Below the Beltway

Another Tuesday has arrived, which means we get to spend another night watching results crawl across cable news tickers. Before you snuggle up in front of the fireplace with Wolf , Matthews , or Brit , here are some things to keep an eye on.

Can Hillary win a single congressional district? At this point, you’re tired of everybody telling you the Democrats assign their delegates proportionally, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t say it again—Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. assign their delegates proportionally statewide and by congressional district. According to a recent poll , Clinton is going to lose both states’ overall votes and is only within striking distance in two Maryland congressional districts (on the east by the bay) and one Virginia district (in the D.C. metro area). The two Maryland districts have an odd number of delegates up for grabs, which means somebody will walk away with a one-delegate advantage .  

How will Washington, D.C.’s two districts differ? Since Washington D.C. is a ( meaningless ) congressional district in and of itself, its delegate assignments are roughly split into East D.C. and West D.C., which also means it’s split along socioeconomic and demographic lines. Obama’s lead in the East is larger because of a larger African-American population. The West, meanwhile, is whiter.

If Obama wins in all three contests, will he have proven he can win a primary? The knock on Obama’s recent winning streak is that it has included too many caucuses . If he wins two medium-to-large-sized states tonight, will that make the criticism evaporate? It’s doubtful, especially considering his flubs in Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey. But wins in Virginia and Maryland will give the Obama campaign some ammo to refute Clinton’s caucuses-don’t-count-as-much attack.  

Can John McCain make serious inroads among evangelical voters? These three contests should get Mike Huckabee off McCain’s back. But Huckabee is unlikely to drop out of the race as long as his core base of evangelical voters continues to rally around him instead of around McCain. At least one poll showed McCain narrowly leading Huckabee among evangelical voters, but even a close second will be enough to impress.

What’s the margin of victory? It’s not about who wins and who loses anymore. Now everything revolves around the margin of defeat. If Obama emerges from tonight with only a 20-delegate haul, consider it a disappointment. The poll mentioned earlier puts his projected total in the low 30s. Thirty-five delegates or more and his night is a rousing success, even though the Obama campaign only assumed a nine-delegate advantage from the three states originally.