Excitement Building in Super Tuesday States


(CN) – Since getting underway on Feb. 1, the day the Iowa caucuses were held, the 2016 race for the White House has been upending expectations and dominating the nation’s print, broadcast and electronic media.
     Four contests have been held so far, with the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, and the Nevada caucuses following Iowa in rapid succession.
     But for all the air time and ink devoted to the highly spirited Democratic and Republican contests, a mere smidgen of the total delegations needed to secure the parties’ respective presidential nominations have been fought over.
     That ends tomorrow Super Tuesday when a total 878 delegates will be on the line, about a quarter of the total needed to secure the ultimate prize.
     Both the Republicans and the Democrats will holding primaries in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.
     In addition, both parties will be holding caucuses in Colorado and Minnesota.
          Republicans will also be holding caucuses in Alaska and Wyoming, while the Democrats will hold a caucus in American Samoa.
     In the Republican race, Donald Trump is still generally polling far ahead of his nearest competitors, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
     According to Real Clear Politics, which monitors to numerous in-state polls, Trump leads his competition by an average 14.5 percent in Virginia; 14.4 percent in Georgia; 27.5 percent in Massachusetts; 8.6 percent in Oklahoma; and 17.7 percent in Alabama.
     Trump also holds the lead in polls in Tennessee, Vermont and Alaska.
     Rubio is a slight favorite in one poll in Minnesota, and Cruz holds a small lead in an Arkansas poll.
     As might be expected, it is in Texas, the state with the most delegates in play, and the home state to Cruz, that the most is at stake.
     Cruz, an incumbent senator and the state’s former solicitor general, is still ahead of the billionaire real estate developer in the polls on his home turf, but Trump has been closing dramatically in recent days, and it could be a dead heat by the time the polls open Tuesday morning.
     Two weeks ago, Cruz led Trump by double digits. The average of the latest polls, as reported by Real Clear Politics, have the senator with a lead of just 9.6 percent.
     All of the polls have an average margin of error of plus-or-minus three percent.
     As for the Democrats, after her landslide victory in South Carolina of Saturday, a victory that inspired her opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, to admit, “we were decimated,” Hillary Clinton is widely expected to sweep the Southeast.
     In fact, so dominate is Clinton in the polls that the Sanders campaign has rep     ortedly pulled nearly all of its television advertising in the region and reallocated its assets to states where he is considered more competitive.
     Sanders best chances for victories Tuesday are in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Vermont, where slightly less than 300 delegates are in play.
     Clinton, who is banking on strong support from black voters, as she did in South Carolina, is seen to have an overwhelming advantage in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Those states represent a total of 578 delegates.
     It’s important to note, however, that none of those states are winner-tales-all. Both candidates will walk away with some delegates from each and every contest, assuming they reach a threshold of 15 percent of votes cast.
     Still, if the vote goes as projected, Sanders will need to rebound with decisive wins in the primaries to be held between Super Tuesday and the end of the month.
     These include contests in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
     So what’s the temperature on the ground in the battleground states?
     Michael Joyce of the Texas Republican Party said the GOP is expecting a record turnout among their constituents on Tuesday.
     Although he declined to offer an assessment on how the respective candidates are doing in the Lone Star, explaining the party hadn’t done much in the way of internal polling, Joyce did say the party believes in Cruz.
     “What I can tell you is [Texas GOP] chairman Tom Mechler believes that while anything is always possible, you should never underestimate Ted Cruz in Texas,” Joyce said.
     He added, “There’s a lot of excitement around the race this year.”
     In neighboring Oklahoma, Sarah Baker of the state Democratic Party, said as of Friday polls showed Clinton in the lead, but Sanders close behind and rising.
     In fact, a Monmouth University poll released Monday suggests Sanders has now pulled ahead in Oklahoma and now leads Clinton by five percent.
     There are 40 delegates in play in Oklahoma and three alternates.
