Horowitz: Rhode Island’s Presidential Primary Today Counts

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


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Rob Horowitz

There is a reason John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and both Clintons have visited Rhode Island in the last several days—and it is not because of our beautiful beaches or great restaurants.  The outcome of today’s RI Presidential Primary is significant to the nomination fights in both parties. This time Rhode Island counts.

While the results in Rhode Island will matter in both contests, tonight’s vote count will matter more on the Republican side. This is because despite Donald Trump’s impressive win in his home state of New York this past Tuesday his path to the 1237 delegates he needs to win a majority and secure the nomination remains difficult. And the stiff resistance to him by a substantial percentage of Republicans and Conservatives means we have yet to see the usual coalescing around the front-runner, leaving an open convention with a second ballot a distinct possibility—a second ballot that few people believe Trump would win.  The fact that nearly 70% of likely general election voters now view Trump unfavorably with about half of general election voters indicating a very unfavorable view, along with the related fact that he loses handily in head-to-head match-ups with Clinton, while Cruz runs close and Kasich runs ahead by a fair amount, gives party leaders and elected officials who otherwise might resign themselves another strong reason to hold out,  hoping for Cruz, Kasich or the likely mythical someone else to prevail in Cleveland.

As a result every delegate on the Republican side remains hotly contested including Rhode Island’s 19—part of 172 delegates up today as primaries are also being conducted today in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  These should all be good states for Trump—but the number of delegates he amasses is key as the remaining contests, including next week's Indiana Primary, with the exception of New Jersey, are in States not likely to be as friendly to the Reality Television Star and Businessman

Rhode Island’s delegates are allocated proportionately both statewide and by Congressional District, giving both John Kasich and Ted Cruz an opportunity to pick up some delegates even if Trump wins fairly handily.  In a Brown University Poll completed this past Thursday and released on Sunday, Trump leads, garnering the support of 38% of  likely Republican primary voters, with Kasich at 25% and Cruz at 14%.  The poll shows major movement towards Kasich since the last Brown Poll in February and this is before factoring in any increased support gained from the media coverage of his Town Hall at Bryant University over the weekend.. 

Given the small sample size of only 164, leaving a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 7% and little or  no statistical validity for sub-groups, as well as the strange and perhaps implausibly high undecided of 17%,  these poll results should be approached with all due caution.  Still, a strong Kasich performance in Rhode Island is certainly possible and if he is able to also do well in some of the other states voting today, it will not only provide a badly needed boost for his candidacy, it will deny Trump delegates he truly needs.

.On the Democratic side, Rhode Island tends to be Clinton country and this year is unlikely to be an exception. She leads Bernie Sanders 43% to 34% in the Brown University Poll and we can have more confidence in these numbers because the sample size is a more reliable 436, resulting in a smaller margin of error and enabling statistically valid sub-group analysis. (Admittedly, the high undecided of 16% still should give one some pause and probably gives an inaccurate impression that there are more Democratic primary voters still up for grabs than there are in reality.).

With Bernie Sanders needing to win 59% of the remaining delegates to surpass Clinton in pledged delegates by the end of the primaries and caucuses on June 7, she is now all but the presumptive nominee.  But a strong showing in Rhode Island and the other  4 states voting today will pretty much eliminate whatever remaining doubt remains as to the ultimate outcome.  It will enable Clinton to begin to devote most of her attention to the general election ahead.

On the other hand, Sanders exceeding expectation and winning in Rhode Island and several of the other states up today would give his campaign new momentum. Despite the fact he would still face a very uphill delegate climb, it would provide a basis for new hope and create a Sanders comeback media narrative.

So Rhode Islanders, our moment to make a difference in the Presidential race has arrived. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, get out and vote. Today, your vote will truly count.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


Related Slideshow: 10 Ways Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Are Actually Similar

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Reforming Wall Street

Both candidates have made serious noise talking about reforming Wall Street. Bernie Sanders has just about made his whole career on taking on financial kingpins, and has attracted many young fans in the process.

While the uber-capitalist Trump may seem like the candidate to take on his fellow one-percenters, his words say something different. Trump blasted hedge fund managers on CBS, saying they are “getting away with murder,” on CBS’ “Face the Nation" in 2015.

"The hedge fund guys didn't build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky,” Trump said.

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They Don't Take Money from Wall Street

It’s not just that the candidates criticize Wall Street and big banks—plenty do that. But Trump and Sanders back up their tough talk by not attracting campaign donations from those same financial institutions.

Sure, Hillary Clinton has taken aim at the major financial mavericks during her time on the campaign trail—what self-respecting Democrat hasn’t? But a closer look at her campaign financials shows that she isn’t putting her money where her mouth is.

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Their Campaigns are Populist Movements

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Instead, their campaigns have been buoyed by passionate, typically politically apathetic people. People who have finally found someone they  can relate to in the political landscape and someone they feel they can trust. Despite repeated predictions of failure, regular people continue to respond to their campaigns, as both Sanders and Trump remain near or at the polls as the primaries begin.

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The Most Unusual Candidates (Ever?)

Trump and Sanders are certainly the most unusual candidates this year, as both the Republican and Democratic fields contain typical governors, senators and congressman vying for the ultimate government job. It goes one step further, however—they may be the most unusual candidates a Presidential campaign has ever seen.

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Massive Crowds

Political candidates of any variety like going where they are wanted. They make sure that there are plenty of warm well-wishers to make campaign events see exciting and full.

Trump and Sanders, however, seem to be able to attract raucous crowds that are more akin to rock concert or playoff game than a political rally. People come in costume, dressed as their favorite candidate. Teenagers, even though they cannot cast a vote, turn out in full face paint to support their candidate.

It’s happened all over the country. Record-setting crowds packed the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon and thousands filled the DCU Center to see Trump in Worcester, Massachusetts. Everywhere these candidates go, people rush to see them.

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Lots of Small-Money Donations

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Real Talk

How often do you watch and listen to a political speaking, and find yourself drifting off to sleep or reaching for your iPhone?

That rarely seems to be the case when Trump or Sanders are on the mic. You never quite know when Trump will insult an entire religion or ethnic group in one thirty-second soundbite. 

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 Slated for Failure

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Yet here we are, just a few days away from the first caucuses and primaries. Neither Trump nor Sanders are out of the race. Neither is on their dying breaths. They are thriving. And, as you’ll see in our next slide, they are winning

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Leading in Iowa (and New Hampshire!)

If the latest polls are to believed these massively unusual candidates—one socialist, one real estate magnate/reality tv star, both with tons of small donations, both told they never had any chance—will be making victory speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire soon.

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And in New Hampshire, as you’ll see below,  Trump and Sanders have double digit leads as we approach the first true primary.


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