Tuesday’s primaries represent the last stand not only for John Kasich and Marco Rubio but also for Republicans hoping to halt Donald Trump’s march to the nomination.
A total of 361 bound delegates are up for grabs on March 15, with contests in five states — Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio — as well as the tiny Northern Mariana Islands, which award all nine of their delegates to the winner. North Carolina is proportional, and the rules in Illinois and Missouri are such that their delegates are likely to be split, barring a dominant performance by one candidate. That means that Trump, who leads the delegate race by nearly 100 over Cruz and 400 over Rubio, can put a stranglehold on the nomination if he carries Tuesday’s grand prizes, winner-take-all Florida and Ohio, which award 99 and 66 delegates respectively.
Trump victories in those two states would almost certainly eliminate both Kasich and Rubio while stretching his lead over Cruz to at least 300 delegates. At that point, the billionaire front-runner would be well more than halfway to the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the GOP nomination, and Cruz would find it nearly impossible to prevent him from getting there, for two reasons: The race heads into Trump-friendly territory in April and beyond; and contrary to popular belief, many of the states voting after March 15 are not winner-take-all, meaning that Trump will continue to collect plenty of delegates even in contests where Cruz defeats him head to head.
Trump comes into Tuesday with an estimated 465 delegates, followed by Cruz at 372, Rubio at 164, and Kasich at 63. Wins in Florida and Ohio alone would put him at roughly 630, and the day’s remaining contests are certain to pad that number substantially even if he does not win them decisively.
North Carolina’s 72 delegates are awarded proportionally, which, in a four-person race, means that Trump should walk away with somewhere between 18 and 25. Illinois awards 69 delegates total, including 15 to the statewide winner and 3 to the winner of each of its 18 congressional districts, again making it likely that Trump (who led a Chicago Tribune poll from earlier this month by 10 points) walks away with a sizable haul. And Missouri, an open primary that awards 5 delegates to the winner in each of its eight congressional districts, plus another 12 to the statewide winner, also seems certain to add a healthy chunk to Trump’s total. (If any candidate hits 50 percent statewide, he wins all 52 of Missouri’s delegates.)
The bottom line: If Trump carries both Florida and Ohio, and performs to expectations in the other three states, he’ll emerge from March 15 with at least 700 delegates and perhaps 750 or more. In a two-man race against Cruz, Trump would then need to win somewhere in the ballpark of 45 percent of all remaining delegates to reach 1,237, a highly attainable goal given the hospitable map and the number of proportional contests ahead.
If Trump carries both Florida and Ohio, and performs to expectations in the other three states, he’ll emerge from March 15 with at least 700 delegates and perhaps 750 or more.
All of which explains why Cruz, even if he won’t admit it publicly, needs either Kasich or Rubio to win their home state Tuesday — not just because it would deprive Trump of a large winner-take-all prize in the short term, but because it’s the only way that a second opponent can stay in the race and further divide the delegate pie, preventing Trump from reaching 1,237. Of course, a three-way race would eliminate whatever chance Cruz has of reaching 1,237 himself, but the schedule of states ahead makes that outcome virtually impossible anyway.
An important caveat: Recent exit polling (and some public and internal polling) shows Cruz competitive with and sometimes ahead of Trump head to head. But while the Texas senator would surely consolidate plenty of anti-Trump voters, it’s likely that a considerable portion of them wouldn’t turn out to support him, either — especially in many of the moderate, more secular states ahead. Trump is reviled by a large swath of Republicans, but Cruz has limitations of his own: He has struggled to expand his appeal beyond Evangelicals, and every one of his victories has come in either ultra-conservative southern states or in caucus contests where he out-organized the competition. Trump has won at least 39 percent of the vote in eight different states, only two of which held caucuses; Cruz has cleared 39 percent five times, but four of those finishes were in small-state caucuses, the lone exception being his home state of Texas.
Here’s how the post-March 15 primary calendar will look — annotated with notes and projections based on recent polling, past exit polls, primary rules, and state demographics — if Trump sweeps Tuesday’s biggest primaries and takes roughly 725 delegates into a one-on-one matchup with Cruz:
March 22: Arizona (58 delegates; winner-take-all) and Utah (40 delegates; proportional with 15 percent threshold)
Although Arizona’s primary is closed, and Trump has struggled in closed contests so far, he would be heavily favored to win in a state where the Republican base is highly animated by immigration and border security. (Recall John McCain’s “finish the danged fence” commercial in 2010.) If he wins there and splits Utah’s delegates with Cruz somewhat evenly, Trump would walk away with roughly 75 delegates or more, bringing his total north of 800.
