Will Northeast primaries help front-runners close the door on competitors?

Five Northeastern states go to cast their primary ballots on Tuesday. While front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hope to run up big margins and big delegate wins, Sen. Bernie Sanders insisted he would continue campaigning no matter the night’s outcome. Judy Woodruff talks to Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Dave Davies of WHYY for more.

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    There was no last-minute stumping today by the Republican candidates for president, as voters in five Mid-Atlantic states cast their presidential primary ballots.

    It was different, however, for the two Democratic contenders. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the underdog in that race, was courting voters today in Philadelphia. That was after he insisted, on ABC this morning, that he will keep on campaigning at least into June.

    SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: The election is not over yet. We are here today competing in five states. We have 10 more states to go after this. We are going to fight through California, and then we see what happens.


    Meanwhile, the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, paid a visit to a steel factory in Indiana, which votes next Tuesday. There, she backed away, once again, from attacking Sanders, and instead aimed criticism at two of her Republican rivals.

    HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: I'm just bewildered when I hear the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, actually say that wages are too high in America. That's why he doesn't support raising the minimum wage. Ted Cruz has called for a national right-to-work law. Well, right-to-work is wrong for workers and it's wrong for America.


    For more on tonight's Northeast primary contests, we turn now to Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report, and, in Philadelphia, Dave Davies. He's senior reporter for public radio station WHYY.

    And we welcome both of you to the "NewsHour."

    So, Amy, start us off, and let's talk about the Republicans. Remind us how many delegates are up tonight, and what are going to understand after tonight's results?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, we have 172 delegates at stake. The biggest of those is Pennsylvania, although the majority of those delegates actually are not bound to the winner. We can get to that later on, but the bottom line is there are a lot of big states in the Northeast up today, and Donald Trump is the favorite in all of these states.

    He can come out of this with a pretty big delegate haul. Now, this isn't going to close the door on any attempt to oust him from the ability to be the nominee, but it's going to get really close to that door coming close to being shut. And then we're going to focus next on Indiana to see if the momentum that Trump — if he does as well as the polls say he's doing right now, if that momentum carries him to another victory in Indiana.

    And then I think we can pretty confidently say that Donald Trump is probably going to get to the 1,237 he needs before we hit Cleveland.


    So, Dave Davies, a little bit — take us a little bit closer into what's been going on in Pennsylvania. What kind of campaign have you seen there? And is the fact that most of these Republican delegates being chosen tonight are not bound to any candidate, has that affected the campaign?


    Oh, yes, it's created a lot of confusion.

    You know, Pennsylvania has a pretty peculiar system. There are really going to be two elections today. One will be the election for the popular vote. And the winner of that will get 17 of those of those delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

    But the others, most of the delegation will go to Cleveland uncommitted. They will be elected directly by voters, three per congressional district, and they will go uncommitted to the convention, but, in fact, many are privately deeply committed to candidates. Many were recruited by the Trump or Cruz campaigns.

    The tough thing for voters here is that nothing on the ballot tells them who is for whom. You may want to vote for Trump delegates, but you can't tell from the ballot. So we have had this crazy period where the campaigns have been distributing lists through e-mail and robo-calls and even lawn signs.

    And what's likely to happen is we're going to end up at the end of the day with a lot of confusion. We will have some Trump delegation elected out of those 54, some Cruz, and then a lot will be party regulars, some of whom say they will abide by the popular vote. Some of them say they're going to make their decision later.

    In any case, we will have 10 weeks in which any of them may be persuaded to change their minds.


    Amy, how did the system get to be so crazy? This is supposed to be an election. You go, you vote. But, instead, as we just heard from Dave, I mean, some of these rules are really hard to understand.


    Well, every state — I mean, this is what we're learning again. Every four years, we get a reintroduction into how the process really works.

    And what we're learning in this stage is that the Republican primary process is really a crazy patchwork quilt. Every state has its own rules. Some states, like Pennsylvania, they are unbound, but you know who they're running — or who they're supporting. It's in parentheses next to their name.

