-- In the biggest day of voting since Super Tuesday, Americans in five states and one territory head to the polls today to cast their ballots for the presidential nomination. More states and delegates may have been up for grabs March 1, but now that more than 20 states have held contests, candidates are starting to see a clearer path -- or lack thereof -- to the nomination.
Here's what's at stake today. STATES VOTING: Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio
Democrats: DELEGATES AT STAKE: 793 (Pledged total: 691)
AT STAKE FOR THE CANDIDATES: Hillary Clinton leads opponent Bernie Sanders by 214 pledged delegates, which, as her campaign touted last week, is a larger lead than Barack Obama ever held over her in 2008. Yet, Clinton hasn't yet been able to put Sanders away. Although she has swept the south so far, polls showed her with a huge lead in Michigan last week, and Sanders defeated her in an upset victory. After her defeat, her camp tamped down expectations that she would sweep Missouri, Illinois and Ohio today, conceding that those states’ demographics are similar to Michigan and could be tough ground. Polling shows she leads in Ohio and Florida, but has a much larger lead in the latter state. But Clinton’s lead in delegates means that she does not even need to outright win these states, she just needs to make sure Sanders doesn’t have a blowout.
On the flip side, Sanders needs to prove his Michigan win is not a fluke, and that he can prevail in other Midwestern states like Illinois, Ohio and Missouri. Mathematically, he needs to rack up major wins over Clinton in these states to prove that he can still be a viable contender for the nomination. Otherwise, he could possibly face pressure from party officials to bow out, arguing that his attacks on Clinton could hurt her in the general election.
GOP: DELEGATES AT STAKE: 367
AT STAKE FOR THE CANDIDATES: The biggest delegate prizes of the GOP race come today, when the voters in the first “winner take all states, Ohio and Florida, head to the polls. For Rubio and Kasich, these are their home states, and the ones they have been hedging their bets on. (Rubio consistently remarks that “the winner of Florida will be the GOP nominee”).
But with Trump and Cruz leading both candidates by over 200 delegates, they recognize that a contested convention -- a situation where no one reaches the 1,237 necessary for the nomination -- might be their only path. If they fail to win their home states, even that option could become a fantasy.
Cruz, who currently trails Trump by 90 delegates, has not strongly contended for Florida and Ohio. His chances to rein in Trump will come in Illinois and Missouri, where a combined 121 delegates are at stake, and both states have a possibility to become winner take all. If Rubio and Kasich each carry their home states, and Cruz cuts into Trump’s lead or overtakes him in Illinois and Missouri, he can maintain or close the gap between him and the frontrunner.
Meanwhile, Trump, like Clinton, has the chance to nail down his nomination. Although he won’t be able to get to the magic number tonight, if he wins Florida or Ohio, the winner take all outcomes give him an advantageous position. In a best case scenario for Trump, he sweeps Ohio, Florida, Missouri and Illinois, making it nearly impossible for his fellow candidates to catch up to him mathematically.
And of course, there is always the possibility that all four candidates effectively split the delegates tonight, producing no decisive outcome, and the race slogs on until June -- or even the convention.