WASHINGTON — It’s an odd moment in the 2016 campaign: Not even half the states have voted for the party nominees and no candidate has half the delegates needed to win, yet the sense is spreading that it’s practically game over.
This weekend, voters in five states and one territory are taking their turn. They possess the power to make Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump closer to unstoppable or to give the conventional wisdom about one or both front-runners a shake.
A look at a weekend of politicking anchored by primaries and caucuses, capped by a Democratic debate Sunday night:
On Saturday, both parties have contests in Kansas and Louisiana. Republicans in Maine and Kentucky and Democrats in Nebraska also vote.
On Sunday, Maine Democrats and Puerto Rico Republicans are up.
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
There are no polls to speak of. OMG.
Republican Marco Rubio, in a sign of retrenchment or at least strategic focus, canceled Louisiana and Kentucky events Friday, instead landing in Kansas to unload on Trump at a Topeka airport. The Florida senator did so in stark terms, telling a few hundred supporters Trump “accentuates the most dangerous instincts in humanity.” Rubio’s Waterloo will be his home-state primary March 15 and Florida is where he’s campaigning the hardest.
Trump staged a late rally in New Orleans followed Saturday morning by one set for Wichita, Kansas. Maine also drew considerable attention, with visits in recent days from Democrat Bernie Sanders, Trump and his GOP rival Ted Cruz.
It’s easier for GOP hopefuls to gain delegates in the weekend round of voting than it was in the Super Tuesday extravaganza. That means it’s harder to have a breakout that changes the nature of the race.
Candidates in Kentucky must get just 5 percent of the statewide vote to get delegates, and in Kansas and Maine the bar is 10 percent. In Louisiana’s primary, there is no threshold to earn a portion of the delegates. Contrast this with 20 percent thresholds in some other states.
And in coming Republican contests, like Florida and Ohio, all delegates in a state will go to the winner, for the first time in the campaign.
THE DELEGATE NUMBERS
The weekend contests will divvy up 175 delegates among the Republican candidates and 134 delegates between Clinton and Sanders.
Going into the weekend round, Trump leads with 329 delegates, Cruz has 231, Rubio 110 and John Kasich, 25. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the GOP nomination.
Clinton is farther along in the hunt. She leads the Democratic race with 1,066 delegates to 432 for Sanders. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.
A phantom hangs over the Kentucky GOP caucuses, that of home-state Sen. Rand Paul. The new caucuses were arranged so he could run for president and his Senate seat at the same time, a step that required Kentucky to move away from its usual May primary to avoid a legal challenge. Paul even paid for the switch, donating $250,000 to cover the party’s expenses.
But his presidential bid failed. He and other departed candidates are still on the ballot and party leaders are posting signs at caucus locations listing who is out of the race but still on the ballot.
One suspense in Kentucky is whether people will be motivated to come out — and whether they can even find out where to go and what to do.
Republican political consultant Scott Jennings said he hasn’t seen the “basic mechanics of what you would expect in a get-out-the-vote operation.”
EYE ON LOUISIANA
Analysts expect Clinton to do well, as she’s done in other Southern states. She’s drawn strong support from black voters, a sizable part of the Louisiana Democratic primary electorate.
“Louisiana is identical to the states she has been performing well in and likewise Bernie Sanders has done poorly in,” said Joshua Stockley, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
On the Republican side, Louisiana has tended to vote for conservative, evangelical candidates. That history might favor Cruz but Ed Chervenak, who heads the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, said Trump has proved he can win in Southern states with evangelical voters: “He’s tapped into a level of frustration that transcends religiosity.”
In this Republican-leaning state, Barack Obama beat Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin in the 2008 caucuses.
Both Clinton and Sanders seem to have taken a page from Obama’s 2008 playbook this time around, putting much energy in the state, along with saturation advertising in recent days. Clinton visited in December; husband Bill Clinton made a pair of appearances Friday.
Vince Powers, the state Democratic chairman, said Sanders’ visit to the state two days before the caucuses and a jump in registered Democrats since December may bode well for the Vermont senator.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana in New Orleans, Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Kentucky, David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Margery A. Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.
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