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Takeaways from Super Tuesday

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump made their rematch all but official, with both notching huge Super Tuesday wins and Nikki Haley dropping out of the GOP presidential race.

More than a dozen states held primaries or caucuses on Tuesday, the biggest day of the nominating races so far as the 2024 presidential campaign accelerates and leaves the one-by-one march through early-voting states behind.

Both Biden and Trump saw familiar signs of potential general election weaknesses: progressives casting ballots for “uncommitted” rather than Biden, college-educated suburbanites choosing Haley over Trump.

But both also had much more to celebrate, as they moved closer toward officially clinching their parties’ nominations with their near-sweeps.

Here are takeaways from Super Tuesday:

Haley exits the race

Haley announced Wednesday morning that she is exiting the Republican primary, leaving Trump as the presumptive GOP nominee.

Signs of her impending exit from the race abounded Tuesday night.

There were no briefings from aides on her path forward. No announcement of future ad buys or campaign memos laying out plans. And no election night event for supporters or a speech by Haley attempting to shape the narrative after the latest string of defeats.

Haley watched returns in her home state of South Carolina as the contests that likely represented her last hopes of a dramatic shakeup slipped by with one Trump win after another.

Her silence spoke volumes about the state of the GOP nominating battle.

Meanwhile, efforts to nudge Haley out of the race had ramped up, with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — a Trump ally — telling CNN’s Dana Bash he expected Haley to “be a team player” and support the former president against Biden.

“I think it’s pretty clear that people have spoken. I voted for Trump, not against Nikki. And at the end of the day, there’s really no pathway left. The sooner we can come together, the better,” Graham said.

While Graham, Haley’s fellow South Carolina Republican, tried to gently push her out of the race, Trump hit Haley hard Tuesday in an interview with Mark Levin. Trump said Haley was “bitter,” had “gone haywire” and described her as a “very angry person.”

“She’s become really angry, and I think it’s that she’s just getting nowhere,” Trump said.

Haley did not endorse Trump in her remarks Wednesday and instead called on him to earn the support of those who backed her.

Trump wins big

The former president continued his run of dominance in the Republican nominating contest, despite losing one state, Vermont, to Haley.

Though the 15 states that voted Tuesday didn’t have enough delegates for Trump to officially secure the party nomination for a third consecutive presidential election, he moved much closer, and demonstrated that the door for Haley was all but shut.

Here’s the delegate math: Just before midnight, with many votes still being counted, CNN’s latest delegate estimate showed that Trump had picked up 617 delegates on Tuesday to Haley’s 23. Overall, Trump had 893 delegates — 92% of those awarded so far and closing in on the 1,215 he’ll need to clinch the GOP nomination. Haley had just 66.

“They call it Super Tuesday for a reason. This is a big one. And they tell me, the pundits and otherwise, that there’s never been one like this,” Trump said at his election night watch party at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Super Tuesday election night party Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) - Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Super Tuesday election night party Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) - Evan Vucci/AP

In his speech, Trump skipped any mention of Haley — though he offered no olive branches, either.

Biden dominates

Biden has faced a boatload of difficult headlines over the last few months. His approval ratings remain low, and the general election horse race polling is worrisome for Democrats.

But on Super Tuesday, like every other primary day, he has dominated his few rivals – typically winning around 80% of the vote. Trump, meanwhile, has rarely hit that mark. Haley, of course, is a more formidable challenger than Marianne Williamson or Rep. Dean Phillips. But Biden can only beat who’s on the ballot, and even with an estimable protest vote popping up in a number of states, the president clearly has the backing of his party’s rank-and-file.

The other stark political reality is that, come November, Trump is more likely to be the one facing the same headwinds he is now. Biden has more room to win over his intra-party detractors, the most numerous and vocal of whom are enraged by his handling of Israel’s war in Gaza. That indignation will not totally disappear with time, but it is likely to become less volatile. (And that’s before Trump’s commentary on the matter gets more scrutiny.)

Trump, on the other hand, is not going to change who he is – the person and personality who, despite his delegate dominance, has repeatedly lost roughly 30% to 40% of the GOP vote.

Warning signs for Trump

Even as he romped in Tuesday’s contests, there were some warning signs for Trump as he moves toward a general election matchup with Biden.

Haley’s strongest performance came in cities, college towns and suburbs. The suburbs, in particular, could pose problems for Trump. College-educated voters in those regions have shifted hard in favor of Democrats since Trump emerged as the Republican standard bearer in 2016, and the support for Haley on Tuesday could signal his continued weakness.

In North Carolina, a swing state with a rapidly growing population of college-educated voters, 81% of those who backed Haley on Tuesday said they would not vote for Trump in November, CNN exit polls showed.

Still, the list of positives for Trump was much longer after a day he’d dominated. He won independents in North Carolina and defeated Haley in urban and suburban areas of the state as well as crushing her in rural regions, CNN’s exit polls showed. He defeated her among college graduates there, as well. He also won urban and suburban areas in Virginia, though Haley narrowly edged him out among college graduates there, the exit polls showed.

Biden’s bad news

As noted above, for some voters, there will be no forgiving Biden’s support for the Israeli offensive in Gaza and refusal to publicly call for a ceasefire.

It might not be a large number, but this election is expected to be incredibly close and could be decided by tens of thousands of votes in a few battleground states. That frustration, combined with his diminished standing with several critical constituencies, could depress Democratic turnout just enough to turn the election on its head.

