The Corner

Politics & Policy

What We Learned from Utah and Arizona

Republicans went to the polls in Utah and Arizona last night. And now that the results are mostly in, here are some thoughts:

‐Just before midnight on the east coast, Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe tweeted: In Arizona, “We will lose but not anywhere close to current margin and watch election day vote %.” The idea was that early voting, which started when there were still five candidates in the race, hurt Cruz, but that on Election Day he would do better. Roe was wrong about the margin tightening significantly: Cruz crept only a few percentage points closer to Trump and still lost by 22 points. But he was right about Cruz performing better on Election Day. Based on results from Maricopa County, the most populous county in the state, Cruz dramatically expanded his vote share from the early vote to Election Day. In early voting, Cruz got 20 percent of the vote to Trump’s 45 percent. Rubio took 18 percent, and Kasich got 11 percent. On Election Day, Cruz took 37 percent of the vote — almost exactly the combined total of his and Rubio’s percentage of the early vote. Trump expanded his share of the vote very slightly to 49 percent. Kasich stayed constant at 10 percent. That doesn’t definitively mean Rubio voters went to Cruz, but it is consistent with the possibility.

John Kasich wasn’t a spoiler. The fury directed at Kasich for competing in Utah was unnecessary; the angst at the idea that Cruz might not cross the 50 percent threshold in Utah, thereby taking all the delegates and preventing Trump from getting a single one, was overblown. With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Ted Cruz has 69.2 percent of the vote, well over the threshold to take all of the state’s delegates. Kasich is at 17 percent, barely beating Trump’s 14 percent. On CNN Wednesday, Cruz called Kasich a “spoiler.” But he didn’t spoil anything for Cruz in Utah.

Kasich might have a problem. He held multiple campaign events in Utah, spent money on television and digital ads, and yet he beat the candidate who suggested Mitt Romney might not actually be a Mormon by just three percentage points. In Arizona, he lost to a candidate – Rubio – who was no longer even in the race. Kasich has been very open about the fact that his only path to the nomination is to win it in a floor fight at the convention. But Kasich, as his adviser Tom Rath told National Review last week, has had to push the narrative that “we’re not in this to be a spoiler, we’re in this to win the nomination,” something his team felt they proved in Ohio. But, says Rath, “We’ve got to continue to prove it,” and that means winning delegates. The next major nominating contest is in Wisconsin, which could be more fertile ground for Kasich, who has long said the midwestern states are his stronghold. But if the Wisconsin results suggest that the anti-Trump sentiment has united around Cruz, Kasich could be in trouble.

A month-long early-voting period may not be the best idea in a primary. Arizona opened early voting on February 24, and as a result, Marco Rubio, who exited the race a week before the Arizona primary, finished in third place with 13.4 percent of the vote. Arizonans were telling tales of people who were going to polling places on Tuesday to say they’d voted early for Rubio and ask if they could try again. To be sure, it would be entirely unfair to suggest Rubio was to blame for Trump’s easy win in Arizona. Add up Rubio and Cruz’s vote totals (with 96.5 percent reporting), and Trump is still easily ahead. Throw in Kasich’s 10 percent of the vote and the hypothetical non-Trump candidate would have beat Trump by just 5,000 votes. And it’s worth re-emphasizing that the candidate who could collect every single anti-Trump vote is very hypothetical. Political observers may have split the race into “for Trump” and “against Trump” camps, but it’s not clear that voters will follow that dichotomy. If you voted for Kasich, who’s to say you’d automatically jump into Cruz’s arms if Kasich were out? The two have spent the race appealing to polar opposite parts of the party. A Kasich voter might just as likely stay home or vote for Trump as decide to back Cruz. Early voting isn’t a new thing in Arizona primaries – but last night it caused a lot of angst for anti-Trump Republicans.

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