The week to come could be a cliffhanger

Published 11:03 pm Friday, April 29, 2016

The week that was belonged to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Now it’s the week to come that counts.

Clinton and Trump scored primary sweeps in five Northeast states that have denser and more diverse populations than previous primary states. Clinton trounced Sanders in four states, with Sanders scoring a decisive win in Rhode Island. The trend of Clinton winning urban areas and Sanders the rural ones continued to hold.

After Tuesday, the Republican front-runner is running a bit further out front. While Trump was projected to win last Tuesday, he surprised several analysts by collecting more delegates than expected. In terms of delegates gained and his percentage of the votes, Trump enjoyed a five-state romp. He won every county in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Ohio Gov. John Kasich won solid margin victories in counties in Connecticut and Rhode Island, though losing each state. Ted Cruz won nada.

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Clinton has won 90 percent of the delegates necessary for the Democratic nomination, and Trump has won 79 percent of the delegates required for the Republican nomination. Predictably, Clinton and Trump are spinning their substantial victories as “It’s all over but the shouting.”

However, their opponents are not giving up — with reason. The next primaries are in states with less diverse, more uniform populations of whites and youth that do not favor Clinton and Trump — namely Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon and Washington. But they will get their share of delegates.

Then, there is the June 7 slam-bang ending to the primary season with the blockbuster delegate state of California, plus Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota. Sanders is adamant that voters in late-voting states deserve a choice. Clinton and the public seem to agree, though Trump does not. He wants it over, and is calling himself “the presumptive nominee.”

Potential surprises lurk like landmines in this highly unusual nominating contest. While Clinton and Trump are within a few feet of their magic numbers mathematically, the history books are filled with stories of a contender who overtook a leading candidate in the final stretch. The Chicago Tribune recently wrote about the runaway front-runner William Seward, who lost in a stunning upset to Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican convention.

With the late-voting states possibly favoring one of his opponents, Trump can still fall short of clinching the nomination. Politico calls the May 3 Indiana primary “critical.” The respected Capitol Hill tabloid added, “If Trump doesn’t carry the state (he) would require a near-sweep of California — a tall task with 53 independent congressional district elections.”

I like Nate Silver, the Chicago data-cruncher of baseball pennant races and elections, who correctly predicted all 50 states in 2012, a record matched by, well, no one. Despite recent polls that show Trump leading Cruz in Indiana, Silver forecasts Cruz has a 53 percent chance of winning the Indiana primary; Trump garners only 45 percent.

Cruz is taking no chances. He doubtless looked at Trump’s abysmal standing with women before choosing former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina of California as his running mate this week past.

It was Fiorina who got in one of the few telling jabs at Trump during the Republican debates. Trump had insulted Fiorina — “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” — and attempted to back out of it. Fiorina won “thunderous” applause by jabbing back, “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” Indeed, they did.

Trump has made a second career of insulting women. A Huffington Post poll finds Trump to be the most disliked candidate among Republican women. He is in the sub-basement — nearly half of Republican women can’t imagine voting for Trump. While one analyst thinks Cruz’s picking a veep is a sign of weakness, I believe it improves Cruz’s chances among Hoosier women voters unwilling to submit and crown a misogynistic Trump.

Little has been said about how Cruz and Trump forge their campaign strategies. They are in the forefront among candidates in choosing media experts who use scientific findings on human decision-making.

According to Politico, Cruz hired a company owned by his biggest donor that produces “psychographics,” or data pictures of voters who fall into “six key personality types.” Trump’s primary success, says Forbes magazine, can be explained by neuroscience (or neuromarketing), which targets voter’s subconscious emotions.

For all that, the difference between New York and Indiana may not be so much a matter of 21st-century campaign voodoo as it is the difference between the more liberal Northeast and the more conservative Midwest. Cruz stands to lose far more votes by referring — in basketball-crazy Indiana — to a basketball hoop as a “ring” than he stands to lose votes to Trump’s market-tested insults.

Indiana is now a critical state in the 2016 race for the Republican nomination. If Cruz wins there, California will very likely be the kingmaker. Next week looms large.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.