To the casual observer of the 2016 presidential race, it probably seems like the punditocracy has awarded the Democratic and Republican nominations repeatedly to front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump — certainly since both candidates did well on March 15. It may very well turn out that way. But we’re likely not going to know for sure until June.
This conclusion was reached last week for the Republican field during an experts’ chat at FiveThirtyEight based on examining the remaining primaries and caucuses. Here’s David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report:
[W]hile we don’t know whether Trump will hit 1,237 or not, we should all be able to agree on one takeaway: For the first time in a very long time, every state will matter — and yeah, this thing’s going all the way to June. I don’t see any way for Trump to attain 1,237 until June 7, and I don’t see any realistic way for him to be mathematically eliminated from 1,237 before June 7.
There are 303 Republican delegates at stake on June 7, with winner-take-all New Jersey offering 51 and winner-take-all-by-congressional-district California awarding 172. So the contest could swing pretty wildly in either direction. Maybe we’ll have a pretty good idea which way it will swing before June 7, but no prediction will be safe until then.
What should be dawning on observers is that the Democratic contest will likely extend into June as well. The key to this situation is the Sanders campaign’s contention that pledged delegates alone should be considered in determining the leader or winner; superdelegates will or at least should go along with the “popular” favorite. That’s a debatable premise, but Team Clinton’s not in the best position to deny it since HRC made a similar argument when chasing Barack Obama in the late stages of the 2008 contest (indeed, her supporters went a step further by arguing that the raw vote winner should be the nominee regardless of delegate counts). Sanders’s latest winning streak has reduced Clinton’s pledged-delegate lead to approximately 226 votes. Moreover, the same proportional representation rules that are making it hard for Sanders to catch up with Clinton will also make it hard for her to put him away before the bitter end. Unless she wins by very large margins in the five northeastern states that vote on April 26 (Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island), she’ll probably have to wait until June, when there are 781 Democratic delegates up for grabs, and when Sanders might in theory catch her.
So grab a chair and get a grip. There are ten weeks and a day until June 7, 15 days longer than the time that has elapsed since voting began in Iowa. For political junkies, the wait will be like that of a child watching the days slow down before summer vacation. But that’s the remarkable hand we’re being dealt.