Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s respective performances on Super Tuesday make them prohibitive favorites to win their respective parties’ nominations. Tuesday’s slate of delegate-rich contests could turn them into presumptive nominees. On the Republican side, Trump has the chance to chart a clear path to the majority of delegates he needs to win the nomination—while also delivering humiliating, potentially campaign-ending defeats to two of his rivals on their home turfs. On the Democratic side, meanwhile, Clinton has the opportunity to build a nearly insurmountable lead that, while unlikely to force Bernie Sanders from the race, will answer the question of how that race will ultimately end.
Let me answer your biggest question first: When will we see the first returns coming in? The last polls close in North Carolina and Ohio at 7:30 p.m. ET while the last ones in Florida, Illinois, and Missouri close at 8 p.m. ET. Depending on how close the races turn out to be, then, we could see winners declared relatively early in the night.
And just who will those winners be? Here’s where things stand in each of the five states heading into Tuesday night. (Note: FiveThirtyEight makes two forecasts, one based only on the state polls and another that also factors in other variables like national surveys and endorsements. We’re going with the latter number below.)
Clinton is the heavy favorite in four states and a small one in the fifth. A Hillary sweep—or even a near-sweep—would be a crushing result for Bernie, who continues to show signs of life but is desperate for a breakthrough. Of course, as we learned from Sanders’ historic surprise in Michigan last week, numbers can lie. Pollsters are still trying to make sense of how they went so wrong in the Wolverine State, but Tuesday’s contests in the Midwest should tell us whether the result there was fluke or a sign of something much bigger.
Still, given the way Democrats dole out delegates, Sanders needs to do more than just squeak out a win or two in Ohio and/or Illinois—he needs to start posting commanding victories, and soon. Unlike in the GOP race, Democrats don’t hold winner-take-all contests, which makes mounting a comeback considerably more difficult for a candidate who falls behind early. I’m talking about Bernie, who has fallen behind—and, worse still, it’s no longer early.
The Associated Press estimates that Clinton currently has 1,231 delegates to her name (766 pledged; 456 super) while Sanders has only 576 (551 pledged; 21 super). Even if you remove the superdelegates from the equation, Clinton has won nearly 40 percent more delegates than Sanders has—and the calendar only looks friendlier for her moving forward. Modest victories in the Midwest would give Bernie a needed boost in terms of media coverage, but given the likelihood that Hillary runs up the score in Florida and North Carolina, those wins probably won’t be enough for him to make up the type of ground he needs. Barring some major surprises, Sanders will wake up Wednesday with the money and motivation to fight on—but the delegate math will make it difficult for him to continue to campaign as a legitimate threat to Clinton.
Florida (99 delegates)
RealClearPolitics average: Trump 41.9 percent, Marco Rubio 23.2 percent, Ted Cruz 19.1 percent, John Kasich 9.6 percent
FiveThirtyEight chances of victory: Trump 90 percent, Rubio 10 percent
Illinois (69 delegates)
RealClearPolitics average: Trump 35.0 percent, Cruz 26.3 percent, Kasich 18.3 percent, Rubio 12.7 percent
FiveThirtyEight chances of victory: Trump 64 percent, Cruz 30 percent, Kasich 4 percent, Rubio 1 percent
North Carolina (72 delegate)
RealClearPolitics average: Trump 41.3 percent, Cruz 28.5 percent, Kasich 11.3 percent, Rubio 10.0 percent
FiveThirtyEight chances of victory: Trump 88 percent; Cruz 12 percent
Missouri (52 delegates)
RealClearPolitics average: n/a
Most Recent Poll (Fort Hays St. University): Trump 36 percent, Cruz 29 percent, Rubio 9 percent, Kasich 8 percent
FiveThirtyEight chances of victory: n/a
While the Republican field hasn’t yet winnowed to a two-man race, it can be viewed as a series of two-candidate contests: Trump vs. Kasich in Ohio, Trump vs. Rubio in Florida, Trump vs. Cruz in Illinois and North Carolina, and, more generally, Trump vs. the establishment-backed #NeverTrump movement.
All told, there will be 358 delegates up for grabs in the five state contests on Tuesday—along with another nine in the winner-take-all Northern Mariana Islands GOP caucus. By far the most important prizes on the map are Ohio and Florida, since they hold winner-take-all primaries that also double as do-or-die contests for their respective home state candidates, Kasich and Rubio. Of the two, Kasich appears to be the much better bet to avoid an embarrassing defeat—though Rubio could still outperform his polls in Florida thanks to the fact that so many Florida Republicans cast absentee ballots before his campaign went into free fall. (On the flip side: So many Florida Republicans cast absentee ballots before the anybody-but Trump movement got up to full speed.)
If Trump wins both, though, he will look unstoppable—particularly given how badly the GOP establishment will have tried, and failed, to stop him. He’d need to win only half of the delegates up for grabs the rest of the way to reach the magic number of 1,237. Assuming he also fares well in the other three states, that percentage could drop to the low-40s, a target that Trump would have no problem reaching if the next three months play out even remotely like the past nine have.
Even if Trump doesn’t pull off the Ohio-Florida double, he’d still be a decent bet to remain on pace to win the nomination if he performs well in Illinois and Missouri, which hold varying degrees of winner-take-most contests. (North Carolina is the day’s only GOP contest that will award delegates truly proportionally, which will likely prevent Trump from running up the score too badly there.) Trump’s rivals—along with GOP establishment figures like Mitt Romney—have made it clear that they’re hoping to use a contested convention to snatch the nomination away from Trump in Cleveland this summer—and Trump can make that last-ditch effort even more difficult with a stellar night tonight. Even a solid one would help ensure Trump arrives in Cleveland this summer with the most delegates to his name.