(CN) – “Western Tuesday” was a very good Tuesday indeed for Sen. Bernie Sanders, who won big in Idaho and Utah, and did respectably well in Arizona, where delegates were awarded proportionately.
Also a big winner in the west was the Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who not only obliterated his competition in Utah, but did so in such a decisive manner garnering 69 percent of the vote, that he triggered a state rule giving him all of its delegates.
In Utah, the Republican contest is a bid for a proportional share of delegates unless a candidate receives more than 50 percent support at the polls. If they do, they get everything, and that’s what’s Cruz did.
Cruz’s performance in Utah helped take the sting out of a decisive win for Donald Trump in Arizona, where the winner-take-all contest awarded the victor 58 delegates. Trump’s Tuesday night ended with him having made a net gain for just 18 delegates.
For Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich the two contests were also a chance to gain on the frontrunning Donald Trump and gain some momentum before the primary calendar slows dramatically in April and May.
Going into Tuesday night, Trump had 680 of the 1,27 delegates he needs to secure the nomination before the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland. Cruz had 424, while Kasich, only 143.
In fact, Kasich’s only chance of securing the nomination now is to hope for a change in convention rules that would allow his name to be placed in nomination, a floor fight at the convention with multiple ballots, and for the support of Trump and Cruz’s delegates to be only paper thin. That, however, is a story for another day.
Cruz campaigned hard in Utah, hoping not just to beat Trump, but to put the brakes on the frontrunner’s momentum. Kasich also acted as if his very candidacy was at stake, spending considerable time on the ground in the state and making significant television ad buys.
But Cruz also got a leg up from the state’s political establishment with both Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney announcing they would vote for the Texas Republican on Tuesday.
In fact, Romney recorded a robocall for Cruz, encouraging voters to support Cruz, and telling them a vote for Kasich is a vote for Trump.
In the end, Kasich came in second, with 17 percent of the Utah vote, while Trump came in a distant third, garnering only 14 percent of the vote.
Utahns on Tuesday gathered in Mormon churches and elementary schools to caucus in what may be the Beehive State’s most attended turnout in decades.
Republicans and Democrats crowded into auditoriums and cafeterias to cast votes in the evening hours, amid a fresh online voting option by the state’s GOP.
Republicans in Utah who registered by mid-March were allowed to cast votes online in a presidential contest for the first time in U.S. history.
The state’s GOP also held traditional caucuses, which were the standard for Utah Democrats.
Democratic caucuses were open and eligible to all voters, regardless of party affiliation, and held for two-and-a-half hours at more than 90 locations across the state.
Republicans opting to vote online were required to register with the party or to switch party status to GOP. Traditional GOP caucus spanned from 7-11 p.m. MST.
Rain and snow did not hold voters back on either political side, as lines spanned city blocks.
Sanders’ supports gathered at beer-centric Salt Lake City watering hole Beer Bar, co-owned by “Modern Family” actor Ty Burell, as snow fell in Wasatch Mountains to celebrate post caucuses.
Republican gatherings in the traditionally conservative state also gathered strong attention.
GOP voters, however, seemed confused in part by the new online voting system, which required personal record verification and an identification number.
“I think we get to the convention and it’s over,” Trump told a raucous crowd in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 18, amid protests outside of a downtown venue.
“On Tuesday you’re going to vote,” Trump added, “and in 10 years and in 20 years you’re going to remember … you’re going to say to yourself, that was one of the most important votes that I ever made and that was one of the most important evenings of our lives.”
That message, however, did not seem to matter in the end as exit polls early on in the evening showed Trump lagging far behind his competitors..
Utah has largely been ignored by candidates in recent years, save fundraising trips to the Beehive State.
Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, presidential candidates in 2012, have strong ties to the state.
Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, in an early March speech called Trump a “phony” and “fraud.”
“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”
In Idaho, meanwhile, more than 20,000 people registered and cast their ballots at the 2016 Ada County Democratic caucus held at the Boise Centre on the Grove in downtown Boise.
