It was just what Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders had promised their supporters all along.
Rubio was routed in early races, but didn’t get discouraged. He pressed ahead with his message and connected with voters—and they responded by delivering a stunning, decisive margin affirming his potential.
That’s what happened on Sunday in Puerto Rico, where Rubio collected more than 70 percent of the vote—far more than he needed to sweep the island’s 23 delegates. Donald Trump was an afterthought, at 13 percent; Ted Cruz a distant third; and John Kasich a rounding error.
In the morning, though, the Republican race will return to the mainland, and to the grim reality confronting the Florida senator: Even with his latest win, he has no clear path to securing a majority of the delegates, and unless he can rally to win his own state, he may soon be forced from the race.
Bernie Sanders staged the political revolution he frequently invokes. He won the Maine caucuses decisively, defeating Hillary Clinton 64 to 36 percent, despite her institutional support. In Portland, so many voters came out to make their voices heard that the line stretched for more than a mile.
Sanders’s victory, like those the day before in Kansas and Nebraska, affirms his ability to prevail in contests that favor organization and grassroots support, and in states with predominately white electorates. He needs to continue to pile up wins in states like Maine. But they won’t be enough. Unless he can expand his reach beyond them, he, too, lacks a path to the nomination.
On Sunday night, Sanders faced that grim reality, as he debated Clinton in Flint, Michigan. Voters there will go to the polls on Tuesday—and the state is precisely the sort of contest that Sanders must begin to win if he wants to prevail at the convention.
The Associated Press projects Bernie Sanders the victor of the Maine Democratic caucuses. With 85 percent of caucus sites reporting, Sanders led, 64 to 36 percent.
The news comes as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton debate in Flint, Michigan. It’s been a promising weekend for Sanders who also secured victories in Nebraska and Kansas on Saturday, although he still trails behind Clinton in delegates. Sanders has fared well in largely-white states and Maine again served as evidence of that—but whether he can also gain traction among minority voters moving forward remains to be seen.
We’re two hours away from the Democratic debate, and still waiting for results from the Maine Democratic caucuses. Formal results are likely to be released during the debate. As Yoni noted, reports show Bernie Sanders with a lead at some caucus sites. The Vermont senator is undoubtedly hoping to clinch a victory in Maine following wins in Nebraska and Kansas, and shortly before coming head-to-head with Hillary Clinton on the debate stage. In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Sanders said that he thinks his campaign has a “path toward victory.” Sanders is still a ways a way from closing in on Clinton, who has a commanding lead in delegate count. And a victory does little to show how he’ll fare in states where there’s a significant share of minority voters. Thus far, his campaign has gained much traction among white voters and young voters.
Maine is certainly a prize for any Democrat—30 delegates, plus whatever blessing its uncanny ability to forecast elections, as Yoni described earlier, can give—but it hasn’t gotten a great deal of love from the two candidates. National Journal’s candidate travel tracker shows Hillary Clinton made just one trip to the state, joining a grassroots organizing meeting in Portland last year. Bernie Sanders stopped by for a town meeting last July and returned earlier this week for a rally. In recent weeks, however, both have invested heavily in local TV advertising.
CNN and the Associated Press are projecting Puerto Rico for Marco Rubio, who was widely expected to win the territory. As Vann has noted, if he wins more than half the vote, he'll take home all of Puerto Rico's delegates. Right now, CNN has him at roughly 74 percent, with 32 percent of votes counted.
Kevin Romero-Díaz at the Republican Party of Puerto Rico described to me the current vote count as an “overwhelming result” for Marco Rubio, who is pulling in over 70 percent of the vote with 49 out of 220 precincts counted. He stopped short of calling the race for Rubio, but indicated that it was fairly certain that Rubio would not only win, but would capture all 20 at-large delegates in play.
Official party estimates give a turnout of between 22,000 and 30,000 voters and provide more context on the number of inmates who voted. Romero says that 6,000 or so people did vote Friday, but some of those votes may have come from people at hospitals, in addition to the ballots cast by inmates.
On Saturday night, I noted that Maine long served as the prime bellwether of American politics:
As Maine goes, so goes the nation.
It was the great political adage of its day. Maine held its gubernatorial balloting in September of presidential election years. From the 1840s onward, pundits looked to Maine to the results in Maine to forecast the November outcomes. And three-quarters of the time, it was right.
This Democratic caucus, though, is likelier to confirm well-established trends than to predict future races. It’s the sort of state where Bernie Sanders has fared well—it holds a caucus, rewarding enthusiasm and organization; the state is 95 percent white; and it’s close to Sanders’s own state of Vermont.
Voters are gathered at more than 500 caucus sites around the state, but the balloting is asynchronous. Formal results aren’t expected to be compiled and released until sometime between 9 and 10 p.m. tonight, although many caucuses have already concluded.
Participants are already sharing the results of their own caucuses on social media, and reporters are offering numbers from the caucuses they attended. A reporter for the television station WCSH, for example, added up the numbers at all five caucus sites in South Portland, tallying 819 votes for Sanders, and 440 for Clinton. In Brunswick, the Bangor Daily News reports, it was 878 for Sanders, and 688 for Clinton. These aren’t the official tallies, of course. But these numbers, like those offered up by other participants, are sure to buoy the mood at Sanders’s headquarters.
