Notes from the Primaries: Can the frontrunners reclaim control?

Clinton is struggling because of the strength of the Sanders challenge, but Trump has only himself to blame


The later part of April provides both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the opportunity to reassert degrees of control over their nomination battles.

Both frontrunners are polling well in the upcoming contests – delegate rich New York on 19 April, and then April’s ‘Super Tuesday’ of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on April 26th. This is a welcome stretch of favorable terrain after what has been a tough few weeks for both candidates.

In a recent column, I discussed how Trump’s refusal to embrace a modern and complete campaign – fundraising/bid budgets, paid advertising, grassroots organising, delegate operations, etc – was a potentially fatal mistake.

At some point, many have believed, the improvised, impulsive, free media driven Trump start up of 2015 was going to have to mature into a real organization in 2016 if he were to take advantage of the opportunity he had given himself.

Over the past few weeks Trump has begun to pay a real price for his stubborn decision to run his effort on the cheap. He gave a series of terribly ill-advised interviews which reinforced how unprepared his was for the Presidency of the most powerful nation in the world.

In Colorado this past weekend, he lost every delegate at the statewide convention to Ted Cruz, soon after losing almost all of the delegates in North Dakota and just two months after getting out-organised by Cruz in Iowa.

Yesterday, Trump even admitted his own children had missed the registration deadline to vote for him in New York next week.

These kinds of ‘can he play this game’ mistakes are further driving the GOP establishment/party professional class away from him, a dynamic that is becoming so powerful that it could not only deny him enough delegates at his Convention, but create a sufficient public rationale for finding an alternative to him in Cleveland even if he recovers his standing and ends the primary with a string of victories.

Hillary Clinton faces a different set of challenges. Whereas Trump’s problems are largely of his own making, the Clinton campaign is facing a far more spirited challenge from Bernie Sanders than almost anyone could have predicted.

The Sanders campaign has dramatically outraised the extraordinary Clinton fundraising machine this quarter, won eight of the last nine contests, and appears to have pulled even in national polls.

Whether all of this is enough to catch Clinton in the upcoming run of states where she has, according to early polling, meaningful leads, we will find out soon.

The Clinton camp can find solace in that many of the remaining states have closed primaries, meaning only Democrats can vote. This will blunt the Sanders advantage with independents. Unlike Trump, she is likely to cross the delegate threshold needed to win the nomination in June.

Additionally, the Sanders campaign has made a series of significant public missteps in the last few weeks, reminding us, perhaps a bit like Trump, of his own inexperience of playing the game at this level.

The Sanders camp, on the other hand, will find solace in that in many recent contests he has over-performed against the public polls, some by dramatic margins.

And of course he has the momentum from his remarkable wins of late, most notably his 14 point win in Wisconsin last Tuesday. All of this makes the Sanders Clinton debate on CNN this Thursday night the most important debate so far for the Democrats.

Sanders, Cruz closing in national polls

A close read of recent national polling shows a changing race in both parties. On the Democratic side, six new polls found two Sanders’ leads, two slight Clinton leads and two with bigger Clinton leads. Four of the six found the race essentially tied.

Using the Huffington Post poll aggregator, the Clinton lead is now 2.5 points, 47.8 to 45.3, down from 11-12 points from just a month ago. On the Republican side, Trump now leads Cruz by just 9 points, 41 to 32, down from 18 points, 42 to 24, just a month ago.

Looking at the charts, you can see that in each the slope of the lines indicates that public opinion in the race is moving rapidly right now away from the frontrunners. Will it be enough? Can Trump and Clinton use these coming states to recover their momentum?

Simon Rosenberg is the founder of the think tank NDN/NPI. In the run up to the US election Left Foot Forward is reposting his weekly analysis of the campaign trail as a UK exclusive. You can find previous columns here

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