Bundled against the cold and the wind, determined Democrats waited in a line that wrapped around the convention center and on for three more blocks, stretching for an estimated mile in length, before being funneled into the Boise Centre’s 16,000-square foot convention hall and CenturyLink Arena, home of the Idaho Steelheads hockey team.
The two locations were linked by video on giant displays.
“It’s truly inspiring to see so many Democrats in one room at one time in Ada County,” said Ada County Democratic chairman Chris Lavelle. “There are so many people out there that say Idaho is not blue, but it’s the people in this room, who have been here for hours at this point, that are going to help make those changes.”
The Ada County Democrats announced the caucus, which was delayed by about two hours, was the largest caucus in U.S. history. Organizers threw beach balls to the large crowds to keep them occupied during the long delay.
When things finally got started, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, jump-started the crowd with some colorful opening comments.
“First of all folks, grab the person next to you and hug him or her – we are Democrats. Feel it, feel it! C’mon, yeah!” he shouted. “The only thing I love more than hearing Democrats cheering is Republicans crying.”
Speaking on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign, Bieter bolstered the Democratic cause and provided a glimpse of the issues he supports.
“We are all here because we are fighting for one thing, that’s progress, folks, real progress that makes a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “She [Hillary] is one of the most forward thinking, progressive thinking, toughest people in politics. She brought healthcare to children in rural Arkansas, she investigated racial discrimination in our public schools; Hillary spent her career working to advance racial justice, gender equality and equal opportunity for everyone. Her life’s work is this: to make sure that every child in America reaches his or her potential.”
A young college graduate, identified as Ms. Ruiz, spoke on behalf of the Bernie Sanders campaign. She described her parents’ lives as migrant workers and said she supports Sanders because of his stance on immigration, “Income equality” and education, namely student loan debt.
“He [Sanders] understands how crucial immigrants are to this country,” she said. “He cares for immigrants regardless of their status and understands that they are the fabric of this country. He understands the need for comprehensive immigration reform and wants all of us to have a fair shot at attaining the American Dream. He also wants to raise the minimum wage so people don’t have to ask for welfare, food stamps or government assistance. Another reason I’m voting for Bernie Sanders is because of my education. I have so much debt in college loans; sometimes it just seems crazy that we have to pay for that. Bernie will help us get a college education without so much crippling debt.”
Democrats in attendance seemed to embrace Bernie Sanders who ultimately won Tuesday’s caucus in Boise.
“I’m voting for Bernie Sanders because I think Hillary will shift the ideology of the Democratic party to conservative values,” said Connor Lee. “I also think she is two-faced and deceptive.”
Some Democrats described the American government as an oligarchy and say they support Sander because he is willing to stand up to the “one percent.”
“An oligarchy is when super rich people run the country. Citizens United is a part of that, where they allow unlimited donations to candidates who support the agendas of the super rich,” said Bill, of Boise.
Will, also a Boise resident, said he liked Sanders, too.
“I’ve been around know for a little while and I saw what Clinton did,” he said. “I just like what Bernie Sanders is doing. I think he has the right idea about turning the country around and uniting the people, and there is a lot of interest in getting money out of politics, big corporations running things, that’s a big deal for me.”
Rich, another Boise resident said he wasn’t “100 percent committed,” but that he too was leaning toward Bernie Sanders.
“There are too many people with money who have too much power and control over government,” he said. “Campaign funding needs to be completely redone. There is too much corporate money. I’ve watched this happen for 40 years and it’s getting worse and worse. What I like about Bernie is his honesty and passion and he has been consistent throughout his entire career.
“He looks like the rumpled, crazy uncle, but has some serious values ,” Rich continued. “Secretary Clinton has flipped on so many issues, but she keeps taunting the idea she has been consistent and she hasn’t. She just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For example, when Bill Clinton was president, there was a bankruptcy bill that came up before Congress. She was very informed about it and she was very instrumental in swaying him to veto it after it passed the House and the Senate. When she became a Senator, a similar bill came up and she voted for it. The more I watch and see, she is more toxic than oil on an iceberg. It would take an awful lot for me to vote for her, I’ll put it that way.”
