WTF Happened in the Utah and Arizona Primaries, Explained

The Never Trump and Feel the Bern camps notched key wins, but probably not enough to change the delegate math

Bernie Sanders won big on "Western Tuesday," but not enough to close in on Hillary Clinton.
WTF Happened in the Utah and Arizona Primaries, Explained

Everyone — except John Kasich — was a winner on what the networks dubbed "Western Tuesday" (but which we like to think of as "Super Tuesday: With a Vengeance"), the third of five super-ish Tuesdays on the primary calendar.

Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric carried him to victory in Arizona, but worked against him in Utah, where Ted Cruz won in a landslide. A similar split surfaced on on the Democratic side: Hillary Clinton easily locked up the Grand Canyon State, but was thoroughly routed by Bernie Sanders in Utah and Idaho.

In the end, Tuesday night was a suspenseful but largely predictable retread of the same dynamics we saw in both Super Tuesday and Super Tuesday-er: the Never Trump and Feel the Bern camps notched key wins, but those victories weren't big enough to change the math nor the momentum favoring the frontrunners.

Here's what you need to know.


Arizonans really bought into the wall stuff, huh?
Yes. The Republican contest in Arizona was the first race of the night to be called, and it went in favor of Trump. That result was widely expected; this is, after all, the state that gave us the loathed anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 (championed by former governor Jan Brewer, who endorsed Trump). Its most populous county, Maricopa, is still presided over by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, architect of a policy the Justice Department characterized as the worst racial profiling it has seen in its history. (Arpaio also endorsed Trump.) No exit polls were conducted to confirm this, but it's pretty safe to say Trump's "I'm gonna build a wall!" bluster played very well among the state's Republicans. He won 47 percent of the vote, putting away all 58 of the state's delegates.

How come Trump lost so badly in Utah, then?
Despite their proximity to Arizona, Utahans were not similarly charmed by the xenophobia that's been a hallmark of Trump's campaign. As several observers have noted, that's mainly because Mormons, who make up a large share of the state's Republican base, are diametrically opposed to his two main policy proposals: building a wall to keep out Mexicans, and banning Muslims from entering the country. For one thing, the governor of Utah noted, the state has always welcomed religious exiles, even when it had to do so in defiance of a xenophobic president. That might be the reason why, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, Mormons are much more likely than the average Republican to believe immigrants "strengthen American society." The Church of Latter Day Saints itself has supported "compassionate" immigration reform; it's also come out strongly against Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. In a statement, the church invoked its founder, Joseph Smith, saying he would die defending the rights of any religious faith that was "unpopular and too weak to defend themselves." And, of course, there's the fact that the most prominent Mormon in the country, Mitt Romney, also happens to be the most outspoken anti-Trump crusader.

For all of these reasons and more, Ted Cruz handily won the Utah primary Tuesday. He earned nearly 69.2 percent of the vote — which is 19.2 points more than he needed to take the state's 40 total delegates, denying Trump any delegates at all.

Tuesday's final tally, for those keeping score, is Trump, 58; Cruz, 40; Kasich, 0. 

...Wait a minute. What happened in American Samoa? Weren't they on the primary schedule too?
Excellent question. According to Decision Desk, all nine of the territory's delegates will go to the Republican convention uncommitted. There, they'll join six uncommitted delegates from the Virgin Islands, and presumably be lobbied hard for their support by both Trump and forces aligning against him.


So, Bernie was the big winner, right? Right?
Well, "big" might be overstating the impact of Tuesday's contests in the long run, but Sanders did win by huge margins in Utah and Idaho. In Utah, he earned just shy of 80 percent of the vote; in Idaho, he snagged 78 percent. Those are massive point spreads — almost as big as the one he enjoyed in his home state of Vermont. The big difference is that, unlike Vermont — where Sanders won a large enough share of the vote to take all of the delegates — Utah and Idaho distribute delegates proportionally. That means Sanders banked 18 delegates in Utah and 17 in Idaho, while Clinton still took home five of her own in each. When you factor in the 41 delegates she was awarded in Arizona (almost double the 22 Sanders earned), Clinton ended the night just six delegates behind. That constitutes a very good night for Sanders — but not good enough to put a serious dent in the 300-plus pledged-delegate lead Clinton enjoys over her rival. 

Well, does he still have a shot?
It's going to be very tough, even if Sanders does well in the upcoming races, to crawl out of the pledged-delegate deficit he's in. The senator sounded upbeat in a statement he put out early Wednesday morning. "These decisive victories in Idaho and Utah give me confidence that we will continue to win major victories in the coming contests," he said.

What's next?
Democrats will caucus in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii on Saturday; Sanders is expected to do very well in all three states. After that comes the Wisconsin primary on April 5. Keep the dates April 26 and June 7, the last two Super Tuesdays (or, as we like to think of them, "Live Free or Super Tuesday" and "A Good Day to Super Tuesday") circled on your calendar too. The primary season will wrap on June 14 (Trump's birthday!) when Democrats hold the final caucus in Washington, D.C.

During Tuesday's primary, candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz had a bitter Twitter exchange.