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Monday, March 28, 2016

Delegate Math


With more than a week until the next contest, it is a good time to see where all of the candidates stand and what possibilities exist to allow them to grab the nomination.

Republicans

The Republican nominee needs 1237 delegates for a majority win on the first ballot.

Donald Trump currently has 739.  He needs 498 of the 944 still available (52.8%) to have a majority of the pledged delegates.

Ted Cruz currently has 465.  He needs 772 of 944 still available (81.8%) to have a majority of the pledged delegates.

John Kasich has 143.  He needs 1091 with only 944 still available (116%) meaning it is mathematically impossible for him to have a majority of pledged delegates at the convention.

Kasich's impossible path and Cruz's extremely improbable math means that both men only have a chance in an open convention, one where no candidate has an outright majority on the first ballot.  Even if they succeed in keeping Trump below the magic number of 1237, it is quite possible that Trump can pick up some of the unpledged delegates, or delegates from candidates who have dropped out of the race already.  Therefore, even if Trump is only close to 1237 in actual pledged delegates, he may win even on the first ballot.

The reality is that neither Cruz nor Kasich would have much of a chance in a brokered convention.  All those Trump delegates are unlikely to support either of them, on the second or 200th ballot.  There is too much bitterness and policy disagreement between them.  Even if they did somehow pull out the nomination, it is nearly impossible to see how they could get Trump supporters to turn out in the necessary numbers in the general to support the guy who stole the nomination from their candidate.

There is all sorts of speculation that the delegates could change the party rules at the opening of the convention to benefit a different candidate.  However, it is hard to imagine the Trump delegates, who will be a plurality, supporting any rules changes that hurt Trump's chances.  It is hard to see any realistic path toward a nominee other than Trump.

The fact that we are even having such discussions shows how much the Republican establishment hates or fears Trump as the nominee.  It is not just a fear of losing the White House.  It is the fact that Trump could create a tidal wave of opposition that sweeps Republican majorities out of both the House and Senate.  This year is six years after the Republican landslide that has resulted in 24 out of 34 Senate races held by Republican incumbents, many in swing states, up for reelection this year. These remain at risk, especially with a Presidential candidate who can spout all sorts of craziness that will turn off large portions of the electorate.  Trump could also taint the Republican brand to such a degree that a generation of voters will stay away, even in future elections.

Personally, I think these fears are overblown.  Voters can make a statement by voting Republican at the House and Senate levels, and against Trump for President.  I think many will do that.  The risk of many disaffected Republicans staying home exists with any of the three candidates getting the nomination.  The notion that this race could impact future ones is also overblown.  Anyone remember how badly Dukakis got crushed in 1988 and everyone said it would be 40 years before the Democrats could ever mount a credible shot at the White House?  Four years later, Bill Clinton successfully rebranded the Democrats and won.  Even a terrible loss this year will mean little 4 years from now.

Finally, there is some debate among the establishment of running a third party candidate.  This would, of course, hand the election to the Democrats.  Dividing the Republicans among Trump and another Republican would hopelessly divide them in almost every State, giving the Democrat a wide open win, just as Woodrow Wilson did in the highly Republican world of 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft divided Republicans.  Supporters of this strategy clearly fear a Trump presidency would do more to harm Republicans than a Democratic win this year.  They are looking for a way to kill off Trump's campaign at any cost.

Creating a third party candidate would be difficult at this point.  In many States, it is too late to get a candidate on the ballot.  Some are discussing a takeover of the Libertarian Party nomination, as they are already on the ballot in all 50 States.  This may be a possibility for Republicans who want to guarantee a Democratic win in November.

Democrats

The Democrats are down to a rather simple two person race.  The nominee needs 2383 delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot.

Hillary Clinton has won 1243 pledged delegates, meaning she needs 1140 of the remaining 2049 (55.6%) in order to secure a majority in pledged delegates.   This is only counting pledged delegates though.  Clinton also has 469 superdelegates to who have promised to support her.  Superdelegates may change their votes at any time for any reason.  Clinton had a large number of promised superdelegates switch their votes to Obama in 2008.  If the election turns in a serious way, these superdelegates could jump ship.  That is why they are less secure than pledged delegates.  But if we assume that the 469 who have promised to back Hillary continue to do so, she would only need 671 of the remaining 2049 (32.7%) to secure the nomination.  That is a much easier path.

