The much-hyped three-way fight for the GOP presidential nomination that just about everyone predicted months ago has finally arrived. With the exit of Jeb Bush after a poor performance in the South Carolina primary, both news media and most voters are turning their attention to frontrunner Donald Trump, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz as the remaining contenders.
For the latter two, the three-way matchup is a long time coming, as the large Republican field which contained 11 candidates when Iowa held the first voting contest back on February 1st has split anti-Trump support, allowing him to soar above the splintered field in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada with double-digit victories.
There's just one problem for Rubio and Cruz in their quest to gain traction in this new phase of the campaign. Longshot candidates Ben Carson and John Kasich are still in the race. Technically, this is still a five-man fight, not a cut and dried three-way matchup.
Almost no one expects Carson or Kasich win the Republican nomination, but it's clear that Carson's lingering support hovering between 5 to 10 percent in most primaries bites out of Cruz's totals, while the more moderate Kasich's support cuts into the totals of the Republican establishment's consensus candidate, which is Rubio.
This dilemma poses a serious threat to edge Rubio and Cruz out of the contest, possibly as soon as March 1, a day dubbed Super Tuesday. The first Tuesday in March is the day that 14 states will hold primaries or caucuses for the Republican presidential nomination all at once.
If Carson and Kasich continue to cut into the support for Trump's primary competitors, he could very well sweep almost every Super Tuesday state, perhaps even Cruz's home state of Texas.
If Trump does in fact sweep on Super Tuesday, he'll have won 17 of the first 18 voting contests, effectively making him the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential election. Mathematically speaking, there's simply no way that Rubio or Cruz could come back from such a dominant Trump performance. The long and dramatic story of this year's Republican primary could effectively come to a close in less than one week's time.
On the Democratic side, there is a similar, albeit less immediate threat to the campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. After losing the Nevada caucus, Sanders is far behind Hillary Clinton in Saturday's South Carolina Primary, according to the most recent polling. Many have questioned Sanders' ability to compete in southern states where Democratic politics is dominated by Black voters, whom Clinton maintains a double digit lead with in polls of Democrats throughout the country.
With most states holding Democratic contests on Super Tuesday having large Black populations that lean heavily towards Clinton, Sanders has been cornered to competing in just a small handful of states where he stands a chance to regain some of the momentum he had after defeating Clinton by a massive 22 point margin in New Hampshire just a few week ago.
Should Sanders fail to win anywhere outside of his home state of Vermont and the neighboring state of Massachusetts on Super Tuesday, it would be difficult for him to convince voters that he can compete outside of the New England region which surrounds his home base going forward.
Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota seem to be the best States to watch on Tuesday to get an idea of the viability of Sander's campaign. Should he lose all three, it would effectively mark the end of a campaign which has undeniably exceeded the expectations of the news media and Washington D.C. insiders, who initially gave Sanders little chance of making a dent in Clinton's primary campaign.
Americans have every reason to be glued to the news channel of their choice Tuesday night, as polls close in about a dozen states all across the U.S. during the 2016 primary election cycle's biggest night yet. They might just see the possibility of a general election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton become all but inevitable.