Rival campaigns expect Donald Trump to clean up on Super Tuesday, winning a majority of the 11 nominating contests, securing the most delegates from them, and padding his overall lead in the delegate hunt.
That said, keep an eye on Oklahoma tonight: It’s the one state where both the Cruz and Rubio camps think Trump could underperform — to their benefit.
The reason: Oklahoma is the only true “closed primary” of the bunch, meaning only those voters that registered as Republicans prior to February 6 are allowed to participate. Every other GOP primary or caucus Tuesday night is open in some way, allowing independents or Democrats — or both — to fill out a Republican ballot.
Independents made up 36 percent of the GOP electorate in New Hampshire and 22 percent in South Carolina, according to exit polling. Trump dominated among those voters, scoring double-digit margins that helped him secure victories in both states.
With Oklahoma’s primary restricted to only Republicans — and not just voters who sign up as Republican minutes before casting their ballot – both Cruz and Rubio think they have an opportunity to break through and finish ahead of Trump. Both candidates paid extra attention to the state down the home stretch, and both feel they have natural constituencies there — Cruz with the state’s large rural population, and Rubio with suburban voters clustered around Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Cruz, Rubio and Trump all should walk away from Oklahoma with some delegates, as the state’s five congressional districts one delegate apiece to the top three finishers, provided they all top 15 percent in the district. The statewide rules are similar: Delegates are divided proportionally among all candidates finishing above 15 percent.
The story out of Oklahoma won’t be the delegate count, however. It will be whether Cruz or Rubio can notch a statewide victory over Trump somewhere they weren’t expected to.