2016: The GOP’s Four Faces

Decision Desk, Super Saturday: Trump 3, Rubio 1, Cruz 1?

Four states and one territory (Puerto Rico) vote this weekend. While there’s no indication the Trump Train is getting derailed anytime soon, the undercard battle between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio for the right to go mano-a-mano with The Donald continues.

Both candidates seem to realize this. Rubio is spending the whole day in Kansas, where he has been endorsed by Gov. Sam Brownback, and then goes to Sunday-voting Puerto Rico on Saturday night. Cruz is in Maine and Louisiana today before heading on Saturday to March 8-voting state Idaho (Rubio goes there on Sunday.) Kasich seems to be giving the weekend states a pass, as he is only visiting Michigan and neighboring Ohio until March 8.

The fact that neither man is visiting Kentucky is telling: perhaps they saw the yuuuggge margins for Trump in Virginia’s coal country on Tuesday and decided they couldn’t compete in a state where coal-dependent counties are a much larger share of the state. Or perhaps Cruz doesn’t want to take questions from local press over exactly what he thinks about Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell right now.

I think Rubio win Puerto Rico and Cruz will narrowly upset Trump in Kansas. While Trump leads Cruz by 6 in a poll there in a poll released this afternoon, Kansas is a closed, Midwestern caucus with a history of backing social conservatives. Trump has lost every closed or Midwestern caucus so far.  

Trump should easily win the other three states, although the influence of McConnell’s machine may keep the Trump margin down in Kentucky. 

Rubio’s Puerto Rico victory might be the most important of the weekend. Puerto Rico typically votes heavily (80% or more) for the man endorsed by the island’s elite, and he has locked up the endorsements of Puerto Rico’s three RNC leaders. If he gets more than half the vote, Rubio would get all of the island’s 23 delegates. That, winning Kansas, and breaking the delegate thresholds in the other states could mean he ends up winning the most delegates over the weekend. Breaking Louisiana’s 20% threshold might be tough, however.  Rubio failed to break a similar threshold in Texas and Alabama, and Pelican State polls have him at 15 percent. Today’s Kansas poll also has Rubio just below that state’s 20% threshold.

Cruz will hope that he can pull off an upset in Maine’s closed caucus, although that may be an uphill climb as Maine Governor Paul LePage has endorsed Trump and campaigned with him yesterday. Maine has many downscale whites of the sort that have flocked to Trump so far, and it has very few of the hard core evangelicals that have formed Cruz’s core constituency. Finishing second in a northern state, however, will help Cruz make the case that he is not just a regional candidate.

Cruz should place second in Louisiana. Polls have him in third in Kentucky, which makes sense given the large number of McConnell partisans will remember Cruz called their guy a liar on the Senate floor. Paul’s non-endorsement might also signal to “liberty voters” that they should steer clear. 

Rubio has an outside chance of pulling off a huge upset in Kansas. Well over half of the vote will be cast in Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka and their suburbs, and Cruz lost Minnesota’s and Iowa’s urban areas to Rubio. Rubio’s day-before barnstorming is clearly meant to turn the tide and give him the victory his campaign desperately needs.

Predicted delegate totals from the weekend: Trump 64, Rubio 51, Cruz 48, Kasich 8, Uncommitted 7.

State-by-state analyses are below:


Louisiana (46) – Louisiana awards eighteen delegates (three apiece) through its six Congressional Districts and 28 according to the statewide vote. CD and statewide delegates are awarded proportionally, but for statewide delegates there is a twenty percent floor. Uniquely for the Pelican State, the statewide delegates are awarded according to the share of the total statewide vote a person gets, including the votes cast for people who do not reach the floor. Delegates not allocated to the candidates reaching the floor will instead attend the convention unbound.

This latter provision will likely matter, as recent polls show Rubio, Kasich, and Carson collectively getting 25-30 percent of the vote without any of them getting 20 percent. 

The polls show Trump in the low 40s and Cruz in the low-mid 20s. This makes perfect sense given Louisiana’s demographics: similar Southern states on Tuesday gave Trump between 39 and 43 percent, and Cruz between 21 and 24 percent. Cruz did do better in states that border Texas as does Louisiana, so perhaps Trump will do a bit worse than the polls suggest. But there is no indication he’s vulnerable.

Carson’s effective departure from the race (I write before his CPAC speech where he will presumably clarify what he meant by saying he “see no political path forward”) likely frees up the 5-10 percent of the vote he attracts. Absent him endorsing Rubio or Trump, Carson’s voters are demographically similar to Cruz’s and we should expect to pick up more of their votes.

My ranges are accordingly a bit wider than normal: Trump 35-44, Cruz 22-30, Rubio 15-18, Kasich 7-10, others 3-6. My best guess: Trump 40, Cruz 30, Rubio 18, Kasich 8. Carson and others should still 4 percent of the vote.