     The 40 delegates include two undecided super delegates (the party’s chairman and a Democratic national committeeman) and two other super delegates (the party’s vice chair and a Democratic national committeewoman), who have come out in support of Sanders and Clinton, respectively.
     In Oklahoma, delegate allotments are determined based on the candidates’ performance in each of the state’s five congressional district (for a total of 25 delegates); five “party leader or elected official” (PLEO) delegates that are divided based on statewide performance; and eight at-large delegates that are also divided based on statewide performance.
     While turnout on election day is always hard to guess, as of last week, Baker said, “it looks like we have a major surge in absentee ballot returns, even more than in 2008.”
     A total of 3,451 absentee ballots had been returned by Democrats, while 143 had been returned by Independent voters.
     In 2008, Democrats returned 2,980 absentee ballots for the primary in total, “so even six days out, we’ve exceeded that,” Baker said.
     “We anticipate that Super Tuesday will have a larger turnout than 2012 and possibly even 2008,” she said. “There’s an energy among younger voters in Oklahoma for both Sanders and Clinton, and we hope to see a spike in younger participation this year; but we’re just going to have to wait and see how that truly works out.”
     That said, Baker conceded that “regular folks are split” over the primary election.
     “Some are really excited, more than usual, and some are just ready for it all to be over,” she said. “Everyone’s usually tired of all the political ads pretty quickly in general anyway, but with Oklahoma becoming a pseudo battleground state for both the Republicans and the Democrats, there’s just so much more of it this time.
     “Republicans are fighting for the ‘endorsement’ of Oklahoma to prove that they’re the most conservative and Democrats are fighting for the right to say they appeal to a bigger base than the ‘liberal elite,'” she said.
     Where things have been different among the so-called “regular” folks of Oklahoma is in their attendance of political rallies.     
     “The rallies that have happened in Oklahoma City are more and more made up of ‘regular’ folks than political people,” Baker said. “Granted there’s plenty of the political people who’ve been involved in years, but even in December when Hillary was in Tulsa there were a ton of new people that haven’t been plugged in before.
     “We’re seeing a lot of that through the Sanders campaign as well,” Baker said.
     But it’s not just the presidential election that’s motivating Oklahoma Democrats this year.
     Baker said part of the surge new participation can be attributed to a response to “all of the shenanigans that Oklahoma Republicans have been dishing out over the past few years.”
     “We have budget failures, an implosion of the energy industry, earthquakes attributed to fracking … refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion,” she said. “Just today it was announced that the House leadership the Oklahoma legislature has a Republican supermajority is refusing to hear any bills authorized by Democrats on the House floor.”
     “So Democrats in Oklahoma are more energized than they’ve been in a while, and we expect to see a shift in participation this year, not just for the Presidential election but for local and state elections as well,” Baker said.
     Rachel Boyer, communications director for the Minnesota Democratic, Farmer and Labor Party, said she’s seeing a similar surge of excitement in her state, where 93 delegates and six alternates will be in play at the party’s caucus.
     Of that total, 50 delegates were elected at their Congressional District conventions and will be bound by the caucus results in their respective congressional district.
     Another 27 that were elected at the party’s state convention will be bound to support either Clinton or Sanders based on caucus results statewide.
     Boyer said though Minnesotans typically get excited about a big president contest and enjoy participating “in the resolution process,” this year that appear to be even more engaged than usual.     
     “We expect turn out around 175,000 or higher,” she said of Tuesday. “Each rally that’s been held in the state has seen a high turn-out, and our annual dinner, which featured both Secretary Clinton and Sen. Sanders, saw record attendance over 4,000 people.”
     Katie Boyd, of the Minnesota Republican Party, gave a similar account of the race in the state for the Republican presidential nomination.
     “‘Regular folks are excited, energized,” she said.
     “This is the first time in several years that our presidential preference poll is binding, so every vote matters,” Boyd said.
