February 24, 2016
It’s possible to justify losing almost any caucus or primary if the margin is narrow enough and you have the right spin. Except when it’s your home state. Before primaries and caucuses were used to distribute the vast majority of delegates, candidates would often pass on challenging a home state favorite.
A local governor or senator used to run as a “Favorite Son” to collect delegates to control/barter with at the convention. If a local was an active contender, a challenge was a big deal. In 1948, surging underdog Harold Stassen challenged Robert A. Taft in Ohio on his home turf.
Taft won. Had Stassen succeeded, he would have likely won the nomination. Instead he faced off against Thomas Dewey in Oregon, lost again, and Dewey went on to blow a seemingly guaranteed victory against Harry Truman.
Stassen went on to play the Jim Gilmore/George Pataki role in several nomination contests from the 1960s to 1980. A failed home field challenge was possibly the difference between President Stassen and a punch line.
Active contenders don’t lose at home. I don’t believe a nominee has ever lost a home state primary or caucus, nor has a serious contender who was still in the race and perceived to have a shot. Near as I can tell, if you lose at home, you go home.
Bernie Sanders has an enormous lead in Vermont. His polling average has him ahead by 75 points. It’s not just getting to vote for a local candidate. Ex-Governor Howard Dean defeated John Kerry in 2004, but by 22 points, not 72. If this margin holds, it’s a truly impressive show of home state support.
Is Hillary Clinton’s home state Arkansas or New York? She hasn’t lived in Arkansas since 1992. Bill’s Presidential Library is in Little Rock, but he usually visits solo. She represented New York and has her campaign HQ in Brooklyn, but has her primary residence in D.C. these days.
She has a 20 to 25 point lead in Arkansas. Not bad, but also about where she would expect to land without any ties. Sanders is closer in Oklahoma, but at least as far away in Louisiana and Texas. It looks like Hillary has significantly larger leads in Georgia and Alabama.
So far, this has more to do with her advantage in southern states with larger African American populations than any local nostalgia for the Clintons. As of a few weeks ago, she led by about 20 in New York.
If the race is still competitive in mid-April, we’ll see if Bernie can close the gap, but for now Hillary is holding up. The Republican home field is another story.
Ted Cruz is up first. Texas votes on March 1, and polls are indicating Cruz has a lead on Donald Trump. A loss would end any nomination hopes. He needs the delegates and if he can’t find them there, they won’t materialize elsewhere.
The newest polling is showing a tightening race, with Rubio joining the pack. This is before anyone has digested Ted’s 3rd place finish in Nevada. If Ted loses Texas, he’s basically a better funded Ben Carson going forward.
He is still leading. A good debate performance on Thursday and this worry is only a memory. Home state voters often are just looking for an excuse to support the local candidate. Regardless, he’s facing far more uncertainty than we could have imagined a week ago.
Nobody has polled Florida in a month. Since then, four states have voted and Jeb Bush has departed. Absent a major change in underlying voter attitudes, Marco Rubio has a problem. He’s trailed Trump in every poll since early August.
If you add every Jeb voter to Marco’s total (which is overly aggressive), Trump has led the combined number in each of the past 6 polls, sometimes by double digits. Taken separately, Rubio trailed Cruz in the past 5 polls.
Particularly with Jeb out, Rubio is virtually guaranteed to top Ted, but Trump is another matter. He’s a bit of a local, having owned his Mar-a-Lago resort/home in Palm Beach for the past couple decades. Trump also has a presence in Florida real estate.
The Donald is extremely popular in the Florida Panhandle, an area that resembles southern states he’s already polling well in. The lower part of Florida includes many expats from the northeast. The state combines two areas of the country Trump is otherwise doing well in.
It’s actually reasonable that Trump is a better Florida candidate than their sitting junior senator. North Carolina votes on the same day, and Rubio is likely to do better there than he does at home. It’s heavy on the type of upscale, educated suburban areas he’s done well with in Iowa and South Carolina.
The Rubio campaign has done a wonderful, perhaps historic job managing expectations. They’ve spun second and third place finishes into victories. Losing Florida to Trump would put this to the ultimate test. He’d need multiple wins in the other large March 15 states.
That list includes Ohio, where John Kasich is in residence as a very popular governor. He’s basing his entire strategy on winning his home state while Rubio loses his. We’ve seen Marco may wind up doing his part to give Kasich a shot, but can the governor deliver on his side?
A new Quinnipiac poll has Trump leading Kasich in the Buckeye State 31 to 26. This is probably decent news for the governor. We’ve observed an effect where voters are far more willing to support the home team when they are more viable overall.
Bush and Rubio are examples of this effect in Florida. Their polling results have mirrored their overall performance nationwide. If they went up elsewhere, they went up in Florida. However, there was an additional step. When Rubio moved past Bush nationally, the gap moved quicker in Florida.
Beyond local preferences, voters were favoring the candidate that appeared more viable. Absent the desire to support a winner from home, you would expect the opposite effect with the voters most informed on Bush and Rubio being less influenced by national trends, not more.
Kasich was 6 points up on Trump in early August, when he had worked his way into the first debate main event and The Donald was still thought a fluke. In mid-September with Kasich languishing in the polls, Trump led by 10. Now, with the governor a little more viable, the gap is 5.
If Kasich does relatively well in Michigan and it does not seem like a lost cause, he’ll beat Trump. Ohio isn’t his problem, the rival state to the north is.
Ben Carson is not a serious contender for the nomination at this point, so we can pass on determining whether Michigan, Maryland, or Florida is his home state. Leaving him aside, Marco Rubio is the candidate who has the most ground to make up. Ted Cruz is the candidate in the most immediate peril.