For political junkies, Super Tuesday is bigger than any playoff game or Oscar red carpet show.
With votes being cast Tuesday in 13 states, this may be a deciding moment in the presidential race.
The outcome may give front runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton such commanding delegate leads in their parties that it solidifies the path to the White House before Ohioans even get to cast their primary ballots on March 15.
There are countless scenarios and questions heading into Super Tuesday in what has been a historically untraditional primary season.
WCPO asked political experts for early clues once polls close in most states at 7 or 8 p.m. Results will still be coming in Wednesday from the Republican caucus in Alaska. Keep up with the latest numbers all night at WCPO.com.
Here’s what they said to watch for:
Expect high turnout. Politico is predicting record-breaking turnout, based on early voting numbers. This could impact Texas, where Ted Cruz needs to win. “If he can't beat Donald Trump in his delegate-rich home state, he may receive substantial pressure to drop out,” said Jared Kamrass, a Cincinnati political consultant at Rivertown Strategies. “If turnout is high in Texas, it may dilute Cruz's base of evangelical and conservative support and mean a strong showing for Trump.” If this happens, Marco Rubio would have two weeks to consolidate the anti-Trump block before winner-take-all state primaries on March 15.
Watch exit polls. Kamrass will study the Cruz and Rubio margins with voters in exit polls. “After South Carolina, Rubio was the beneficiary of a slew of endorsements and donors,” he said. “In a year in which endorsements seem to be inconsequential to voters, has Rubio done enough to separate himself from Cruz?”
Where can Bernie Sanders win? Sanders is strong among white liberals and favored in Minnesota, Massachusetts and his home state of Vermont. But Anne Sesler, a political consultant at Cincinnati-based Government Strategies Group, will watch how Sanders performs elsewhere. “Can he lock up enough delegates to be competitive,” she said. This may be tough in southern states, which heavily favor Clinton. So Tuesday could be a big day for her. “Does the Bernie revolution come to a quiet end with a massive day for Hillary?” wonders University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven.
Clinton’s southern appeal. Clinton’s overwhelming win in South Carolina’s primary may boost her momentum. She gained strong support among African-American voters on Saturday and she's leading in most southern state polls. Big wins in the South on Tuesday may demonstrate the depth of support she has with African-Americans, and if they will support her in November.
Young voter turnout. Sanders needs young voters to show up on Tuesday, especially after lower than expected turnout contributed to his loss in the Nevada caucus. He faces an additional challenge soon, as colleges nationwide shut down for spring break. Students may visit the beaches instead of the voting booths. In all, more than half a million college students from 14 states will be on spring break, according to a Politico analysis of the March 5 to March 26 primary and caucus states.
Virginia could be tricky. Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, sees Virginia’s primary as interesting for both sides. “I’m curious how well Sanders does here," Kondik said. “And if Marco Rubio has a breakthrough, Virginia might be the state for that.” Demographics suggest that Rubio could fare well here. Trump usually does worse with college graduates, Kondik said, and Virginia has a more educated electorate.
What happens to Carson and Kasich? Ben Carson is expected to finish last or nearly last in every state on Tuesday, and many speculate that it will end his campaign. Meanwhile, the best John Kasich can hope for is a second-place finish in Vermont or Massachusetts. “I’m challenged to find a place where he finishes first,” Kondik said. Many wonder if Kasich will get out of the race, or hold on for the Michigan primary on March 8 and the Ohio a week later. That’s the big question for Brad Johnson, chairman of University of Cincinnati College Republicans: “Do Kasich and Carson see the writing on the wall after Super Tuesday and decide to call it quits?”
Rubio’s debate aftershocks. Rubio launched attack after attack at Trump during the Feb. 25 debate, and many said it was his best performance yet. “Does … the debate affect Trump at all, since he was clearly bested for the first time?” Johnson said. If Rubio gets more votes than expected, it may buoy him to attack Trump harder in the days ahead.
How soon do TV networks declare a win? Niven will watch how soon networks call states for Clinton and Trump. Wider margins mean faster calls. When many states vote at the same time, the best-known candidates have the edge. Yet it is the size of these wins that have politicos curious. “Can Trump knock the wind out of all of his opponents with massive wins?” Niven said. This worries Johnson, who is a Kasich supporter. “Super Tuesday could very well decide the nominee, depending on how Trump finishes. God help us if he does,” he said.