Super Tuesday takeaways: Biden and Trump momentum can't be slowed, Haley's hopes get even dimmer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The picture of the presidential race has hardly been cloudy for some time, even if it is one that most voters say they don’t want to see.

On not−so−Super Tuesday, there were few surprises. It became ever clearer President Joe Biden was on a glidepath to the Democratic nomination that only some kind of personal catastrophe could alter. And his predecessor, Donald Trump — if he can navigate the 91 criminal charges against him and avoid any other calamity — is headed to a third Republican nomination, and a rematch against the president.

Enthusiasm for Biden was not the story of the day, with some Democrats even voting “uncommitted” rather than for the incumbent. For Trump, there were cautionary signs even with his string of victories over his principal challenger, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Here are some key takeaways from Super Tuesday:

HALEY’S VANISHING RATIONALE

Haley won her first state of the primary season, Vermont, but that was no cause to talk about momentum. She continued her long streak of losing big to Trump in Republican primaries in every region of the country. Her lone other victory had come in last week’s Washington, D.C., primary.

Tuesday’s defeats continued to erode the rationale for her insurgent challenge. She fell short even in states like Virginia, where the electorate, rich in college−educated suburban voters, played to her strength.

That doesn’t mean her campaign has not been impactful. She has repeatedly said that Trump cannot win a general election, in large part because he will have trouble winning over the kind of Republicans who supported her. In a close election, even a small move of voters away from Trump could flip a state and alter the outcome.

She also delivered the kind of stark personal attacks on Trump that could show up in Democratic ads against him in the fall, slamming him for an $83 million judgment against him for defaming a woman who sued him for sexual assault, and warning that he could transform the Republican National Committee into his own “legal slush fund.”

AS VERMONT GOES, SO GOES VERMONT

Vermont was once a stronghold of old−guard Republicanism, exclusively electing GOP candidates to statewide office for more than a century. But the state that handed Haley her only win on Super Tuesday long ago ceded that reputation.

Now Vermont, which last swung for a Republican in a presidential contest in 1988, is perhaps better known for progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, the jam band Phish and a crunchy strain of back−to−earth lifestyle.

So, while Vermont handed Haley her first statewide victory, the state itself is decidedly not in step with Trump and the modern Republican Party.

THE BIDEN−TRUMP MIRROR PRIMARY

What has been obvious for weeks, is now beyond reasonable dispute: Biden and Trump are the overwhelming favorites to face each other in November.

They could not be more different in outlook but they seemed to be mirror images of each other during the primary season.

Trump wanted a coronation, but Haley made him fight at least somewhat to win the nomination. She’s held onto a stubborn chunk of voters, a possible indication that part of the GOP isn’t as enthusiastic about Trump as expected.

Biden, on the other hand, faces a lack of Democratic enthusiasm on paper, but not in the primary. Polls show problems for him among some of his party’s core demographics, including younger and Black voters. But Biden, who hasn’t faced any significant challengers, has won his primaries by huge margins.

The only possible sign of trouble for him Tuesday was an unusually high number of Democrats voting “uncommitted” in Minnesota in protest of the president’s handling of the war in Gaza.

It may be that one or both of these two politicians is more hobbled than it appears — but nonetheless they are the only options.

HOUSE RACES, PRIMARY PRIMACY

Super Tuesday is so vast that there were primaries for more than one−quarter of all seats in the House of Representatives — 115 of 438. But only eight of those seats are likely to be competitive in November.

That astonishing statistic comes from Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Institute for Justice in New York. That means that most House candidates who won primaries Tuesday are guaranteed seats in Congress, just for securing the votes of the most motivated members of their parties.

That’s one of the greatest causes of polarization in the United States. The number of competitive seats in the House has been shrinking steadily for decades. It reflects both partisan gerrymandering and also citizens sorting themselves into increasingly partisan enclaves.

Texas is an example of gerrymandering’s role. In 2018 and 2020 it was home to several competitive House races as Democrats began to gain ground in the long−red state. So Republicans who controlled the statehouse simply redrew the lines to protect Republicans, lumping large groups of Democrats together. That meant the Democrats had safe seats but fewer than they normally would have because they couldn’t threaten any GOP incumbents.

Regardless of the cause, it means that much of the battle for the House actually ended Tuesday night.

N.C. GOVERNOR’S RACE COULD ECHO BIDEN V. TRUMP

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson easily won the state’s Republican gubernatorial primary. His incendiary rhetoric — he’s called Hillary Clinton a “heifer” and Michelle Obama a man — ensures a hotly contested general election in the crucial swing state that could spill over into the presidential race.

Robinson had no prior experience in public office before his 2020 election — and it shows.

He blasted the action hero movie “Black Panther” in 2018 as a “satanic Marxist production” made by a “secular Jew,” using a Yiddish slur for black people. He faced calls to resign in 2021 after likening gay and transgender people to “filth.”

His brash style earned plaudits from Trump, who on Sunday called Robinson “better than Martin Luther King” while offering his “complete and total endorsement.”

But it is also likely to motivate Democrats in the state to turn out in November to support state Attorney General Josh Stein — while raising oodles of advertising dollars to use Robinson’s own words against him.

BIDEN & IOWA: 4th TIME’S THE CHARM

On his fourth try, Joe Biden finally won Iowa.

For decades, Biden had been rejected by its voters, from his first abortive run in the 1988 cycle to 2020, when he finished a distant fourth. In 2008, he won less than 1% of the caucus vote.

This time, Iowa wasn’t first and it was a primary, not a caucus, and Biden won easily.

His victory Tuesday came only after he was already an incumbent president — and after the state had been stripped of its prized leadoff role and voted along with the masses.

Nicholas Riccardi And Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press

Photo: AP