Louisiana’s manner of proportionally allocating CD-level delegates effectively means a candidate gets one delegate for receiving between 17 and 50 percent of the vote (rounding to the nearest whole number). If the Trump gets 45% or above I would expect him to win at least one CD with 50% or more and hence receive two delegates in that district. Otherwise, each of the first three finishers will get one delegate as long as the third place finisher gets 17%.

If Rubio only gets 18% statewide, then he will fail to break the 17% mark in at least three, and maybe four, districts. Cruz and Trump should break that threshold in all six districts. Rubio should get one delegate each in CD 1 (New Orleans suburbs) and 2 (New Orleans). It’s unclear how to allocate the third CD delegate when only two men qualify for at least half a delegate based on their vote shares. In any event, expect Trump to win all six districts and Cruz to finish second, except perhaps in CD 2.

Delegate Count: Trump 23, Cruz 14, Rubio 2, Uncommitted 7.

Kentucky (46) – Kentucky is holding a “firehouse primary”. It’s not a government-run primary with long voting hours and lots of polling places, but it’s also not a caucus where people spend lots of time discussing candidates and electing delegates to county caucuses. Anyone who is already a registered Republican can show up at one of the few polling places between 10 am and 4 pm local time, cast their vote, and leave.

Delegates are allocated by the statewide vote with a 5 percent floor. The only poll, now more than a week old, was Trump 35, Rubio 22, Cruz 15, Carson 7, Kasich 6, with 15 percent undecided.

Trump should do extremely well here, especially in the coal country east. Rubio should be the city mouse and carry Louisville and its suburbs (Jefferson and Oldham counties), Lexington (Fayette) and the state capitol of Frankfort (Franklin). The Cincinnati suburbs (Boone, Campbell, and Kenton) will be interesting. Rubio has done well in most suburban counties elsewhere, but this is the Tea Party heartland of the Bluegrass State. Will they go for Cruz? Rubio? Trump? Who knows.

Kentucky is one of the few Southern states with a pre-1965 Republican machine. Located in the central and south of the state, many of these counties have NEVER voted for a Democrat going back to the days of the Whigs and Henry Clay. Demographically this should be Trump or Cruz country, but this is also establishment country. Will they surprise and break for Rubio?

My ranges are Trump 32-40, Rubio 25-33, Cruz 17-22, Kasich 5-8. My best guess is Trump 37, Rubio 33, Cruz 21, Kasich 7, others 2.  

Delegate count: Trump 18, Rubio 15, Cruz 10, Kasich 3.

Kansas (40) – Kansas has a three step process for awarding delegates. First, the winner of the statewide vote gets the 3 RNC delegates. Second, 25 delegates are proportionally awarded according to the statewide vote with a 20 percent floor. However, the allocation starts with the first place person and all candidates’ delegate total is rounded up to the nearest whole number (e.g., if one earns 8.01 delegates based on your vote share, you get 9 delegates). Finally, 12 delegates are proportionally awarded (three apiece) in each of the four Congressional Districts using the same rounding rules as above. This effectively means that anyone who gets 33% of the vote in a CD gets two delegates and the second place finisher gets one.

The Kansas caucus is closed to registered Republicans, and most of the votes will be cast in urban areas (as noted above).  My ranges are Trump 29-37, Cruz 30-36, Rubio 18-23, Kasich 7-10. My best guess is Cruz 36, Trump 34, Rubio 21, Kasich 7.

Rubio has an outside chance of getting a delegate from CD 3 (Kansas City and Johnson County). If he does much better than this, say in the 25-30 percent range, then he will likely get a couple of more CD-level delegates. I think Cruz will win CDs 2, 3, and 4 (Wichita and Topeka) and Trump will win the rural CD 1. 

Delegate count: Cruz 19, Trump 15, Rubio 6.

Maine (23) – Maine is a closed caucus. It awards all 23 of its delegates proportionally according to the statewide vote with a ten percent floor.

There are no polls here, so we have to engage in a bit of guesswork. Paul barely lost to Romney in 2012, with Romney taking the more urban CD 1 and Paul taking the more rural CD 2. I expect the Paul voter was more of a “throw the bums out” guy than a libertarian, so I am venturing that Trump picks up the bulk of their support. Cruz will get some of it as well as the lion’s share of the religious conservative vote. Santorum got 18 percent here, so that base is sizeable if not dominant. Rubio should get a fair share of the Romney vote, with Kasich riding his strong showings elsewhere in New England to pick a decent share of the vote.

Without much data, I will wing it and guess Trump wins with a share in the low-to-mid 30s, with Kasich, Rubio, and Cruz splitting the remainder fairly equally. That yields a delegate count of Trump 8, Kasich 5, Rubio 5, and Cruz 5.

Puerto Rico (23) – As discussed above, I think Rubio wins this going away and gets all 23 delegates. Puerto Rico really goes in one direction when it votes – Romney’s 85 percent in 2012 was the lowest winning margin any victor has received. Let’s give Rubio 75 percent of the vote here just for kicks.


Henry OlsenMr. Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an editor at UnHerd.com, and the author of The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism.


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