Last week in Michigan, more than 100,000 Democrats voted “uncommitted” in the party’s presidential primary, signaling their contempt for the Biden administration’s Israel policy and its handling of the war in Gaza.

On Tuesday, the protest vote turned out again – this time in neighboring Minnesota, another state with a robust Muslim American population. With about 89% of the ballots counted, the shoestring campaign for “uncommitted” had surpassed 45,000 votes, good for nearly 20%. (In Rep. Ilhan Omar’s district, which includes the city of Minneapolis, the share was on track to surpass 30%.)

“Tonight’s numbers showed that President Biden cannot earn back our votes with just rhetoric,” Vote Uncommitted MN spokesperson Asma Nizami said in a statement. “It is not enough to simply use the word ‘ceasefire’ while Biden funds bombs that kill civilians every day.”

In other states, like North Carolina, “uncommitted” also took a decent shave of the vote, though nothing on the level of Michigan or Minnesota. The ball is now in Biden’s court. Whether one considers the protest campaigns a “success” or not, they made clear that a sizable number of Democrats are desperate for Biden to push harder for a ceasefire in Gaza and, more broadly, to add stricter conditions to US military aid to Israel.

The effect of third-party candidates is also a growing worry.

There’s no groundswell of support for any of them, but Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is slowly gaining enough ballot access to potentially scramble the race. His campaign on Tuesday night announced that Kennedy had collected enough signatures to make the ticket in Nevada, a state – like New Hampshire, where Kennedy is also saying he’s qualified – that Biden cannot lose if he’s going to be reelected.

Drama in … Vermont and American Samoa?

One indicator of how little real drama Super Tuesday brought: The only close race was in Vermont, and the only surprise was in American Samoa.

News organizations, including CNN, projected most states for Trump and Biden shortly after polls closed. The only truly back-and-forth contest of the night came in Vermont, where Trump and Haley swapped leads in the Republican presidential primary.

Haley wound up notching her only win of the day there, CNN projected.

Meanwhile, in American Samoa — where 91 votes were cast in the Democratic caucuses — Biden lost, 51 to 40, to Jason Palmer.

Who?

Palmer, a little-known entrepreneur who qualified for some states’ and territories’ ballots but hasn’t attracted any support elsewhere, had three full time campaign staffers on the ground. He did not visit the island himself, but he appeared virtually at events.

Democratic candidate Jason Palmer is a business executive from Baltimore, Maryland, who previously worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to his campaign website. - From Jason Palmer/X
Democratic candidate Jason Palmer is a business executive from Baltimore, Maryland, who previously worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to his campaign website. - From Jason Palmer/X

Not that the six delegates to the Democratic National Convention there are predictive. In 2020, it was the only place former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg won.

Still, it was enough for a laugh that an unknown candidate became the only person to beat Biden after Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips gave up his seat in Congress and spent millions of his own dollars to take on the Democratic incumbent.

“Congratulations to Joe Biden, Uncommitted, Marianne Williamson, and Nikki Haley for demonstrating more appeal to Democratic Party loyalists than me,” Phillips quipped on X as he finished in single digits in his home state.

North Carolina in the spotlight

North Carolina, Biden’s best chance to flip a state from the 2020 map, is also home to the highest-stakes governor’s race of the year.

The contest between GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein, both of whom comfortably won their respective parties’ nominations on Tuesday, will draw national attention not just because Robinson’s habit of making outrageous, offensive remarks.

Already an outsized issue across the country, abortion rights could dominate the policy debate in the Tarheel State, where the Republican legislative supermajority – reached not by voting but by the controversial decision of one turncoat lawmaker – passed a 12-week ban over the objection of outgoing Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

The backlash to the abortion fight combined with Robinson’s divisive persona could spell doom for Republicans in the closely divided state. Businessman Bill Graham, one of the losing GOP primary candidates, rang the alarm – again – soon after Tuesday’s race was called.

“Mark Robinson is an unelectable candidate in the general election in North Carolina,” Graham said, “and he puts a conservative future at risk for everyone, from the courthouse to the White House.”

Good news for North Carolina Republicans in state’s only competitive House seat

Ret. Army Col. Laurie Buckhout’s primary win in North Carolina’s 1st District is good news for national Republicans hoping to defeat freshman Democratic Rep. Don Davis in the state’s only competitive congressional district.

This eastern North Carolina seat became more friendly for Republicans after the latest round of redistricting, and the national GOP stepped in to try to ensure they had a strong candidate to take advantage. Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC tied to House GOP leadership, spent nearly $400,000 backing Buckhout against Sandy Smith, who had twice lost earlier versions of this district. Smith had the backing of the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, as well as several other of its members, making the primary somewhat of an ideological battle between party factions in Washington. Smith, who has been dogged by controversy, ran ads touting her belief that Trump won the 2020 election, and she tweeted about marching to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“Laurie’s victory makes this race a top pickup opportunity for Republicans, and we look forward to ensuring she makes Don Davis a one-term congressman and flips this seat red in November,” CLF President Dan Conston said in a statement Tuesday night.

It didn’t hurt that Buckhout has personal resources – she had loaned her campaign $1 million by the close of the pre-primary reporting period on February 14, when she ended with about $315,000 in the bank. Still, this will be a tight race in November in a district that President Joe Biden would have carried by just under 2 points under the current lines.

Davis, who’s also an Air Force veteran and is regarded as a tough incumbent to beat, had about $962,000 in the bank at the end of the pre-primary reporting period. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a toss-up.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

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