Washington Week

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How Tuesday's contests in Ohio and Florida could shake up Election 2016

By Dan Cooney

The March 15 primaries could be "make or break" for several presidential candidates. Whether you call it "Mega Tuesday," "Separation Tuesday," or "Winner-Take-Tuesday," the stakes on March 15 are high, as more than 1,000 delegates are up for grabs in the contests in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri and the Northern Mariana Islands. For GOP candidates, the biggest prizes are the winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio. On the Democratic side, those states (plus Illinois) are also a high priority because the delegates are awarded proportionally.


Who needs this state? Ohio Gov. John Kasich has staked his entire presidential campaign on winning his own state. "If I don't win my home state, I'll get out. But you know what? I’m going to win Ohio," he said last month on the trail in Nashville. Even Sen. Marco Rubio and his campaign have made the case for Kasich to win Ohio in order to stop GOP frontrunner Donald Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. But that doesn't mean the other two candidates are letting Ohio go easily -- both Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz are attempting to wrestle winner-take-all Ohio and its 66 delegates away from its governor.

On the Democratic side, both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are rallying their supporters. Sanders' upset win in Michigan, another Midwest state with a strong economic history in industry and manufacturing, raised questions about whether the Vermont senator could pull off a similar victory in Ohio. Bill Clinton's support of NAFTA in 1992, which ravaged Ohio's manufacturing base, also bodes well for Sanders' chances. However, Clinton took the state from Barack Obama in 2008.

How many delegates are up for grabs here? For the Republicans the victor gets all 66 delegates available in the Buckeye State. Denying Trump the win in Ohio would go a long way in the Stop Trump movement. According to delegate math by NBC News, if Trump loses Ohio and wins Florida, he would need to win 60 percent of the remaining delegates to avoid a contested convention. On the Democratic side, the winner receives a proportion of the 143 pledged delegates available. Seventeen superdelegates are also available.


Who needs this state? If Rubio wants to stay in the presidential race or, in the eyes of some political observers, potentially have a shot at a future in politics, he must win his home state. But according to the latest polls he currently finds himself behind Trump, who calls the Sunshine State his second home. Florida, like Ohio, is a winner-take-all contest on the GOP side, so a win would help Trump increase his delegate count and make his path to the nomination easier. A loss for Trump in both Florida and Ohio would almost guarantee that he would be denied the outright nomination. Why? He would need to win 70 percent of the remaining delegates to get to 1,237 before the July’s convention in Cleveland.

For the Democrats, the race has been fiery, as evidenced by the Univision/Washington Post debate in Miami last week. The latest polls show Clinton leading the state's primary race by more than 25 points. The AP delegate tracker also shows Clinton with an 18-2 superdelegate lead in Florida at this point, even before the primary has taken place.

How many delegates are up for grabs here? The winner of Florida's GOP contests gets all 99 delegates, the third-largest total delegate haul in this primary season (behind California and Texas). The Democratic winner earns a proportion of the 214 total pledged delegates, not including the 32 superdelegates also available in the state.