Today’s Northeastern Primaries: It’s All About Margins of Victory Now

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Five northeastern states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) hold presidential primaries for both parties today; in Maryland and Pennsylvania, state primaries are held at the same time. The polls close at 8 p.m. in all five states. 

On the Republican side, the April 26 primaries have almost been overshadowed by the shaky “deal” struck by the Cruz and Kasich campaigns to give each other some leeway in three later primaries (Cruz in Indiana on May 3; Kasich in Oregon on May 17 and New Mexico on June 7), where one, but not both of them, might have a chance to defeat Donald Trump. And indeed, significant parts of the northeastern GOP primaries are rather cut and dried. Delaware’s 16 delegates are awarded winner-take-all, and Trump has been far ahead in the polls there. Rhode Island’s 19 delegates are awarded proportionately, and the only real drama there is whether Cruz falls short of the 10 percent threshold for winning any of them. Seventeen delegates are awarded to the statewide winner in Pennsylvania and 14 to the statewide winner in Maryland; that’s very likely to be Trump in both cases. 

That leaves Connecticut and the congressional-district winners in Maryland and Pennsylvania up in the air.

Connecticut’s 13 statewide delegates are awarded much like New York’s: A majority of the vote takes them all (and Trump’s been running just over 50 percent in most recent polls), but otherwise they are awarded proportionately with a 20 percent minimum threshold for any of them. It’s winner-take-all for the three delegates awarded in each of the state’s five congressional districts. Trump’s strongly favored in all but one. 

Maryland awards three delegates to the winner in each of its congressional districts, and there’s a chance Kasich can win a couple of districts in the D.C. suburbs and that Cruz could win in western Maryland. 

Pennsylvania is the real puzzler, since the 54 congressional-district delegates (three for each district) run individually by name rather than candidate preference, and will go to the convention unbound no matter what they say before or after the primary. The Cruz campaign has been boasting about the number of CD delegates it thinks it will win, though a fair number of delegate candidates are indicating they’ll vote for whoever carries the state or their district. Pennsylvania’s unbound delegates are very likely to be a constant source of speculation before and after Cleveland, particularly if Trump gets close to, but not across, the 1,237 delegate threshold to nail down the nomination on June 7. 

All in all, Trump will probably earn the headlines tomorrow night unless Kasich does unusually well in Connecticut and Maryland and benefits from some of “the new alternative to Trump” hype. 

As always, the drama on the Democratic side is limited by those boring proportional delegate-allocation rules, which means Hillary Clinton isn’t going to officially nail down the nomination until (probably) June 7, and Bernie Sanders won’t be able to deny her the nomination until June, either. But by all accounts, April 26 should be a pretty good day for the front-runner. Clinton has double-digit leads in the polls in Maryland and Pennsylvania, two states where her bastion of support among African-Americans should matter. She has more modest leads in under-polled Delaware and in Connecticut, and she’s in a virtual tie with Sanders in Rhode Island.  

Even if Sanders were to pull upsets in Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island to win three of five contests, Clinton is likely to add to her pledged-delegate lead overall, which again means Sanders is going to need an improbably big win in California to catch her. You will likely hear more complaining about participation rules from the Sanders camp tomorrow night: Rhode Island is the only state that allows independents to vote in party primaries (either of them, actually), and the four other states do not have liberal (i.e. late or primary-day) allowances for re-registration to change party affiliation. 

As noted above, Maryland and Pennsylvania are holding down-ballot primaries as well. There are red-hot Democratic Senate primaries in both states, with representatives Chris van Hollen and Donna Edwards battling for the nomination to succeed Barbara Mikulski in Maryland, and former representative Joe Sestak trying to fend off White House–backed Katie McGinty for the chance to face Republican senator Pat Toomey.