     As far back as November, when then-candidate Sen. Rand Paul visited the state, rallies held by the Republican candidates have drawn thousands of attendees, she said.
     Republicans are competing for 38 delegates, which will be allotted based on congressional district and statewide poll results.
     “Twenty-four will be elected by congressional district three delegates each and bound according to their respective results, and 14 will be selected at the state convention and bound according to the statewide results,” Boyd said.
     An interesting wrinkle in Minnesota is that Republican rules don’t allow for voting by absentee ballot. “Delegates can be nominated in absentia, via a written letter, but a vote must be cast in person,” Boyd said.
     Returning to the subject of how keyed in people are to the election, Boyd said, “We are hearing from a lot of people who haven’t participated in caucuses in previous years.”
     “It’s fantastic,” she said.
     Another of the key races to watch on Tuesday night will be in Tennessee where 75 delegates are in play.
     Of these, 44 are district-level delegates, nine are unpledged “party leader or elected official” (PLEO) delegates, nine are pledged PLEO delegates, and 14 at-large delegates.
     However, one PLEO delegate is unable to participate in this year’s primary. Thus bringing the total to 75, said Sandra Sepúlveda of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
     Delegates are divided up proportionately based on the percentage of the primary vote won in that district by each candidate. Tennessee it yet another of the state in which candidates falling below a 15 percent will not be awarded any delegates or alternates.
     But that not expected to be an issue, Sepúlveda said.
     “Whether they ‘Feel the Bern’ or ‘Stand with Hillary,’ Democrats in Tennessee are more excited than they’ve been in years for these two qualified and exceptional candidates,” she said.
     “The two campaigns have been doing a wonderful job bringing out Democrats from all over the state,” she said.
     Christina Amestoy, a spokeswoman for the Vermont Democratic Party, said according to the latest poll conducted by Vermont Public Radio and the Castleton Polling Institute, Sanders, the home state favorite, leads Clinton, 83.1 percent to 9 percent.
     Undecided voters make up 12.1 percent of those likely to head to the polls on Tuesday, and the remainder pledged their support to other, locally known candidates.
     “The fact that Bernie is doing so well in Vermont is not a surprise – he has a strong home field advantage here,” Amestoy said. “He has a very strong base of supporters from his time in office and generated a lot of excitement with his presidential bid.
     “That being said,” she continued, “the Clinton campaign does have a Vermont operation and has been out knocking on doors and distributing material. Clinton’s campaign will be making a strong push to try and ensure she reaches that 15 percent threshold.”
     In the Republican race, Donald Trump has a commanding 2-1 in lead in the polls to his closest competitor, Sen. Marco Rubio. in the polls, Ted Cruz is third, with Kasich close behind him. Dr. Ben Carson is a distant fifth.
     Vermont has 26 delegates in total, 16 of which are ledged delegates, and 10 others that are unpledged or “super delegates.” It is the 16 pledged delegates that up for grabs Tuesday night.
     In Vermont there are three categories of pledged delegates.
     The first is “district-level delegates.” Vermont has 11 district level delegates. These delegates are allocated based on percentage of the vote that the candidate receives.
     The following five are divided among “party leader or elected official” (PLEO) delegates, and “at-large” delegates. These remaining five spots are elected by the 11 district-level delegates based on their pledged support so will go to the candidate who won the majority on Super Tuesday.
     Amestoy said absentee balloting has been vigorous in the state, as it was in 2008, the last time there was a contested Democratic race.
     According to the state board of elections, as of Friday, 15,200 Democratic absentee ballots had been collected, as had about 6,500 Republican ballots.
     “Sanders’ presence in the race is really helping to drive excitement,” Amestoy said. “I think that Vermont is a very politically engaged state. We saw a lot of excitement around the 2008 elections and we’re seeing that same sort of engagement this time around. I think voters are really excited to turn out and have the chance to vote for a Vermonter.”

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