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US Election Update: The Trump Train Leaves the Station, Clinton Feels the Bern

Karsten Erzinger (2L)

The US election season is rumbling along and to the surprise (and likely the dismay) of many, Donald Trump continues to dominate on the GOP side of the race. Trump routed his opponents on Feb 20th in the South Carolina primary, taking all 50 delegates up for grabs and increasing his delegate lead over the remaining contenders.

The South Carolina results led to what many thought was unthinkable 6 months ago: Trump winning yes, but also Jeb Bush suspending his campaign and exiting the race. Bush, at one point the front runner and presumptive nominee, elected to quit after finishing sixth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a distant fourth in South Carolina (where he campaigned heavily). Despite raising and spending the most money out of any of the Republican candidates, Bush was unable to gain any traction in the race. Those who breezily claim that elections can be bought may now have reason to reconsider that sentiment given Bush’s spectacular demise.

Following the South Carolina results and Bush’s withdrawal from the campaign, a couple of big donors have pledged support to Ohio Governor John Kasich’s campaign (Kasich got some momentum after placing second in New Hampshire). Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has secured a key endorsement from former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Whether these events amount to anything for Rubio and Kasich remains to be seen. This election season has been defined by a massive rise in anti-establishment sentiments by voters (as seen with the unorthodox candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump) and the utter failure of big donors and the super-pacs they support to have any influence in the primaries.

So long as the race remains a four-way battle between Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich (with neurosurgeon Ben Carson also potentially playing spoiler), Trump will in all likelihood continue to dominate. Kasich and Rubio will now battle it out for the title of “establishment candidate” while Cruz will attempt to become more likeable and attractive to voters, positioning himself as the “principled conservative” option. While all this is going on, Trump will continue to trump and will either maintain or increase his delegate lead.

In the upcoming primaries such as Nevada on Feb 23 and many of the “Super Tuesday” states, Trump continues to lead in many of the polls over his competitors. If Trump is able to win most of the states up for grabs, or at least place well in all or most of them, he will likely maintain his position as front-runner and keep his opponents from gaining too much ground on him. Depending on how it plays out, it is not unthinkable to see some of the remaining candidates drop out and create a true 2 or 3-man race, at which point the dynamics of the race will shift substantially. Ultimately, whether the Trump Train chugs along until he secures the nomination remains to be seen. However, the current state of affairs is something many once thought impossible: Trump is still the front runner and can plausibly win the Republican Nomination.

On the Democratic side, the campaign between Hilary Clinton and the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders remains interesting to watch. Sanders was able to virtually tie Clinton in Iowa, a state that Clinton was substantially leading a few months prior to the primary date. This gave Sanders a surge of momentum nationally that was sustained when Clinton was unable to chip into the long-held lead Sanders had enjoyed in New Hampshire. On February 20th, Clinton was able to defeat Sanders by 5.5% in Nevada and right the ship a bit, restoring her front-runner status.

However, the national polls that Clinton dominated not too long ago have them neck and neck going into the South Carolina and March 1st “Super Tuesday” primaries. One average of the national polls has Sanders at 42% to Clinton’s 47.6%, though the most recent poll included in that average placed Sanders ahead of Clinton 47% to 44%.

While polls are polls, one fact seems to be evident from them: Clinton’s eventual victory is no longer a certainty. The campaign of Sanders, not unlike Trump’s campaign on the GOP side, is upending the race and creating a bit of uncertainty and chaos that was not previously anticipated. While Clinton enjoys a substantial lead in the delegate count (despite only winning 2 states by small margins) due to the Democratic Party’s “super-delegate” system (which tends to give “establishment” candidates an edge over everyone else), a strong showing by Sanders on March 1st could prolong the race and give Clinton a rough ride. Sander’s has shown to have impressive grassroots fundraising capabilities and enjoys massive support in young demographics; this may allow him to stay in the race longer than otherwise possible.

Regardless how these races turn out in the end, this election season has certainly become a different and unexpected beast – and possibly the most interesting we’ve seen in our lifetime.