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4 important takeaways from last night’s primaries

BY   March 15, 2016 at 10:47 PM EDT
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Governor John Kasich celebrates in front of his wife Karen (L) and daughter Reese (2nd L) after winning the Ohio primary Republican presidential election at a campaign rally in Berea, Ohio March 15, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RTSAMCF

Governor John Kasich celebrates with his wife Karen and daughter Reese after winning the Ohio Republican primary. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Donald Trump knocked Marco Rubio out of the race, but failed to win Ohio. Clinton carried the all-important swing states of Ohio and Florida, dealing Sanders a major defeat after his upstart win in Michigan last week. The primary process isn’t over yet, but tonight helped define the race on both sides. Here are a few quick takeaways from Super Tuesday 2.

Rubio sputters out

Marco Rubio never really got it going. The Florida senator, who dropped out of the presidential race tonight after losing his home state badly to Donald Trump, entered the election with no natural base in the Republican Party. That never changed.

Conservative primary voters flocked to Trump and Ted Cruz, while moderate voters splintered between a host of establishment figures from Rubio to Jeb Bush to Chris Christie, leaving Rubio without a clear constituency in a year dominated by voter anger with the status quo.

His loss to John Kasich in Ohio deprived Trump of a big-state sweep tonight that would have reduced the race to a two-way contest with Cruz.

The dynamic this cycle was unfavorable for Rubio from the outset. But Rubio, for all his political talent and optimistic message, also made several unforced errors, chief among them a disastrous debate performance on the eve of the New Hampshire Republican primary. In the end, the Florida senator only won a single state, Minnesota, along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. It was a far different result than he had hoped for.

His exit from the race also raises questions about his political future. Rubio, who is only 44, has insisted he won’t run for re-election in the Senate this year, though it’s not too late for him to change his mind. Rubio could wait to run for governor or mount another senate or presidential campaign down the line. For now, though, he’ll have plenty of time to ponder what went wrong.

Trump gets a big win, but not a knockout

Trump’s win in Florida was important for several reasons. He picked up 99 delegates, proved he can carry a diverse state, and forced Rubio, one of his main rivals, to drop out. But his loss to John Kasich in Ohio deprived Trump of a big-state sweep tonight that would have reduced the race to a two-way contest with Cruz.

Now, instead, Trump is looking at a long race that could very well end up in an open convention in Cleveland this summer if no candidate wins the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a primary night press conference at the Mar-A-Lago Club's Donald J. Trump Ballroom March 15, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump won the state of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich won the state of Ohio. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donald Trump speaks during a primary night press conference in Palm Beach, Florida on March 15. Trump won the state of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich won the state of Ohio. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Trump, who also won Illinois and North Carolina tonight, still has a healthy delegate lead. He remains the unquestioned front-runner after another dominating Super Tuesday performance.

But the real estate developer’s inability to bury his competition gives his critics more time to build the Stop Trump movement, both at the grassroots level and among party elites. That’s bad news for Trump, even if it doesn’t impact the primaries and he goes on to win the nomination.

Clinton’s swing state success

Entering tonight, Clinton had proved she could beat Bernie Sanders in Southern states with large African-American populations. But Sanders’ surprise victory in Michigan last week suggested that Clinton might continue to struggle this year with white working class voters across the Midwest.

At this point, Sanders would need an unprecedented comeback to win the nomination.

That argument goes out the window tonight. With her victory in Ohio, Clinton has shown she can carry Rust Belt states and build a broad enough coalition to win in November, when minority voters and women will play a crucial role in selecting the next president.

The Democratic primary battle isn’t officially over just yet, of course. Sanders is not dropping out, and he could still carry several more states between now and the Democratic National Convention this summer in Philadelphia. But Clinton comes out of tonight’s primaries with a massive delegate lead. At this point, Sanders would need an unprecedented comeback to win the nomination.

Sanders’ Michigan win was more fluke than miracle

Sanders claimed that last week’s Michigan win was a miracle game-changer for his campaign. It would have been a turning point, had Sanders captured Ohio and proved he could compete across the Midwest. But his loss there was a major blow, and left him with an increasingly narrow, if not impossible, path to the nomination.

Sanders will continue to push his message of income inequality and campaign finance reform. But as his hopes fade, the focus will turn to his supporters, many of whom are independent voters fed up with the political establishment. Will they turn out for Clinton in the fall? Or will they stay home? Clinton made overtures to Sanders’ supporters in her speech tonight. That effort will continue as she seeks to bring the party together ahead of the general election.

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