The fight continues. And it’s more intense than ever.
It’s all about the delegates and nothing else
The goal of the primaries is to choose the party’s candidate for president. In order for a candidate to receive the nomination, he or she has to win delegates. There are generally two ways to win delegates in primaries. In some cases candidates win by proportion. If a state has 100 delegates and a candidate wins 60 percent of the vote in the state’s primary, then that candidate will have 60 delegates from that state at the national convention — the party nomination night. Other states use the winner-takes-all method. This sounds exactly like what it is: A candidate who wins the majority of the vote in a primary — 51 percent — wins all of that state’s delegates.
When a candidate wins delegates in a state — either by proportion of votes or winner-takes-all — those delegates are presumed to be committed to voting for that candidate at the convention. Each party has a finite number of delegates who are up for grabs in the primaries. In 2016, the Republican Party had around 2,472 delegates; Democrats offered 4,764 delegates [source: The Green Papers].
Delegates are usually people who are involved in their state’s politics. They may be volunteers, local party chairs or other interested citizens. In addition to delegates, states also offer uncommitted delegates. These people — sometimes called superdelegates — are usually elected officials from the state.
So what does this mean?
Trump may lead but he needs nearly all of the remaining delegates to win.
Trump leads but is short on delegates
It’s all about the delegates and nothing else. 1,237 is needed for Trump to reach nomination, and 2,340 is now available. Trump currently has only 82 delegates and needs a minimum 1,155 more while Clinton has 505 and needs 1,878.
Trump needs only 246 of the 624 delegates available on SEC/Super Tuesday to keep on pace to win the 1,237 delegates he needs to formally secure the Republican presidential nomination, according to calculations by Cook Political Report delegate expert David Wasserman.
Because things are about to start moving very quickly indeed — in the next 21 days, a bit more than half of all delegates in the contest will be handed out to candidates:
- Super Tuesday on March 1 is the first big multistate contest. This year, it’s been dubbed the “SEC primary” because so many Southern states are scheduled for this day. Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Arkansas, Minnesota, Alaska, and Vermont — which together account for a quarter of Republican delegates — will all hold primaries or caucuses then.
- Then, between March 5 and March 12, eight more states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam will all hold their contests.
- And then we hit Super Tuesday II on March 15, in which Florida, North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, and the Northern Mariana Islands will all vote. By the time the dust settles, about 58 percent of delegates will be allotted.
- After the Ides of March, things slow down. Over a little less than three months, 37 percent of the remaining delegates will be allocated in primaries and caucuses, culminating on June 7.
- The other 5 percent or so of delegates will be determined through more arcane methods in a few states and territories that have chosen not to use traditional primaries and caucuses. Some of them won’t be bound to any candidate.
So this idea that there’s still ample time for a Rubio/Trump matchup to materialize may be quite mistaken. Because so many contests are packed into the first half of March, the GOP nomination contest really will be just about three-fifths of the way finished by March 15 — less than three weeks from now — if you go by the delegate count.
Trump’s support appears geographically broad, with blue-collar voters powering him to victory in Northern, Southern and Western states. In fact, his sweeping victory in heavily evangelical South Carolina may have obliterated Cruz’s mathematical path to the 1,237 delegates required to clinch the nomination. And Cruz’s recent demise as a top contender may in turn heighten Rubio’s challenge: The more Trump dominates the SEC Primary states on March 1, the more delegates Rubio will need elsewhere to overtake him.
After March 1, 52 percent of Republican delegates will be awarded on a winner-take-all basis, keeping alive the possibility that a large early Trump delegate lead could be erased quickly by modest losses later. March 15 is truly the GOP’s “day of reckoning,” and Florida may be the most pivotal state on the entire calendar. If Trump defeats Rubio in his winner-take-all backyard, it would be game over. But if Rubio wins over enough of Jeb Bush’s old supporters to claim Florida’s 99-delegate jackpot, it could mark a long-awaited turning point in the race. At the very least, he could leverage such an outcome to try to prevent Trump from winning a majority of delegates by June.
The continued candidacies of Cruz, Ben Carson and Kasich are of great significance even if none of them any longer have a credible path to the nomination. The more delegates they siphon off on Super Tuesday and beyond, the greater the odds neither Rubio nor Trump racks up 1,237 delegates by June, raising the prospect of a multi-ballot Cleveland convention in July.
Just imagine a convoluted scenario in which Trump winds up with fewer delegates than Rubio despite having won the most votes heading into a contested convention, while Cruz and Kasich delegates are the ultimate arbiters of the nomination on a second or third ballot.
Trump needs to negotiate, bribe and purchase his way into a winning position (which must be second nature to him).