In three weeksâ€™ time, the nominations could be locked up
The preliminaries are all but over with the first phase of the presidential primaries doing the job assigned them: knocking out (most of) the also-rans and narrowing the field to the serious contenders and the hobby-horseists. The game of musical chairs that is Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada left Huckabee, Fiorina, Christie, Bush, Rand Paul, Santorum and Oâ€™Malley all standing after the music stopped. Thank you and good night.
Now the serious business begins. So far, only a little over 5% of Republican pledged delegates have been elected and fewer than 4% of Democrat ones.
Tomorrow’s Super Tuesday elections of course are first but whatâ€™s been little noted so far is how thick and fast the next rounds come, and how big they are. By 22 March, over half the pledged Democrat delegates will have been elected, and more than two-thirds of the Republicansâ€™.
Next weekend, another four states on each side will go to the polls or caucuses; the following Tuesday, four more do for the GOP and two for the Democrats; within another week, five more states a piece (including those awarding delegates on a winner-take-all basis for the first time); the week after, Arizona and Utah for both parties and Idaho for the Democrats. Add in various lesser territories and districts and itâ€™s a breathless schedule that places the voters centre-stage and gives candidates little time to visit the battlegrounds in person.
What does all that mean in terms of picking the winners? It means that the candidates leading their field now have a tremendous advantage. Success tends to build on success and although Rubio and Cruz finally took a meaningful fight to Trump in the most recent debate, they will remain on the defensive as long as theyâ€™re losing. And losing they are: Trump has a greater share of the vote in the national polls than Rubio and Cruz combined.
Normally, I would say donâ€™t pay too much attention to the national polls: itâ€™s the state-specific ones that count. That advice still holds true but right now we can afford to relax it a little in terms of thinking about the nomination. Trumpâ€™s lead is so large and the contests are so numerous and densely-scheduled that unless there is a substantial change in the national picture, Trump will be nominee presumptive some time next month.
For the Democrats, Hillary is rightly overwhelming favourite. Her strength in the South should give her a huge Super Tuesday win and after taking three of the four early states, that will place her on the home straight and jogging towards the winning line. Sanders may well fight on but his campaign will look â€“ and will be â€“ far too far behind.