Biden and Trump look to clinch presidential nominations in March 12 primary contests

A long campaign looms ahead

President Biden and former President Donald Trump speaking at campaign events.
Left: President Biden speaking during a campaign rally at Pearson Community Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 4; right: former President Donald Trump speaking at a campaign event in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 19. (File photos)

President Biden and former President Donald Trump are both likely to clinch the nomination for president inside their respective parties Tuesday in the next round of state primary contests.

Trump knocked Nikki Haley out of the Republican race for the presidential nomination last week, winning 14 out of 15 states on Super Tuesday.

One week later, he’ll be the only competitive candidate still in the race, as Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington hold nominating contests. Trump is expected to win most or all of the 161 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday.

Trump has won 1,075 delegates so far and needs a total of 1,215 to claim the majority. If he wins all or most of the 161 delegates Tuesday, that would put him over the top.

The Democratic primary

President Biden is also on the ballot Tuesday, when 254 Democratic delegates will be available in five contests. Georgia, Mississippi and Washington are holding primaries, and there are also contests taking place in the Northern Mariana Islands — a U.S. territory — and among Democrats Abroad, an organization of U.S. voters living outside the U.S. who are registered as Democrats.

Author Marianne Williamson is on the ballot in the three state primaries and in the Democrats Abroad contest. Democrat Jason Palmer is competing in the Northern Mariana Islands contest. Palmer won three delegates last week in a 91-person contest in another U.S. territory, American Samoa.

There is an “uncommitted” slot on the ballot only in Washington state. Democratic voters in Michigan and Colorado have registered displeasure with Biden and his support for Israel by voting for that option in their state nominating contests. There are 20 uncommitted delegates so far heading into the Democratic convention this summer.

But Biden has 1,866 delegates and only needs 102 to reach the majority number of 1,968. He should reach that easily on Tuesday.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden at a campaign event
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden during a campaign event at Strath Haven Middle School in Wallingford, Pa., on March 8. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Why delegates?

The rules of both political parties state that their nominations for president can only be won by the candidate who has the most delegates. The candidate who wins a majority of all the delegates formally becomes the nominee at the party's convention this summer.

The delegate process has, in the past, given parties huge power over who their candidate is, and that process remains in place even as control over the nomination is largely in the hands of the small number of voters who participate in a few primaries.

For decades, the nomination was decided at the convention by party insiders, and most states did not even hold primaries or caucuses before the convention. Now, candidates appeal to party activists and hardline voters who dominate the primary electorate.