Far away from Puerto Rico, John Kasich is campaigning in his home state of Ohio, where he hopes to make a dent in Donald Trump's growing delegate count come March 15. He won't be victorious in the island primary, but he did snag one win today: the endorsement of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I want John Kasich to be the next nominee of the Republicans and also to be the next president of the United States," the Terminator_ star said in a 10-second Snapchat video posted Sunday. (A Snapchat endorsement! Another 2016 milestone.) Schwarzenegger elaborated on his endorsement at a campaign rally Sunday, where he called Kasich an "action hero," according to a report in The Hill.
Two of the only primaries that allow incarcerated people to vote, Maine and Puerto Rico, are underway today. The only other state that allows people in prison to vote in primary elections is Vermont.
This is a curious wrinkle, especially in Puerto Rico where voting rights are such a key conversation and political concern. In a country where some states still ban people with felonies from voting indefinitely even after release from prison, these two primaries showcase the breadth of American policy and offer a glimpse of what the process might look like beyond felon disenfranchisement.
Rubio needed to win big today—by carrying a majority of the votes, he’d get all 23 delegates—and one prominent supporter reports he’s done just that. Louis Fortuño, governor from 2008 to 2012, shared his congratulations a few minutes ago:
The folks at Decision Desk HQ, meanwhile, report that just 3.2 percent of the votes have been tallied so far, with Rubio surging out to a huge 78.7 percent lead. (The official tally lags somewhat behind.) But whether Fortuño has seen more complete numbers, or is simply optimistic, it does look like this might finally be the day on which Rubio performs up to expectations.
One of the consequences of the economic crisis in Puerto Rico? Drastically lowered turnout. Reports forecast turnout at just 25,000 for today’s Republican primary, four years after almost 130,000 Puerto Ricans turned out in the 2012 Republican primary to vote overwhelmingly for eventual nominee Mitt Romney. The main reason for the dramatic drop in turnout is an even sharper decrease in polling places, from 3,226 in 2012 to only 110 today, attributed by many to lack of funds. Turnout could also have been lowered by the steady emigration to the mainland.
The biggest voting bloc in Puerto Rico today was prisoners, who will make up about 6,000 of the 25,000 voters and turned in ballots Friday. Despite broad reports of support for Marco Rubio and despite his campaign efforts in the state on Saturday, these numbers make for a truly unpredictable finish. As I noted Tuesday, the most viable path forward for Rubio is winning over half of the votes in Puerto Rico and taking home all 23 delegates. Any surprises could be devastating.
In many states this winter, Republican turnout has set new records, while Democratic turnout has fallen compared to recent races. But Democratic officials in Maine are reporting strong turnout across the state. The Portland Press Herald, in fact, says that so many people tried to get into that city’s caucus site, that when the time came to close the doors and begin at 2 p.m., the line snaked more than half-a-mile down the side streets:
Party officials announced they would let those in line fill out a paper ballot – essentially an absentee ballot – once they made it inside the school rather than require everyone to participate in the traditional, town meeting-style caucus.
Whoever wins this afternoon—and the state’s first two municipalities to report have given Sanders a slight edge—that level of interest is bound to give state party officials some measure of relief.
The rivals paused for a moment on Sunday to mourn the passing of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died at age 94 at her home in Los Angeles. Donald Trump said that she was “an amazing woman”; Cruz saluted “her deep passion for this nation and love for her husband, Ronald”; Rubio hailed her as “a true example of integrity and grace”; and John Kasich called her “a woman of grace and strength.”
That rare consensus reflected the deep impact that Nancy and her husband had on the GOP—it is today, in countless ways, still Ronald Reagan’s party. And at a moment when the party seems on the verge of ripping itself apart, it is also a reminder of how quickly a consensus can evolve. Just 40 years ago, the popular governor of California mounted an insurgent bid against incumbent President Gerald Ford, fighting all the way to the Republican convention. Party elders worried he was scuttling the party’s chances in November; Reagan and his allies insisted that only a true conservative could win.
In the end, both felt vindicated. Ford beat back Reagan’s challenge at the last genuinely contested convention, but the weakened candidate was trounced by Jimmy Carter. Then in 1980, Reagan came roaring back to win, rallying the once-divided party around him, and transforming it so thoroughly that today his legacy is one of the few remaining touchstones shared by its various factions.
Puerto Rico has no electoral votes in November, but the island does send 23 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Marco Rubio headed to the commonwealth looking for a victory, after a series of dispiriting defeats in Saturday’s races. As my colleague Vann Newkirk notes, the island’s politics include many mainland issues, but align around the questions of statehood and independence:
Senator Marco Rubio supports statehood, while Donald Trump and Governor John Kasich support self-determination, both of which endear them to some pro-statehood organizers on the island. However, Rubio has also opposed the option of Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, which has angered many Puerto Ricans. Senator Ted Cruz has remained silent on the issue.
If Puerto Rico is at the southerly end of the primary map, the other race on Sunday unfolds at one of its northern corners. Democrats are caucusing in 400 locations across Maine. It’s a contest Bernie Sanders desperately needs to win, as he tries to narrow Clinton’s lead in the race for pledged delegates. He won in Nebraska and Kansas on Saturday, but Clinton’s dominating win in the much larger state of Louisiana meant that gap only widened.
Follow along with us throughout the day, as we bring you reports from the primaries and caucuses, and vote tallies as they become available. Read up on the race with our 2016 Distilled election dashboard, find out more about the candidates by using our 2016 Cheat Sheet.