March 6, 2016
Raise your hand if you thought Ted Cruz would win almost half the votes in Maine. Now stop crossing your fingers on the other hand. I’m proud of myself for anticipating Donald Trump would finish second there, with support in the low 30s.
We’ll just ignore the part where I said Kasich would win and Cruz would finish third. I’ll remind you I figured Marco Rubio would have a tough day, finishing last in Maine and struggling to finish third elsewhere.
Donald Trump won two of four. Judged that way, only mildly disappointing. He won the one primary, and took one of the three caucuses. His victories were in the largest two states of the evening, and he retains a large delegate advantage.
But it was a much better day for Cruz. He broke 45% twice, getting close to the elusive 50% mark in Kansas. He was the only candidate over 30% in each of the four contests. Perhaps most importantly, he actually beat Trump 40.9/40.5 among election day voters in Louisiana.
Trump was ahead 48/23 with absentee voters, but Cruz pulled even for yesterday. It just wasn’t enough to win the state. Mississippi votes on Tuesday. Trump was ahead of Ted 41/17 in the most recent poll. This may have completely evaporated by now.
Once upon a time, the Deep South was supposedly Cruz territory. His campaign spent months banking on this. Super Tuesday proved polls showing this wasn’t so were correct. Much of the Old South is actually Trumplandia.
This caused many of us to question whether Cruz had a path to the nomination. Even if he’s reached relative parity now, most of the primary votes are cast. If he missed out here, where does Cruz have a foundation to build on?
In Perot states.
You might not think of Cruz as the successor to H. Ross Perot, the unusually successful Independent candidate from 1992, with a less effective encore in 1996. When any of the candidates are compared to Perot, it’s usually Trump.
The Donald is a fellow billionaire and also strays from GOP orthodoxy, the difference being he’s actually running for the Republican nomination. Perot didn’t participate in any primaries, but there’s a strong link between his general election performance and where Cruz does well now.
The top 1992 Perot state was Maine. He reached 30% of the vote. Cruz won by a solid margin. Next best was Alaska. Again Ted won. Fifth best was Kansas. Another victory. In this case, it’s not shocking Cruz won a state where Rick Santorum did well, but the margin was beyond what anyone figured.
Ted has a relative advantage in caucus states compared to Trump. His ground operation helps. He does better in contests only open to Republicans. Still, these are strong wins, and you don’t win 48/23 just because it’s a caucus. Trump is having no trouble getting voters to the polls, and did a huge rally in Kansas right before the vote.
The third and fourth best Perot states were Utah and Idaho. Many of his other strong numbers were in Western states yet to vote. One exception is Nevada, which was well above average for Perot, and not particularly useful for Cruz.
In the more libertarian parts of the country, places like Alaska, Maine, and Idaho, Trump is too authoritarian to pick up the Perot mantle. Nationally, both Cruz and Trump do well with Tea Party voters. Down South, where Perot struggled, Trump thrives. Elsewhere, the balance is different.
There’s more at work here and the concept deserves a separate post and more detail, but yesterday does show that Cruz does have a way to do well even after missing out on his presumed firewall.
If Ted has a foundation out West, it gets in the way of Rubio trying to mount a comeback, even if he overcomes his disastrous Saturday to salvage Florida. He’s spending today in Idaho, trying to keep Cruz from running away with a state he should have expected to do well in.
Meanwhile, John Kasich had sort of a meh day, only finishing out of the cellar in Maine, a place where he did worse than I (and others) figured. The day was an overall success for him due to Rubio’s failure, but he’ll need to push to win Ohio.
His most important indicators were the Kentucky counties along the border with Ohio, most specifically the counties just south of Cincinnati. Not too bad, not outstanding. He was in the mid-20s. Several key Kentucky counties were split relatively evenly between the four candidates.
Trump did well in coal country, and will likely perform well in similar parts of Ohio. Cruz did well in the western, more rural areas. The major metro areas of Lexington and Louisville had opportunity for all candidates.
There was enough evidence to show Kasich with a road map to a home win, as well as plenty of indicators it won’t be easy. He’s spending today and much of the next week in Ohio to try to lock down that crucial Favorite Son victory.
Going in, I figured Bernie would win Kansas and Nebraska, Hillary would win Louisiana. Expectations were her delegate advantage there would exceed his in the other two states, giving him two victories while losing ground where it counts.
This was the consensus view, as well as the exact actual outcome. Louisiana wound up completely in line with polling, the other two within range of reasonable expectations. There’s literally nothing to see here.
Bernie will continue to dominate caucuses with majority white populations. Hillary has invested enough money and time in ground operations to keep the gap from being as large as it was in her 2008 defeat to Barack Obama.
In order to make things interesting, he needs to win a higher percentage of African American voters as the contest heads north. He needs his support among Latinos to wind up closer to his solid result in Nevada than his blowout in Texas.
If he can make a little progress by March 15, he gets to spend a few weeks in favorable states before resurfacing for the New York primary on April 19. If his numbers among voters of color haven’t moved by then, it’s beyond too late.
So not much new on the Democrats’ side, but for the GOP, the nine days between now and the decisive March 15 contests are nail-biting, edge-of-the seat time. By the morning of the 16th, The Donald could have this mostly wrapped up, or find himself very unlikely to get anywhere near 1237 delegates ahead of the convention.