The import of Cruz’s win in Utah became clear early Wednesday morning, when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Cruz while calling on his fellow Republicans to reject the “divisiveness and vulgarity” of Trump.
“Ted is a consistent, principled conservative who has demonstrated the ability to appeal to voters and win primary contests,” Bush said in a written statement.
“Washington is broken, and the only way Republicans can hope to win back the White House and put our nation on a better path is to support a nominee who can articulate how conservative policies will help people rise up and reach their full potential,” he said.
As for the Democrats, Sanders held an election night rally in San Diego where he spoke shortly after the polls closed in Arizona.
“When we began this campaign we talked about a need for millions of people to become involved in the political process,” he said. “Tonight in Utah, tonight in Idaho, and tonight in Arizona there are record-breaking turnouts.”
He later released a statement that said, “I am enormously grateful to the people of Utah and Idaho for the tremendous voter turnouts that gave us victories with extremely large margins. The impressive numbers of young people and working-class people who participated in the process are exactly what the political revolution is all about. These decisive victories in Idaho and Utah give me confidence that we will continue to win major victories in the coming contests.”
Sanders picked up 18 delegates in Utah, compared to seven for Clinton; In Idaho, Sanders picked up 17 delegates, while Clinton won six.
For her part, Hillary Clinton didn’t comment at all on the results in Utah or Idaho, but told supporters in Seattle, Wash. that she was “very proud to have won Arizona tonight.”
In Arizona, Clinton’s win brought her 46 more delegates. Sander’s meanwhile received 23.
According to the Arizona Secretary of State’s Offices, 53 percent of registered Republicans, turned out to vote in their party’s primary, while 33 percent of registered Democrats participated in their contest.
John Wicke, 73, waited about an hour in line Tuesday morning to place his vote for Ted Cruz.
“I’m a man of faith,” Wicke said outside a central Phoenix polling site. “I share the same values as Cruz, and want to see him change this country from the bottom up.”
If faced with Trump as the Republican presidential nominee, Wicke would support his party.
“I wouldn’t trust him further than I could throw him, but he’s better than anyone the other side could offer,” Wicke said, laughing.
Audrey Cook “begrudgingly” voted for Trump.
“There’s no reason to stop the inevitable,” Cook said. For the 66-year-old retired secretary, it’s Trump’s nomination to lose.
“I don’t see a situation where Cruz can overtake him,” Cook said. “I don’t want my vote to go to waste.”
Caleb Warren, 23, dropped off his early ballot at his polling site Tuesday morning.
“I always mail-in my vote, but I kept forgetting,” Warren said. “I’ve got to be the youngest person out here.
Residents of Maricopa County, which has 1.2 million voters, requested about 894,000 early ballots and returned just more than half by Monday. Pima County shipped out about 224,000 early ballots – of which 61 percent were returned by Friday.
Warren voted for Sanders, but would not be opposed to voting for Clinton is she gains the Democratic nomination.
“Bernie can revolutionize this country, but bottom line I’m voting Democrat whoever wins,” Warren said.
Clinton also cleaned up in Arizona in the 2008 preferential election, winning 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties against then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
Before Tuesday’s contests she had 1,670 delegates to Sanders’ 886, just over 750 delegates away from the 2,383 needed to receive the Democratic nomination.
Members of Arizona’s largest political force, the state’s 1.2 million independents, did not have a say in Tuesday’s election.
Independents in Arizona make up about 37 percent of registered voters and boast higher numbers than either the state’s registered Democrats (917,000) or registered Republicans (1.1 million).
The highly diverse group is defined by the Arizona Secretary of State’s office simply as “Other”, and is not a party but rather a group of voters who have not indicated a partisan preference.
