February 21, 2016
One of Donald Trump’s advisors thinks this is a one candidate race. Ted Cruz says it’s a two person contest. Marco Rubio believes there are three finalists. John Kasich tell us there’s room for four. Ben Carson is sticking around.
We can safely dismiss Carson as a competitor, both in Nevada and for the nomination. He finished the first three states just shy of 20 percent. Combined. Until Kasich wins Massachusetts, Vermont or Michigan (something polls aren’t indicating yet), he’s a curiosity at most.
The top 3 candidates should pull at least 85, possibly 90 percent of the Nevada caucus vote. It’s as close a preview as we could hope for prior to Super Tuesday.
For the past 24 hours, we’ve been treated to an endless debate over the importance of the establishment unifying/consolidating/congealing behind Marco Rubio. Some say this is crucial because he can stop Trump by combining his support with that of Jeb and Kasich.
Others say it’s absurd to think all of their voters will immediately flock to Marco. Besides, in some states, the others just don’t have much support to donate. At the same time, people point out Trump has struggled to exceed a third of the vote.
Did Ted Cruz overcome obstacles to finish well in South Carolina, or did he squander the chance to win an evangelical loaded state? In a mere two days, the voters of Nevada will help answer these questions for us.
Each of the Big Three, or if you prefer, The Donald and his Apprentices, have at least one important thing in their favor and at least one going against them. Let’s take a quick look:
Trump is leading in the polls. By a ton. His South Carolina win can only help. If he managed to survive the values voters of Iowa, Nevadans aren’t going to pass judgment. Don’t expect to see Cruz running ads about Manhattan values in Las Vegas.
As we heard about while the Democrats were camped out there, Nevada has not recovered from the Great Recession. The property market was completely decimated and is not back to post crash levels, even with super low interest rates.
If this was a primary state, the only question would be if Cruz or Rubio could get within 20 points of Trump’s total. But it’s a caucus and a newly established one at that. In the two previous iterations (2008, 2012) turnout was in the 40,000 range.
We’ve already seen The Donald’s ability to help push a record number of people to the polls. Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina all set GOP primary/caucus turnout records. Democrats only participated at 2/3rds the rate of 2008, but there’s more enthusiasm on the Republican side.
Though Trump did get the second most votes in Iowa GOP caucus history, he still underperformed his polls and finished behind Cruz. If he wins easily here, with a total north of 40%, he will have proven he can do well in caucuses, and control enough support to potentially dominate a three-person race.
Rubio and Cruz would have less than one week to make improvements before he could effectively wipe them off the map.
By unanimous consent, Ted Cruz has the best ground game. He may have finished a somewhat disappointing third in South Carolina, but he beat his final poll averages by a few points. The same thing happened in his Iowa win.
With very little time between contests, Trump will only have a couple of major events to rally his troops, and Rubio will lack the full week to dig in that he had before previous votes. The advantage would seem to go to the candidate with superior organization.
Months ago, Ted announced he had county chairmen in each of the four early voting states. He has his group of pastors. He’s got his full compliment of precinct captains. In order to win the nomination, Cruz needs to win the vast majority of caucus states.
They aren’t the largest delegate hauls, but he has maximum advantage over Trump and the more lightly organized Rubio in these places. Ted has proven he can find his voters and get them to turn out. The question is if there are enough of them.
If he neither challenges Trump’s total, nor distances himself from Rubio, his ability to do well on March 1 is highly questionable. It would mean he failed in an evangelical southern state and whiffed in a caucus location.
Rubio spent part of his childhood in Vegas. While there he was a temporary convert to the Church of Latter Day Saints. This gives him a few local ties as well as an in with the Mormon community, a decent chunk of the Nevada GOP.
Mitt Romney did very well there in 2008 and 2012, winning about half of the vote each time. Rumors have Rubio getting a Romney endorsement very soon. Marco denied this today, but a nod from the Mittster would help.
Rubio’s support is normally a mile wide and an inch deep. He often has the highest favorability ratings of any Republican, but lacks the core of support Trump and Cruz enjoy. in South Carolina, he needed to rebuild from his New Hampshire disappointment.
Nikki Haley and Tim Scott were hugely helpful, but they were starting from too big a hole to have a chance at helping Marco to a win. Now he’s back where he was after Iowa, before he was Christied.
Even before his generally positive result, Marco was effectively tied with Cruz in Nevada polls. In both Iowa and South Carolina, Rubio got the largest percentage of late deciding voters. The caucus environment will cut down a little on this opportunity.
Nevadans don’t have the history Iowans do of participating, and it’s a big commitment to make when you aren’t sure who to vote for. Still, there are always late deciders, and he’s well positioned to pick them up.
If Rubio is going to separate himself from Cruz and make a real run at Trump, this is a place to show that. In Iowa and South Carolina, he trailed Ted a week ahead of the vote, so his ability to close merely helped him catch up and make up for the Cruz ground game.
Now they start on equal footing at worst. With the senators competing for many of the same conservative voters on Super Tuesday, a show of strength here would push those who are concerned about beating Trump to Marco.
In another two days, we’ll have answers to all of the above questions. We’ll know how hard catching Trump is, and we’ll know if either senator can separate from the other. So far, they have finished within 5 points of each other in each contest.
Keep your eyes on all three rings of the circus on Tuesday, it’s as good of a March 1 preview as we’re going to get.