    But I think that Dave brings up a very good point, which is that there is going to be a ton of confusion. These delegates are also going to get an incredible amount of pressure. And we forget that these are actual human beings that have to go back to these communities once the primary season, once the convention is over.

    And so while they may be publicly saying or declaring who they're supporting or telling reporters what they're going to do, they're going to be getting a great deal of pressure just from the people in their own lives to figure out what they're going to do.



    Dave, go ahead.


    One issue, in Pennsylvania, they are not in — the presidential candidates are not in parentheses next to the delegate names.


    That's right. That's right.


    They're only under their own names. So, it really is confusing.

    And the way this happened in Pennsylvania was, years ago, the party leaders decided if — we come so late in the primary process in April, we usually don't matter. If we have the public elect our delegates, but they're really going to be our own people, because who pays attention to these invisible elections, we will go to the convention with 54 uncommitted delegates, so if there's a fight about anything, the platform plank or whatever, we have got leverage.

    Well, this year, they might have some leverage on something much more important, if, if Indiana goes differently. As Amy says, we could be at a point where this thing could be over soon.


    And it does add credence to that argument we hear from the candidates, and specifically Donald Trump, Amy, that this process isn't always on the level.

    OK, so let's switch over to the Democrats. Amy, what are we looking at in these five states between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders?



    We're looking at 384 delegates, again, another big haul, with Pennsylvania, Maryland two of the biggest states, Hillary Clinton up in both of those states. But this is really — for Bernie Sanders, this really could be the end of the line. It's going to be almost impossible for him to catch up if she does as well as predicted by the polling.

    And the question I think we're going to be talking about tomorrow is, where does Bernie Sanders go now? We have been hearing the questions about, what is his off-ramp? What is he going to do after it becomes clear that he can't catch Hillary Clinton? Is his tone going to change? Is his focus going to change?

    What is he going to be spending the rest of his time doing, and how is he going to get those people who have so fervently supported him to turn and support a candidate that he's been attacking pretty strongly throughout this campaign?


    Dave Davies, how you have seen that play out in Pennsylvania? What are voters — what have voters been looking to Sanders and to Hillary Clinton to tell them?


    Hillary is enormously popular here, and her campaign has poured it on.

    We have seen Hillary and Bill and Chelsea and the countless surrogates and field offices and commercials. And I think that she wants to get a huge win here. But Sanders just simply is not so well-known to people, particularly in the African-American community, and that's going to make it hard for him to rack up a respectable total.

    I do think that what he and his people are about goes beyond an election cycle. I think they really do believe that we need transformational change in the country, and they think that using the rest of this election campaign to raise that issue just as strongly as they have is what they want to do, whether or not he has a good showing at the convention.

    So I kind of don't think it's going to change that much. And I think — eventually, I think he will support Hillary, and a lot of his supporters will follow her. But I wouldn't expect the tone of things to change that much before the convention.


    Well, that's a really good point, because let's remember Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. He only just recently announced his allegiance to the party.

    These primaries, as we're learning now, they are all about the party trying to exert some control over the process. And at the end of the day, the thinking is, well, everybody is a member of the party, they want to help the party, and help the party's nominee. Well, that only goes so far.

    And, in this case, of course, you have a candidate who, I agree with Dave that he is much more about a movement than he is about protecting the party. Now, he's obviously going to want to do anything he can to stop the Republicans from winning, but that's very different from marshaling his forces and embracing the front-runner on the Democratic side.



    And in just a few seconds, we're also going to be looking to see — you mentioned, we're looking to see what Bernie Sanders does from here. And we're also going to be looking to see what Hillary Clinton does from here on out. How does she — does she change her message? Does she hone it? What argument does make?



    She has to make the argument that she speaks for the entire Democratic base, but also that she can win over the independent voters that right now are giving her very high negative marks across the board, and she's losing those independent-leaning Democrats to Bernie Sanders.


    Amy Walter, Dave Davies with WHYY, we thank you.


    Thank you.


    You're welcome.

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