April 5: Wisconsin (42 delegates; winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district)
An open primary in the industrial Midwest, loaded with working-class white voters, is prime terrain for Trump. He could lose several of the state’s more conservative congressional districts and still walk away with 33 or 36 delegates, bringing him within proximity of 850 overall.
April 19: New York (95 delegates; proportional with 20 percent threshold. Anyone topping 50 percent in any of the state’s 27 congressional districts wins all 3 of its delegates.)
It’s a closed primary, which in this case could actually help Trump, as Democrats in his home state won’t be able to show up and vote against him. Even a low-end estimate dictates that Trump will almost certainly walk away from New York with two-thirds of its delegates, putting him over 900 total.
April 26: Connecticut (28 delegates; winner-take-all if anyone reaches 50 percent statewide, otherwise proportional with 20 percent threshold and winner-take-all by congressional district), Delaware (16 delegates; winner-take-all), Maryland (38 delegates; winner-take-all), Pennsylvania (71 delegates; winner-take-all statewide, remaining delegates elected directly on ballot and unbound at the convention), and Rhode Island (19 delegates, proportional with 10 percent threshold)
Trump could have trouble in Pennsylvania, which awards 14 delegates to the statewide winner, but has a so-called loophole primary similar to the one in Illinois in which voters choose delegates on the primary ballot rather than candidates. (Unlike Illinois, however, those delegates aren’t bound to any candidate at the national convention, providing an opening for the party to stack 50-some delegates against Trump.) Another potential concern for Trump is that none of the day’s contests are open primaries; all of them are closed except Rhode Island, which allows independents (but not Democrats) to vote.
Still, it shapes up as a very strong day for Trump in the Northeast. If Massachusetts, where he hit 49 percent in a five-person field, is any indication, the front-runner would probably win at least 100 delegates on the day, carrying him past the 1,000 mark overall.
May 3: Indiana (57 delegates; winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district)
Indiana looms as a potential stumbling block for Trump. Though the Hoosier State’s primary will be open, its very conservative and heavily Evangelical electorate is well-tailored to Cruz, who could be expected to win all 30 statewide delegates as well as a majority of those awarded by congressional district. Still, Trump has often beaten Cruz with Evangelicals, most recently by 5 points in neighboring Michigan, and in the worst-case scenario, he loses statewide but still walks away with 9 or 12 delegates thanks to a handful of district wins.
May 10: Nebraska (36 delegates; winner-take-all) and West Virginia (34 delegates; elected directly on ballot and bound to candidate they represent)
Nebraska could be a toss-up. Even if Cruz wins there and Trump leaves empty-handed, he will probably secure at least half of West Virginia’s delegates. These, plus the dozen or so collected a week earlier — and again, that’s a worst-case scenario — would probably bring Trump’s total north of 1,050.
May 17: Oregon (28 delegates; proportional)
It’s a closed primary, but Cruz’s brand probably won’t play well in the secular Pacific Northwest. A rough split of the delegates is the likeliest outcome.
May 24: Washington (44 delegates; proportional with 20 percent threshold)
See: Oregon. Same conditions, same probable outcome. A rough split in both contests would give Trump some 40 delegates, taking him to or beyond the 1,100 mark.
June 7: California (172 delegates; 13 winner-take-all statewide, 3 winner-take-all in each of 53 congressional districts), Montana (27 delegates; winner-take-all), New Jersey (51 delegates; winner-take-all), New Mexico (24 delegates; proportional with 15 percent threshold), and South Dakota (29 delegates; winner-take-all)
#related#Only 13 delegates are awarded to California’s statewide winner, while 3 apiece are allotted to the winner in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts. It’s a closed primary, and California has its ultra-conservative pockets, so Cruz would probably claim his fair share of districts. But Trump could be expected to win more than half, and probably closer to two-thirds, which on top of a statewide victory would bring him more than 100 total, easily pushing him past 1,200 overall.
Even if Trump splits New Mexico’s 24 delegates and loses all 56 delegates awarded in Montana and South Dakota, he would probably be sitting somewhere between 1,230 and 1,270.
And that means he’d almost certainly have the nomination sewed up even without New Jersey. The Garden State’s primary is open to Republicans and independents but not Democrats, which, like New York’s totally closed primary, is probably advantageous to Trump. Between his relationships in the state, his roots in the region, and the help he will receive from Governor Chris Christie’s political machine, it’s nearly impossible to see Trump losing New Jersey. If he hasn’t gotten there already, the state’s 51 winner-take-all delegates will almost certainly push Trump across the finish line.
— Tim Alberta is the chief political correspondent for National Review.