March 14, 2016
Only a day to go. I think I’m looking more forward to tomorrow than any date on the primary calendar so far. We knew Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would win the most delegates on Super Tuesday, the only question was by how much.
Tomorrow is a bit different. If things break well for them, Trump and Clinton could each sweep the day. If they go poorly, their opponents will win more than they do. They are probably both safe in Florida, and are in good shape in North Carolina.
The others, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio, will determine how each front runner begins the second half of the voting season. It’s time to take a look at what each candidate wants, is likely to get, and absolutely needs for survival. We’ll start with the GOP:
Wants: What’s increasingly looking like a miracle in Florida.
Likely: To spend the evening hoping Ted Cruz doesn’t beat him at home too.
Needs: That improbable victory. He’s going to finish fourth in Illinois and Ohio, quite possibly last in North Carolina and Missouri too. Four fourths and a first is problematic anyway, but the shock of the comeback might give him a temporary boost.
A close second in Florida would end things on a better note, perhaps giving him some solace, but only a win will do.
Wants: A win in Ohio, delegates in Illinois.
Likely: A long night in Ohio. Polls are showing him slightly ahead on average, but unless voters break sharply one way or the other, this one won’t get called early. Both Kasich and Trump will run well in many of the same counties, so it’s not like a Cruz/Trump race where there are easier indicators.
Kasich will get close to Trump in some key congressional districts in Illinois (how most delegates are being allocated), but in order to beat him, Rubio’s support will need to completely collapse.
Needs: That Ohio win. Kasich has made it a condition of going on, and like Rubio, there’s no path, however narrow and filled with potholes if he doesn’t. Illinois delegates would help. Failing at getting them, he needs to see he would have if Rubio was gone.
Unless Kasich can stitch together his supporters and those of Rubio’s who look most like his, there aren’t other places on the map he can win. Any chance in Pennsylvania, Indiana, or elsewhere depends on it. If instead they mostly go to Cruz, he’s sticking around as a spoiler, even with a win in Ohio.
Wants: A win in Missouri, along with the majority of delegates. A very strong second in North Carolina. Rough parity with Rubio in Florida, mostly as a show of strength. Either an outright win in Illinois, or at least a sweep of Downstate delegates.
Likely: He’s not talking much about a Missouri win, but that’s just to keep expectations reasonable. Cruz won neighboring states, and wasn’t trailing by much in the one poll, which had plenty of undecided voters.
Trump isn’t spending much time there, focusing on trying to defeat Kasich in Ohio, hanging on in Illinois, and running up the score in North Carolina. Kasich and Rubio have stayed away completely. This is Ted’s best opportunity on the board and it should work out for him.
At a minimum, Cruz should get into the 30-32% range in the Tar Heel State. Trump is probably too far ahead, but his odds of making it reasonably close like Louisiana or Kentucky.
He’s spending the majority of his final full day in Downstate Illinois. It’s the right move. If everything breaks just right, he could win the state overall. In order to do that, he would need to run up his margins there.
Worst case, it helps him win delegates from those congressional districts, contributing to a solid day in the state.
Needs: Rubio to lose. It’s likely to happen, but even more necessary. After Arizona and Utah on March 22, the campaign moves to places more suited to Rubio than Cruz. Many of those voters will pick Ted to stop The Donald, but only with Marco out of the way.
If the polls are wrong and Rubio rises from the dead, Cruz is stuck. Even more so if Kasich hangs on in Ohio. While he’s pushing for 1237 delegates, Ted can survive a contested convention as long as he enters it with the largest share.
A four person race will not allow that.
He needs Missouri too. A true nomination contender, someone who thinks they can beat Trump one-on-one, and who is prepared to push through if Kasich is still in the picture, needs at least one win out of five on a big primary day.
Cruz won 3 times on March 1, twice on March 5, once on March 8, and managed to win Guam and Wyoming under the radar on March 12. As long as he can keep the streak going, he’s fine. A shutout doesn’t work.
While Illinois is possible, it’s extremely unlikely it happens without a Missouri win.
Wants: To destroy Rubio in Florida by at least 10 points, preferably closer to 20, enabling him to add Little Marco to his list of would-be-challengers who were finished off by their own attacks.
A win in Ohio. You can debate the strategic value in keeping Kasich around to divide #NeverTrump votes, but why run the chance of him getting lucky and being around to cause problems at the convention if you don’t have to.
Beating two of the final four candidates in their home states on the same day is an accomplishment. It’s hard to say someone isn’t a winner after they do that.
A strong win in North Carolina. It would indicate Cruz really isn’t making any progress at moving ahead of him. In Virginia and South Carolina, Cruz + Rubio was more than Trump. Though The Donald won, a Cruz/Rubio or Rubio/Cruz ticket might have beaten him.
Assuming Rubio’s support has plummeted as much as we think, if Trump can still easily defeat Cruz, it’s a major show of strength. The state is bordered by Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Trump averaged about 35% in those contests. Breaking 40% is meaningful.
He’s leading in Illinois, and a win is well in reach. He’d like to defeat Cruz Downstate and Kasich in the Chicago suburbs, sweeping most of the delegates. It would serve as strong notice they shouldn’t expect to get the better of him later.
If he can complete the sweep and defeat Cruz in Missouri, it’s gravy. Winning 5 of 5 would cause a full establishment meltdown.
Likely: Polls are getting increasingly depressing for Rubio. Florida is virtually a done deal. At a minimum, he’ll keep Kasich sweating Tuesday evening, though a win is 50/50 at best for Trump.
North Carolina looks good for The Donald too. Missouri is possible, but my guess is Cruz has the edge. That means Illinois holds his day in the balance. A very possible win there, and he’d capture 3 out of 5, plus some delegates in Missouri.
He would win the most delegates on the day and widen his lead over Cruz. Not everything he would have hoped for, a harder path to 1237 before the convention, but still the clear front runner, and candidate most likely to reach Cleveland with a solid delegate lead.
Needs: Florida. If he loses now, after leading every poll for several months, something has gone terribly wrong. Missing out on the 99 delegates would almost guarantee he falls short of 1237.
North Carolina. Dropping this one to Cruz would indicate Ted has some real momentum. It would also indicate Cruz will beat him in Illinois and Missouri. Trump can get away with a split, with Kasich winning Ohio, but cannot survive having Cruz win 3 states while he only gets one.
Because Florida is winner-take-all, and Ted’s best states aren’t, Trump would still gain on him in delegates for the day. North Carolina is more symbolic, as the two will likely wind up within 10 delegates of each other regardless of who wins.
At least a couple congressional districts in Illinois. A win is better of course, but as long as he can avoid losing to Cruz Downstate and Kasich in the suburbs, he’s fine. Either of those is ok, but not both.
There’s a possible outcome where Trump wins the state but not very many delegates. By finishing a close second to Cruz and Kasich where each are strong, he’d wind up with a statewide popular vote win, but lose out on the majority of delegates.
That’s a really bad trend for future contests. He’s better off with more delegates than an empty win.
While Rubio is likely to end the day upset, it’s actually possible for Trump, Cruz and Kasich to all get what they need, if not what they want. It would only require the actual results to wind up fairly close to what polls are currently indicating.