There is no doubt Tuesday was a good night for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Republican and Democratic presidential front-runners.
Whether either did well enough, however, to put them on a certain path toward winning their parties’ nomination is up for debate.
Clinton clearly had the best night of the two. The former secretary of state cruised to easy victories over her challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, in Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina. She also fought to a virtual tie with Sanders in Missouri.
Trump also did well, winning North Carolina, Illinois and Florida, a victory that effectively knocked one of his main rivals, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, out of the race.
It winnows the Republican field to just three candidates, and Trump is tied with Texas Senator Ted Cruz in Missouri.
The New York businessman missed a potential opportunity to put the race away, though, losing Ohio to John Kasich, the state’s governor. Ohio was particularly important because, like Florida, it assigns delegates on a winner-take-all, rather than a proportional basis, like many other states.
It now remains unclear whether Trump can secure the number of delegates needed to win the nomination outright before the Republican national convention in July, according to Republican analyst Ford O’Connell.
“He’s by far in the best position to get the 1,237 delegates before Cleveland,” O’Connell said. “But to do that, he’s going to have to win roughly 58 to 60 percent of the remaining delegates – it’s a high but not impossible bar.”
O’Connell said there is about a 50-50 chance of a contested convention, in which pledged delegates would be freed to vote for whoever they wish.
Others are less optimistic about Trump’s chances of avoiding a testy convention battle.
“If things play out as one might expect, it probably means he’s not going to have a majority of delegates,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus at Ohio State University. “And given that, it could be quite a fight in that convention.”
The Republican race is especially volatile, and it could swing much more rapidly than the Democratic race, because of the existence of winner-takes-all primary states.
Tough path for Sanders
On the Democratic side, every state contest is proportional. That makes it easier for Sanders to stay close enough to Clinton in the delegate count, but also makes it harder for him to make up the difference.
Sanders now trails Clinton by about 300 pledged delegates. Clinton also has a substantial lead in the number of super delegates, which are party leaders who can vote for any candidate they prefer.
Even still, Sanders has some reason to be optimistic.
His campaign is still very well-funded. And as his aides point out, the primary election calendar now moves away from the South, where Clinton has dominated with minorities, including African-Americans and Hispanics.
Sanders is expected to do well in three states that vote next week: Arizona, Idaho and Utah. But Clinton’s lead may now be insurmountable, especially after Clinton’s dominant performance on Tuesday.
“Tuesday’s result inches Clinton ever closer to being the certain Democratic nominee,” said Michael Martinez, a political science professor at the University of Miami.
“Is it a knockout blow? Probably not. But it’s probably an eight-count,” he said.