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What lies ahead after yet another round of primary twists?

March 9, 2016 at 7:57 PM EDT
After a surprise win by Sen. Bernie Sanders in Michigan, and an equally surprising surge of support for Donald Trump in the GOP, Judy Woodruff sits down with Reid Wilson of Morning Consult and Susan Page of USA Today to discuss new twists in a topsy-turvy election cycle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: From Trump’s latest triumph, to the surprise win for Sanders in Michigan, we explore the state of the race for the White House, as the focus heads to the battleground states of Ohio and Florida.

Joining us again are Reid Wilson of the Morning Consult and Susan Page of USA Today.

And we welcome you both back to the program.

Reid, let me start with you.

Let’s start with the Republicans. Donald Trump is blazing ahead, despite the onslaught that he faced last week, the Mitt Romney news conference, the money that the stop Trump movement is spending. How significant is this?

REID WILSON, Morning Consult: And another round of pundit saying he has hit the wall and is about to start his decline. Instead, last night, in a couple of contests, in four contests around the country, Donald Trump grew his delegate lead.

Now, the real onslaught, the real test he faces comes next week in Florida, where outside groups are spending millions of dollars, multiple millions of dollars attacking him from all sides. We will see whether or not he can survive. But, at the moment, he remains the Republican front-runner. And for the rest of the anti-Trump Republican field, their best shot at stopping him remains in some kind of contested convention once we get to Cleveland in July.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, how do you size up where Trump is right now?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: I think Trump could end up with enough delegates, the 1,237 he would need to hold the nomination.

But — and I think the only path that his opponents have now is to get — to go to a contested convention, which is a long shot, possible perhaps for the long shot. I mean, it’s remarkable. He is a guy who has never ran for office before. He had a record size field of 17 competitors. And he’s now clearly the front-runner.

He has dominated the field from the beginning of the contest. And one big name in Republican politics after another has fallen at his feet, the latest being Marco Rubio.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reid, what did we see in the interviews with voters as they were leaving the polls yesterday in these states that voted, the so-called exit polls? What did they say about Trump, that he should either be happy about or worried about as he goes into these big states?

REID WILSON: The two things that strike me most from the Republican exit polls is, one, the amazing amount of support Trump gets from people who say they want a candidate who tells it like it is. Trump wins something like three-quarters of those voters across states, not just Michigan and Mississippi, but beginning in Iowa and now all the way through until where we are today.

The second is that Trump has this well of supporters who have been with him from the very beginning. Susan mentioned it, that he’s been ahead since the beginning. And if you look at the exit polls, the people who have decided how they were going to vote months ago, weeks ago have all decided for Trump. The people who are just now deciding are deciding for some other candidate.

More and more, by the way, bad news for Marco Rubio, the people who are deciding to vote late are deciding to vote for Ted Cruz.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What else do you see, Susan, in the reasons people are deciding to go Trump or somebody else?

SUSAN PAGE: These are people who think the country is headed in the wrong direction, that the political leadership in both parties has failed to address it, and they’re ready to shake things up.

And that’s one reason I think the attacks on Trump that he’s not consistently conservative or that he’s lying about his business record, it just doesn’t seem to have much of an effect with his voters. Last night, as we have seen before, his support was mostly male — more male than female, almost entirely white, strongest among working-class voters, but the fact is, he has very broad support.

He continues to win white evangelicals over Ted Cruz. And that is Ted Cruz’s base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Reid, begin to outline for us what these candidates face, the Republicans face in Florida, in Ohio, in Illinois and the other states that vote on Tuesday.

REID WILSON: So, they face some pretty high stakes, similar to what Ted Cruz faced on Super Tuesday, when his home state of Texas was the prize plum on the tree.

This time, we have got Marco Rubio’s home state of Florida, John Kasich’s home state of Ohio. Both are winner-take-all states, which means that there are a big chunk of delegates. No more of this 25 delegates for Trump, 17 for Rubio, 17 for Kasich. All 99 of Florida’s delegates will go to a person who gets a plurality there. All of Ohio’s delegates will go to the person who gets a plurality there.

The great news for Donald Trump is that he’s leading in both states. He’s leading John Kasich in Ohio by a smaller margin than he’s leading Marco Rubio in Florida, but, as I said, he is facing millions of dollars in negative ads, a kind of consistent attack that he has not faced yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Susan, is there something we know about the electorate in — Republican electorate in these states that these candidates should be watching out for?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, they are. There are candidates — there are states that will know some of these candidates well, which ought to be good news for them.

And it’s in Florida in particular. It’s a state where an endorsement by Jeb Bush, which probably wouldn’t matter much nationally, could matter. He’s a popular former governor there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, let’s start now on the Democrats. Bernie Sanders wasn’t supposed to win Michigan. He did. How big a deal is it?

SUSAN PAGE: You know, this saved Bernie Sanders, because he was just on the verge of being counted out as a credible nominee and thought of as only a protest candidate, candidate with a message.

But he’s turned that around by — all the polls showed him with a double-digit deficit in Michigan. He managed to win there, and he managed to continue to — he turned out a lot of young people. He won eight out of 10 voters under 30. That is a huge advantage for him and one that Hillary has just been unable to cut into. And he did better among black voters than he’s done before, and in fact was basically even with her among black voters under 40.

That could be important, too. It’s a bigger, more diverse state than he’s won in before and one that is not in his neighborhood, and that made this especially important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We noticed she didn’t do as good among black voters in Michigan as she has done with African-American voters in the South.

Reid, what else is there that Hillary Clinton should be worried after this Michigan result?

REID WILSON: There are a couple of things.

The Clinton coalition at the moment is Democratic voters who want a candidate who is electable and experienced. The Sanders coalition is people who want a candidate who shares my values and who cares about people like me. If you get to the general election and the majority of Democrats or a significant part — number of Democrats don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is honest or trustworthy, that’s going to be a big, big problem down the line for her.

I mean, this is — the last Democratic president before President Obama was the guy who felt your pain, and now Hillary Clinton, not Bill Clinton, is having trouble connecting with voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Susan, we talked about what the Republicans face in Ohio and Florida and so forth next Tuesday. What about the Democrats? What about Clinton and Sanders?

SUSAN PAGE: Crucial as well, because these big states voting, they don’t — they’re not winner-take-all states, because Democratic rules don’t allow that.

But you talked about the problems that Hillary Clinton saw last night. And let’s talk about the advantages she saw last night. The momentum was with Sanders. The math is with Clinton. Even though Clinton got defeated in a state she hoped to win, she ends up with more delegates last night than Sanders because she won in Mississippi by such a big margin.

She got four times more delegates from Mississippi than Sanders got out of Michigan. And that was certainly something that her campaign manager, Robby Mook, was trying to make with reporters today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is something peculiar to the Democratic — it’s something the Democratic Party worked because they wanted it to work this way.

SUSAN PAGE: They wanted proportional representation. Republicans are less devoted to that idea.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Reid.

REID WILSON: Hillary Clinton is still on the path still to the Democratic nomination, but the path is more of a marathon. Had she won both states last night, it would have been more of a 5K or a 10K.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, you were saying it could take even longer for her to seal this than for Donald Trump.

SUSAN PAGE: And who would have thought that In this big Republican field, that gets settled before this presumptive front-runner who had — we thought was going to be mostly token opposition. It’s amazing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Page, Reid Wilson, thank you both.

REID WILSON: Thanks a lot.