and their unpledged delegates outnumber the pledged delegates to be awarded tomorrow night. So Ted Cruz could wind up with more delegates, when the dust settles. Trump, however, will dominate the vote totals. Interestingly, this is the only state to vote tomorrow where Ted Cruz is polling in second place. He doesn't have a large edge over Kasich, but please remember that this state sent Rick Santorum to the Senate, so it would seem to be friendlier territory for Cruz. No matter how the race for second turns out, though, Trump will easily win the vote.

Hillary Clinton doesn't have as large a lead among Democrats as Trump holds among Republicans, but it will likely be big enough to assure her victory in the Keystone State. Some polls put Bernie Sanders within ten points of Hillary, but there just hasn't been any late-breaking surge towards Bernie or away from Hillary. So the safe bet is that the polling holds true and Hillary wins the state by a pretty comfortable margin. Pennsylvania, like Maryland, will also have a hard-fought Senate primary for Democrats, pitting Joe Sestak against Katie McGinty in a battle between an establishment Democrat (McGinty) and a candidate the party tried to take down (Sestak). The polls are very close, so it could really go either way.

 

Rhode Island

The nation's smallest state will also vote tomorrow night. Not a whole lot of polling exists here, but it's pretty clear on the Republican side. Donald Trump will sail to victory here, with a huge margin. John Kasich looks to take second, with Cruz far behind.

The Democratic race, however, is nothing but a coin flip, at this point. Only two polls were released this month, and they contradict each other. One had Clinton up by nine (43-34) and one had Sanders up by four (49-45). That's about as close as you can get, with only two polls to go on. So I'm going to go with my gut on this one and say that Bernie pulls out a win. If he really is seeing late momentum here, then he's got a good chance to beat Clinton -- the best chance of the three states he even has a shot at winning, in fact. I could be wrong, and I have no idea what the margins will be, but I'm going to go ahead and call Rhode Island for Sanders. If he wins here but nowhere else, it'll kind of be a consolation prize, but then I could always be wrong about Delaware and Connecticut, too.

 

So, to sum up, Donald Trump is about to have another very good night tomorrow night. No matter how many delegates he picks up, he's going to sweep the board on the Republican side and win all five states. Nobody's even going to come close to beating him, in fact. Kasich, surprisingly, will pick up four second-place finishes, while Cruz ekes out second in Pennsylvania. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton will easily win Pennsylvania and Maryland and also win closer races in Delaware and Connecticut. Bernie picks up Rhode Island, denying Clinton the sweep. Those are my predictions, but (as always) if you think I'm way off base then I'd love to hear your predictions in the comments.

 

[Previous states' picks:]

 

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