The Big Picture – Republican Edition

I was in the middle of preparing my next big batch of bullet points when 538 dropped a comprehensive look at the state of the delegate race. You really should read the whole thing, but I know most of you either wont or don’t have time, so I’m going to do a short summary for you here. Once this is done, I’ll get back to those bullets, assuming that I don’t get sidetracked too much by the truly historic final games of the NBA season tonight. I’ll follow 538’s lead, going state by state, after a quick top line summary.

Findings: The most likely scenarios have Trump finishing at about 1,150 delegates, about 100 less than he needs to win on the first ballot. But the path to 1,237 isn’t closed – it would require him to sweep almost everything in the Northeast, win Indiana, and then win California by a solid margin. 

State-by-State Analysis: My understanding reading through their analysis is that they assume that the elections directly determine the delegate counts. Since that is likely to lead to the most favorable results for Trump, and since the purpose of the exercise is to come up with scenarios that allow us to investigate the likelihood of Trump getting the nomination, I think that decision makes sense. Also, given that this is meant to be comprehensive, I don’t think there’s any other alternative. But since it’s always worth clearly stating assumptions up front, there it is. Now, the states:

Wyoming(April 16): A convention-only process that already has Cruz racking up big wins. Expect a shutout here for Trump, with anything more than a single delegate being a big win.

New York (April 19): Most of the delegates are awarded at the congressional district-level, with three per district split proportionally. An additional 14 are awarded by the state-wide totals, with a winner-take-all scenario kicking in if the top finisher gets above 50%. Given that it’s going to take well more than one evening to do the delegate math, that top-line number really should be your focus on election night. If Trump can’t get to 50%+1 — and since this is a closed primary with a long lead-time for registrations, that isn’t a given — his path to 1,237 gets a lot more difficult. So watch that top-line number on election night, and I’ll do my best to figure out what’s happening at the district level as the results come in.

Connecticut (April 26): Very similar system to NY, except that the districts are winner-take-all. Expect very big things from Trump, but even 24 of 28 doesn’t get him closer to the nomination. He’ll really need a sweep here.

Maryland (April 26): Another district-by-district state that has a bonus for the winner, but unlike CT and NY, there’s no 50%+1 requirement for that bonus. Anything above 30 of the state’s 38 delegates would be a strong finish for Trump.

Delaware (April 26): A tiny winner-take-all state with no polling, and since it’s a closed primary, who the hell knows? The 538 model assumes a Trump sweep, so if those goes any other way it’s a really significant outcome. If he wins, not so much. 

Rhode Island (April 26): A tiny state that has apparently decided to minimize its influence by maximalizing the proportionality of its delegate distribution. Trump needs 10 or more of the 13 to move closer to the nomination. Trump needs to win more than half of the delegates here.

Pennsylvania (April 26): This state is so complicated it hurts my brain. The state has 71 delegates up for grabs, with 17 awarded to the state-wide winner. The reaming delegates are directly elected by voters but unbound, and the ballots don’t indicate who each of the delegates support. About half of the delegates on the ballots have said they will support the state-wide winner, but that’s a) totally non-binding, and b) not mentioned anywhere on the ballot, so who the hell knows? I’d be willing to bet that both Cruz and Kasich will manage to get some of their people elected in specific districts, but I’d expect Trump doesn’t have the knowledge, connections, or staff necessary for that task. No matter what happens, those 54 delegates are almost certainly going to be a huge wildcard heading into the convention. So on the one hand this state is the most important one going on April 26, but on the other there’s almost no way to know what the results mean until much, much later. For now, know that their model has 32 as Trump’s magic number.

Indiana (May 3): This is likely to be the make-or-break night for Trump, unless something truly unexpected happens between now and then. The state has 57 delegates, more than half of which go to the winner of the state-wide vote. And the district-based delegates are winner-take-all too, so if Trump has a big night here he very well may be on his way to the nomination. If he slips, it will probably slip from his read. The 538 models range from 9 to 48 delegates out of 57, and there’s no polling here yet, so…we’ll have to come back to this one the first few days of May, yeah? For now, know that Trump needs 48+ to head towards that magic number.

Nebraska (May 10): Winner-take-all with an expected Cruz win.

West Virginia (May 10): Total chaos here. The delegates are directly elected by voters, with some announcing in advance who they support and others who are running unbound. Although the ballots do indicate these preferences, there are so many different people running that it is totally impossible to predict anything about the state. Some of the districts have more than 200 delegates running for just three spots! Whoever thought this system up should be fired. Bottom line: Trump needs a total sweep to be on track for the nomination. 

Oregon (May 17): Proportional delegate of 28 delegates; Trump needs 12 or more to gain ground.

Washington (May 24): A pretty complex proportion system that’s too tedious to describe. Trump will need at least 18 of the state’s 44 to march towards the nomination.

New Jersey (June 7): 51 delegates awarded winner-take-all by the state vote, with the assumption of a big Trump win.

Montana (June 7): 27 delegates awarded winner-take-all by the state vote, with the assumption of a big Cruz win.

South Dakota (June 7): 29 delegates awarded winner-take-all by the state vote, with the assumption of a big Cruz win.

New Mexico (June 7): 24 delegates awarded proportionally based on the state-wide vote. If Trump wins 10 or more that would be big.

California (June 7): 172 delegates, so unless something crazy happens, this one will be for all the marbles. Only 13 are awarded to the state-wide winner; the rest are awarded on a congressional district-by-district basis, so as 538 says, in a state this sized it’s essentially 53 separate primaries. Given that, we should expect to see – in fact we are already seeing! – candidates strategically target and campaign in specific districts. This will be a serious test of campaign organization, and if Trump is seriously about winning this thing, he needs to get his act together and fast. Given the complexities here we’ll need to come back around to this state in late-Maym, but for now: Trump needs to clear 110 here as he heads off towards Cleveland.

OK, that’s a really brief summary of their findings, so if you want or need more details, you should go over there and check them out. Trump still has a path to 1,237, but it’s pretty narrow, and he can’t afford to slip up anywhere. More importantly, he has to do better in the upcoming contests than he has on the past ones.

Now…back to compiling that bullet-pointed update!


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