Those voters registered as independent in Arizona are not allowed to choose a presidential candidate ahead of the general election. Independent voters are allowed to vote in Arizona’s Aug. 30 primary election, but they must do so by choosing a partisan ballot.
“I’m disappointed that anybody that is outside of the parties doesn’t get a voice,” said Marshall Blanchard, a 32-year-old independent who lives in Tucson and supports Donald Trump for president.
He said he’s been an independent since he started voting because he “didn’t really feel that either one of the parties specifically represented my values.”
“Socially I’m very liberal, but fiscally I’m a little bit more conservative and pragmatic,” he said. “I would be considered a classical liberal, like Thomas Jefferson-era liberal, you know, social equality and stuff … but fiscally I’m definitely considered a conservative because I’m not into theses excessive budgets that we have and these omnibus bills that get crammed through.”
Latinos, the fastest growing population in the state and one that could have a major say in which candidate wins Arizona in the general election, are increasingly moving to the independent side, according to a poll released in January by Open Primaries Arizona, a group that has called for a change to the rule that excludes independents from the preferential election.
Open Primaries surveyed 1,500 Arizona Latino registered voters in both English and Spanish.
“In Arizona, 41 percent of Latinos are independent, a trend that is accelerating, and 63 percent of Arizona Latinos and 77 percent of millennials believe Latinos should register as independents so that the community is not tied to one party or the other,” according to the survey.
“That means that close to 41 percent of Latino voters in our state cannot participate. That must change,” said Open Primaries Arizona Director of Latino Outreach Armida Lopez at a recent speech in Phoenix. “We need all of our citizens to have equal access to voting. My community wants a fair opportunity to participate in shaping who our next president will be without being coerced into joining a political party.”
The issue is acute for many independents because “in many cases, the primary is where the most important voting occurs,” said Jeremy Gruber, senior vice president for Open Primaries.
“At a time when our democracy is in turmoil, we need everybody, every voter to stand up and participate and have voice,” Gruber told Courthouse News on Tuesday. “Right now we are excluding a huge cross-section of Arizona voters from having a say at the most important political moment in a generation.”
Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy attempted to pin down the independent voter in a November 2015 report, “Who is Arizona’s Independent Voter.”
The report found that most independents in the Grand Canyon State define themselves as “moderate,” but then so do most Republicans and Democrats.
“At first glance they seem to run the gamut on the political ideology scale, but really they mostly fall into three distinct and identifiable categories: conservative, liberal and moderate,” the report states. “Make that heavy on the moderate (73.3 percent). Sliced thinner but more broadly, data suggest independent voters overall lean more liberally on social issues than the overall electorate but more conservatively on fiscal matters – although much depends on the particular issue.” (Parentheses in the original)
This description seems to fit Blanchard, the young Tucson independent, quite well.
“When people buy into that left-right paradigm, a lot of the time they get a real extremist view, and they become polarized in one direction or the other, and they may oppose a completely logical viewpoint simply because it’s given by somebody who is on the left or the right, or somebody who is my political enemy, so to speak,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard said he supports Donald Trump because “he is talking about a lot of subjects that some of the other candidates refuse to even touch. Like NAFTA and the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership].” (brackets Added)
“I think that he could get people in there who would have enough integrity and wouldn’t be affected by the old politics and might be able to better our country,” Blanchard said.
The challenge for the eventual nominees seeking the votes of Arizona’s independents will be to “capture moderate independents, those in the middle who see themselves as separated from both political party philosophies and whose vote cannot be easily predicted or won,” the ASU report states.
Independents, for all their numbers, have not had a significant role in Arizona’s state-level elections because of the typically low turnout for state primary elections. However, the ASU report found that 76 percent of those independents polled reported voting in the 2014 general election. While self-reported voting tends to skew high because of a perceived social pressure to vote, such numbers suggest that Arizona’s independents could be a force to be reckoned with in November.
Courthouse News reporters Jamie Ross in Phoenix, Ariz., Tim Hull in Tucson, Ariz, Jonny Bonner in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Philip A. Janquart in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.
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