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Arizona the top prize for both Dems, GOP in Western states voting Tuesday

By Eric DuVall   |   March 22, 2016 at 8:35 PM
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Votes are being cast in three states as the the presidential primaries head West Tuesday, with the largest prize of the night for both sides being Arizona.

Both parties have the same two states on their calendar: a primary in Arizona and caucuses in Utah. The Democrats also have caucuses in Idaho, a state that held its Republican caucus already.

On the Republican side, Arizona, with its 58 delegates, is the third-largest winner-take-all state in the primary process. That means there is no reward for finishing second and no punishment for failing to run up the score.

In Arizona, GOP front-runner Donald Trump holds a sizable advantage in polls over his next-closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also holds the advantage in polls over her lone opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Arizona is not a winner-take-all state for the Democrats, meaning the 85 delegates at stake there will be awarded proportionally, based on the spread between the two candidates, and how they perform in each of the state's congressional districts.

Unlike the largest prize of the night, smaller Utah offers a chance for the trailing candidates, Cruz and Sanders, to regain some of the momentum after both men failed to win any of the five states in play last Tuesday.

Clinton has struggled in caucus states, where the turnout is smaller and typically draws only the most politically attuned voters. With Idaho, another caucus state, on the calendar, it raises the prospect Sanders could go 2-for-3 on the night.

Even if that happens, however, a double-digit win for Clinton in Arizona would mean her big lead in the delegate race would remain largely unchanged.

In Utah, where the deeply conservative Mormon vote is key to success, it is Cruz, not Trump, who holds an advantage. Cruz has campaigned heavily for evangelical Christian votes in other states, a message that resonates with many Mormons, as well. And while Idaho votes for the Democrats Tuesday, Republicans in that state have already made their decision -- and the result provides something of a preview for Utah. The Mormon-heavy eastern portion of the state went mostly for Cruz, who was the ultimate winner there.

Trump actually struggled in Idaho, gaining just 28 percent of the vote, while Sen. Marco Rubio garnered nearly 18 percent. Rubio has since left the race and how his former supporters in Utah break between the three remaining candidates could be important. If any candidate reaches the 50 percent threshold, they will win all 40 of the delegates at stake. If no one wins an outright majority of the vote, the delegates will be awarded proportionally.

If Cruz can reach the 50 percent threshold in Utah, it would go a long way toward blunting Trump's expected delegate windfall in Arizona.

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