Washington: Donald Trump scored a five-state East Coast sweep Tuesday to embolden his hopes of clinching the Republican presidential nomination without a catfight at the convention. Democrat Hillary Clinton, on the cusp of closing down Bernie Sanders' remaining presidential hopes, advanced toward that goal with wins in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Trump was assured of collecting more than 50 delegates in the three races called early, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut, and was on track to raise that haul substantially before the night was out after his wins in Rhode Island and Delaware.
It will still be a struggle for him to seal his victory in the remaining primaries and avoid a convention fight. But his odds of accomplishing that improved with his convincing performance as the presidential contest switches gears to Indiana next week.
Clinton is in a stronger position, now 88 percent of the way to the nomination. Sanders, who denied his rival a clean sweep Tuesday with his win in Rhode Island, is down to needing a miracle.
Bully for the 'bully'
Said the voters:
—"I think Cruz would do an excellent job. But I think Trump is a bigger bully. That may sound strange, but I think that's kind of what we need." — Laura Seyler, 63, on why she voted for Trump in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, despite being a fan of his leading rival, Ted Cruz.
—"His slurs, his negativity, his racism, the comments that he makes about different ethnic groups — I just find it appalling." — Loretta Becker, a pharmaceutical sales representative, explaining how the desire to stop Trump motivated her to vote for Clinton in Warwick, Rhode Island. Another motivation: "I really loved having Obama for president and now having Hillary as a president, feeling like she'll do a great job and knowing that she's the best candidate and wanting to vote for her and support her."
—"I've been feeling the Bern about six months. I initially was not so certain, thinking oh, great, another old white guy, but his message has really been resonating with me. It's consistent and I have a little Clinton fatigue." — Jessica Archer, an artist from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, on why she voted for Sanders.
—"I believe he is the most level-headed one of the candidates in this scary, scary bunch of candidates that we have." — Kelley Carey, 48, a nurse from Glastonbury, Connecticut, on why she chose Ohio governor John Kasich in the Republican field.
State of play
Of the three Republicans left, only Trump has a hope of clinching the nomination during the remainder of the primary season. It's a tough road for him, though one made easier after he scored the "knockout" he hoped for Tuesday.
Everyone has been readying for the prospect of a contested convention, the likes of which have not been seen in decades. A leading scenario: Trump comes into the convention with a delegate lead, but short of the needed majority, forcing more than one ballot. Delegates who had been divvied up according to the results of primaries and caucuses start becoming free to side with another candidate. That's when the claws come out.
As he has for so many months, Sanders attracts the large crowds, the passion, the vigor and commitment of youthful supporters — pretty much everything a candidate dreams of except the most important thing: a collection of delegates who can take him over the top. He has an almost impossible — he now concedes "narrow" — path to victory against a front-runner who's had far more of a fight on her hands than anyone who isn't named Sanders saw coming.
The Tuesday contests were closed to Democrats and Republicans, meaning no flood of independents, and that was a particular concern for Sanders — he called it a handicap. He is also more apt to thrive in caucuses, which require a commitment of time from supporters and a level of organisation that play to his strengths, and these were primaries.
The Pennsylvania race was an enigma wrapped in the chaos of the GOP contest. Most of the GOP delegates — 54 — are being directly elected by voters, with their names listed on the ballot but no information about which candidate they support and no obligation for them to have to line up with one of them. Trump won 17 delegates allocated to the statewide winner of the popular vote, leaving the rest a mystery.
—Clinton now has at least 2,097 delegates to Sanders' 1,271, with 2,383 needed to win.
Those totals include both pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses and superdelegates, the party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice regardless of how their state votes.
She won at least 150 delegates Tuesday, and Sanders 79, with many still to be allocated.
—Trump went into Tuesday 62 percent of the way there. Tuesday night, he beefed up his delegate numbers at least to 927, with 1,237 the magic number to clinch, so he needs as many as 310 in remaining contests. He, Cruz and Kasich competed for 172 delegates Tuesday, though Pennsylvania's oddball system means the allocation of only 118 could be calculated primary night.
In short, Trump has a distinct path to winning the nomination before July but little room for error.
It's not all about the White House.
Maryland voters were picking candidates for the US Senate seat held by Senator Barbara Mikulski for 30 years. In the polarising Democratic contest, Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards — who could become just the second black woman elected to the Senate — competed fiercely for the nomination. Republicans are outnumbered 2-1 by Democrats in Maryland but GOP governor Larry Hogan is popular and contenders for the Republican Senate nomination see possibilities for success in the fall.
In Pennsylvania, it's an establishment pick versus a maverick in the Democratic race to challenge Republican senator Pat Toomey in November. The Democratic Party recruited Katie McGinty, a longtime state and national environmental policy official, and poured millions of dollars into her campaign. She's competing against Rep. Joe Sestak, who narrowly lost to Toomey in 2010 and has been spurned by the party's insiders.
In early surveys of Pennsylvania voters, Democratic voters — whether they're Feeling the Bern or not — are feeling the energy. About seven in 10 Democratic voters in Pennsylvania said the campaign has energised their party rather than divided it. Not so among Republicans — 6 in 10 GOP voters said the Republican campaign has divided the party; only 4 in 10 said it has been energising for the party.
You know what they say about politics
It makes strange bedfellows. After Tuesday, a new alliance will make its debut as Kasich steps back in the May 3 Indiana primary to let Cruz soak up the anti-Trump vote. In return, Cruz will essentially let Kasich have at Trump in New Mexico and Oregon later in the calendar. It's a late-in-the-game compact to crystalise anti-Trump sentiment instead of having the voters who don't like him split between two other choices.
It's unclear how far each partner in the arrangement will go to clear the path for the other. They are both pulling back on campaign events in the states they are supposedly ceding to the other. But Kasich said people in Indiana who like him ought to vote for him anyway.