Storylines to Watch in This Weekend's Primaries and Caucuses

This weekend marks the next round of states casting ballots.

March 5, 2016, 12:23 AM

— -- Today marks the next round of states casting ballots in the 2016 race for the White House.

Democrats are facing off in Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Maine (ending Sunday). Republicans vote in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine. These states may be small, but they mark an important day in a race where every delegate will count in July.

There are 178 delegates at stake in the Republican race, bringing the total delegates allocated to more than 900. On the Democratic side, 156 delegates will be at stake.

Here are some storylines to watch:


Will Trump Lose Another Caucus?

Trump’s winning percentage in primary states (9 of 11) far exceeds that of caucus states (1 of 4), which some analysts say is not a coincidence. Trump has almost no presence in Kansas. And according to political pros, caucuses reward candidates who “identify their voters, convince them to sit through a lengthy and confusing meeting, then get them to show up,” according to the Kansas City Star. Meanwhile, rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have campaigned and invested in the Sunflower State. Will it be enough to deal another caucus defeat to the Donald?

Rubio Won the Kansas Endorsement Contest But Can He Win the Caucus?

According to scoring from the website FiveThirtyEight, Marco Rubio’s endorsements by Sen. Pat Roberts, Gov. Sam Brownback and Rep. Mike Pompeo (all things being equal) gives him a leg up on Cruz, who was endorsed by Rep. Tim Huelskamp, and on Trump, whose only Kansas endorsement came from Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Will Rubio’s endorsement edge translate to a win? Or would a Rubio loss offer more proof that endorsements carry diminished significance this election cycle?

Hoop Screams: Students Protest Jayhawk-Caucus Scheduling Conflict

Democratic Jayhawk fans are not pleased with the choice they face today: participate in the party’s caucuses or watch KU’s last home game of the year. Dozens of fans united in protest this week on the KU campus to complain that the KU-Iowa State’s 3 p.m. tipoff comes just as caucusing begins. Students have asked their school to reschedule the game, so far to no avail. “

It's the final regular season game of the year, Senior Night, KU is ranked #1 in the country, and Lawrence (and Douglas County) is the liberal bastion of the state,” said KU alum Travis Hare, noting that Nader scored big in Douglas County in 2000. “The game is happening right when the caucuses are happening. Allen Fieldhouse holds close to 20,000 people plus TV watchers all over the state. It honestly could have a major impact on the turnout, particularly for Bernie.”


Another Southern Blowout?

After romping through Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana, Clinton looks poised to deliver another Southern blowout. The state -- which had a 53 percent nonwhite electorate, 48 percent black -- in 2008, looks similar to other Southern states. With only three in 10 voters in the 2008 primary identifying as a liberal, Bernie Sanders will struggle greatly there. And 59 delegates are up for grabs in this primary, whose delegates are allocated proportionally. Another downside for Sanders? It’s a closed primary -- only registered Democrats can vote.

Will Cruz or Trump Prove Prowess With the Evangelicals?

Louisiana has a strong history of backing an evangelical candidate. In 2008, Mike Huckabee narrowly defeated John McCain in Louisiana. In 2012, Rick Santorum trounced Romney, 49 percent to 26 percent. With exit poll data showing 61 percent of the voters are evangelical Christians, Ted Cruz has another chance for a strong performance in that demographic. But will Donald Trump beat him, the way he did in South Carolina? And will Rubio be able to take any portion of that vote?

Unlikely to Do Much for GOP Delegate Leads

No matter who wins Louisiana, they have no chance of taking all of the state’s 46 delegates, because the allocation is proportional with no threshold. So, even if Cruz does win the state, it is unlikely to be crucial in helping overtake Donald Trump in delegates.


Will Maine Back Another Independent?

Maine has a willingness to elect independent candidates -- like former Govs. Jim Longley and Angus King, both in the last four decades. King was also elected to the U.S. Senate as an independent, and former Sen. Olympia Snowe was a very moderate Republican from the state. This inclination -- along with Maine’s 94 percent white population -- makes it a friendly state for Bernie Sanders. Twenty-five delegates are up for grabs, allocated proportionally, not including the five superdelegates in the state. Three superdelegates support Clinton, one for Sanders and one undecided.

