Both Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton dominated on Super Tuesday #3, but the question will be whether or not Trump is able to achieve the number of delegates needed to avoid a contested convention.
Trump won Florida (with 47.8 percent of the vote), Illinois (38.9 percent) and North Carolina (40.3 percent). With less than 10 percent of votes left to be counted, Missouri is still too close to call (Trump has 40.8 percent to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's 40.6 percent). Trump did not, however, win Ohio. That state's native son, Gov. John Kasich, won with 46.8 percent of the vote. That, however, is not what matters. What does is that he took all of the state's 66 delegates because it is a winner-take-all primary. And those 66 delegates could be a huge blow to Trump, both because it puts him 66 delegates further away from having a majority at the convention, but it also means Kasich is going to stay in the race. (It is not yet known, however, whether that will help or hurt Trump.)
The Republican leader needs 1,237 delegates to become the nominee on the convention's first ballot. Delegates need to vote for the candidate they are pledged to support on the first ballot only, and then they are free to vote for whoever they choose. If Trump does not enter the convention with 1,237, he will need to gain supporters on the second ballot in order to become the nominee. That is easier said than done, however, especially because he is not the establishment's choice. It may be easier for one of the other candidates, most likely Cruz, to get to 1,237, but it ultimately depends on how many each has at convention time.
That is where these 66 delegates could become significant. Former Democratic strategist and the Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics at USC Robert Shrum said that the real estate mogul will need to get 60 percent of the remaining delegates, which he says will be difficult to do. "He could [achieve 1,237]," but it is more likely for him "to have a plurality," Shrum said, which means he would have more than any of the other candidates, but not a majority.
If Trump enters with only a plurality, Shrum says it would hard to give the nomination to one of the other candidates. He said it would "be a disaster" if the party tries to take the nomination from him. Republican strategist John Thomas, who also believes the Republicans are on the way to a contested convention, said if the party tries to take the nomination away from Trump, and he is the delegate leader, "There would be such a fracture and divide that Trump's supporters would just not vote," which he said would essentially hand the Democrats the White House.
Shrum said that if the nominee is chosen at the convention, it would likely be Cruz. "If it goes to Cruz, they will probably rally around him," but he said, Kasich is the "best general election candidate," and the establishment would likely rally around him.
Even on a night when Cruz did not win any states, he still came out a winner, according to Shrum. "He did better than expected in North Carolina. He can make the argument he is the alternative."
Cruz came in second in North Carolina, finishing just less than four points behind Trump: 40.4 percent to 36.7 percent.
Thomas also thinks Cruz finished the night as a winner, and he, too, believes the Texas senator would be the candidate to get behind if the party opts to deny Trump the nomination.
"Sixty percent of the Republican base wants someone other than Trump," the strategist said, and he believes if Cruz wins on the second ballot — but still comes up short in terms of delegates — the senator could bring some of Trump's to his side, which would allow him to win on the third ballot.
"They [party leaders] believe Cruz will not win the White House, but they would rather lose the battle [presidential election], but win the war [Congressional elections and the mid-term elections]," Thomas said. He said party leaders believe Trump can win the presidency, but that they are worried about the implications during the 2018 elections.
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He said Cruz's plan is "to consolidate other [candidates'] delegates," and that the senator may not be far behind.
Even though he believes there will be a contested convention, Thomas said Trump will be delegate leader and that the party should not take the nomination from him.
Trump's victory in Florida meant he got all of the state's 99 delegates, and it was Rubio's final straw. Thomas said his methodology was wrong, meaning that running as the young outsider was not the correct approach. It's the "year of the outsider, and Marco Rubio has 'senator' before his name…you can't come out from under that…."
He also said that Rubio had a funding problem, which would have prevented him from continuing. The senator "needed a good night [to keep the donors], but he had a string of bad nights." Thomas said Cruz, taking a page from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders' book, uses small dollar donors.
On the Democratic side, Clinton won Florida (with 64.5 percent of the vote), North Carolina (54.6 percent), Ohio (56.5 percent), Illinois (50.3 percent) and Missouri. The former chief diplomat won the Show Me State on Thursday, and the victory gave her a sweep of the Democratic contests. The senator still gets some delegates because all states are proportional, meaning as long as each candidate receives at least 15 percent of the vote in each state, they will receive a proportion of the total number of delegates based on the the percentage of the vote they receive.
Thomas declared Sanders dead because of delegate math. "Tonight was the night Clinton put her foot on Sanders' throat and finished the job."
In a general election, the strategist said "She's going to try to use Trump to mobilize her base."
Shrum did not go as far as to say Sanders is dead, but rather that he is on life support for the same reason — math. "He has almost no chance. The numbers are stacking up that she is going to be the nominee unless something happens."
He did say Sanders has influenced both the race and the Democratic Party. "Bernie has had a huge impact on the party and the convention." Shrum believes he will be able to get the party to support a small number of the issues that are important to him.
This story was update at 3:21 p.m. Pacific Time on March 17, 2016.