The LePage Factor

Gov. Paul LePage is backing Donald Trump for the nomination, switching his allegiance after Chris Christie ended his presidential run. LePage is himself a brash, off-the-cuff talker, like Trump. The very white state will caucus for their favorite picks this weekend. In 2012, Romney squeaked out a win with 38 percent to Ron Paul’s 36 percent. Twenty-three delegates are up for grabs in the state, whose delegates are allocated proportionally with a 10 percent threshold. Local media report that they expect high turnout in the state.

KENTUCKY (Republicans Only)

Caucus Problems?

This is the first time Kentucky has ever held a caucus, having switched their May primary to a March caucus so Rand Paul could simultaneously run for president and reelection to the Senate. (Obviously, that is not happening anymore). However, the Kentucky GOP seems to be trying to make this as similar to a primary as possible. Rather than stand in corners of the room, the way they did in Iowa, voters will just cast a ballot. But given the massive turnout across the board so far, and the issues the Nevada GOP had with their caucuses, it is worth watching to see if any similar problems will ensue.

Evangelicals at Play

The only exit poll data we have is from the 2014 midterms, which show that 50 percent of the voters were evangelical Christians. If evangelicals do turn out in droves (which admittedly will be difficult to calculate because we don’t have exit polls) that could do one of two things: cement Donald Trump’s argument that he is their candidate of choice, or give Ted Cruz another chance to prove himself.

Endorsement Silence

Neither Rand Paul nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has endorsed in this election, and both have expressed vitriol towards Donald Trump. According to a New York Times report, McConnell has said he will drop Trump “like a hot rock” if he is the nominee in the general election, and Rand Paul took on Trump often while he was running for president. It is unclear if that will adversely impact him in this election. It didn’t make a difference in South Carolina, when Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham endorsed Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, respectively, but you never know. It is also worth watching to see if McConnell and Paul vote, and if they announce their preference. Paul has said he is not endorsing in the primary, and McConnell backed Paul. And of course Kentucky is also home to County Clerk Kim Davis. It's worth watching if she goes to the polls, too.

No Big Delegate Boost Likely

A fair number of delegates are up for grabs here, but with a 5 percent threshold for both at-large and congressional district delegates, it is plausible all four candidates walk away with something. This allocation plan is not likely to make a dent in Trump’s lead.

NEBRASKA (Democrats Only)

New Caucus Woes?

This is only the second caucus in Nebraska. The first was in 2008, when 38,000 people showed up to boost Obama to a victory here. The caucus website asks for “patience, please” when waiting for results, saying that final vote count may not come until “even Sunday morning” as organizers tally results. Twenty-five delegates will be up for grabs in this caucus. There will be 149 sites across the state in all 93 counties. It’s a closed caucus, which means that only registered Democrats can vote.

Bill Clinton Hits Nebraska

The former president has two events scheduled in the state today in Lincoln and Omaha.

Will Bernie’s Free Trade, Wall Street Attacks Resonate?

Bernie is hoping his attack on Hillary Clinton for supporting free trade deals he says have dislocated Midwestern manufacturing workers will translate to wins (Note: Nebraska is not part of the “rust belt,” so not sure the degree to which he’s targeting their voters with this attack). Not exactly new, but Bernie seems also to have ramped up hits on Clinton for her lucrative speeches before Wall Street audiences (including on the stump in Lincoln this week). Again, without exit poll data, it will be hard to know what motivated voters, but maybe look out for anecdotal evidence.

Effect of Sasse’s Trump Anti-Endorsement

Difficult -- maybe impossible -- to know, but would be interesting if any sign that Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse’s Trump anti-endorsement pushed voters to Democrats or energized Democratic turnout. Has Bernie or Hillary played off that bite to show that even Nebraska GOP leadership recognizes how much in danger a Republican Party is with Trump as a front-runner?

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