Bernie Sanders has won 975 pledged delegates, meaning he would need 1408 of the remaining 2049 delegates (68.8%) to win a pledged majority.  Add to that the paltry 29 superdelegates who have backed Sanders and he still needs 1379 of the remaining 2049 delegates (67.3%) to win.  That seems unlikely, but not as uphill as Cruz or Kasich face on the other side.  If Sanders started piling up such large numbers, it would be the result of some major shift in the campaign that might also cause a shift in superdelegates.  In other words, Sanders remains a long shot, but there are some unlikely but realistic ways to see how he gets to the nomination.

Going Forward

Despite the mathematical possibilities, the polls in the most of the upcoming races show Clinton and Trump winning most of the delegates in the remaining States.  Absent some game changing event, bot should have a majority of delegates by Convention time.  Given the deep fractures in the Republican party, I see the most realistic outcome being President Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sanders Surge

Bernie Sanders had a good weekend in the Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington State Caucuses.  He beat Hillary Clinton with over 70% of the vote in all three States.  As things stand, Sanders needs to win 2/3 of the remaining delegates.  He won more than that share yesterday.  While exact delegate counts are still being sorted,  Sanders probably won around 120 delegates to Clinton's 50.

Sanders has always done better in closed caucuses, where independents cannot vote and where participation typically takes a commitment of several hours. As a result, voters tend to be more hard core and hold more extreme views than the public in general.  Still, victories of 70% or 80% are very impressive.

The wins were more than enough to keep the Sanders Campaign going, with an infusion of money and support.

The next contest is an open primary in Wisconsin in about a week and a half. Clinton and Sanders are virtually tied there in the polls. But after Wisconsin comes a number of mid-Atlantic States, including Pennsylvania and New York, where Clinton has roughly 30 point leads in the polls.  If Clinton does as well as the polls suggests, even Sanders' landslide victories in these smaller caucuses will not be enough allow hit to catch Clinton in delegates.

Sanders could possibly continue to win the remaining States without the necessary margins to catch Clinton, but because he had so many wins, many Superdelegates who have pledged support to Clinton could switch there votes.  Superdelegates do not want to be in the uncomfortable position of nominating a candidate who does not win the most delegates in the primaries.  Still, that remains a long shot strategy for Sanders as well.

Sanders has momentum after yesterday's wins.  But keeping up that pace in the States ahead does not seem likely given the polling in those States.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Primary Lull

After the frenzy of primaries in March, ending with the March 22 contests in Arizona and Utah, the Republicans take a two week break, the next contest being the Wisconsin Primary on April 5.  That may be Kasich's last stand.  If he loses to Trump there, as polls predict, he has little credibility going forward.  With continuing third place standing in the polls of other upcoming contests, many in winner take all States, Kasich moves into the joke category.  Maybe Kasich can turn things around in the next two weeks if voters tend to drift from Trump, but right now he looks like a dead man walking.

Cruz will be happy to see Kasich go, making this a two man race against Trump.  Unfortunately, most of the remaining States will be hard for him to win.  Most of the remaining delegates come from the Mid-Atlantic, New England and West Coast States.  These more moderate voters without strong partisan ties are not likely Cruz fans.  Trump may defeat him in these states even on a two mar race.

On the Democratic side, Sanders may be in for a bit of a wild ride.  He won the two caucuses on March 22 (Idaho and Utah) but lost the bigger primary in Arizona.  Still, it shows he can win States by large percentages.  Sanders does especially well in closed caucuses, as we say in Idaho and Utah.  Up next on the calendar are three more closed caucuses on March 26, Alaska, Hawaii, and the big one in Washington State.  If Sanders can pick up all three of those, and there is a good chance that he can, he may pick up momentum for the mid-Atlantic States that follow later in April, closing in on Clinton's substantial lead.  If that happened, and Sanders passed Clinton in pledged delegates, you could see many of Clinton's super delegates also jump ship and move to the more popular candidate, as they did to her with Obama in 2008.

It is interesting that at this point in the process, neither party seems to have a consensus candidate. Both parties seem deeply divided with both front runners holding extremely high negative ratings. Whoever wins in November may face a deeply divided nation to lead.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

March 22 Results

Both parties held contests in Utah and Arizona.  There was also a Democratic Caucus in Idaho.

As expected, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won their respective party's contests in Arizona by significant Margin.  Trump wins a winner take all in Arizona.  Clinton, of course, must share her delegates proportionally with Sanders.

Ted Cruz landed a big win in Utah. Although it does not have as many delegates as Arizona, Cruz gets a winner take all win because he got over 50% of the vote.  A late poll showed John Kasich coming on strong in Utah, but it appears that poll was just wrong.  It looks like he has beaten Trump but just barely.  From a delegate perspective it does not matter as the 2nd and 3rd place finishers both get no delegates.  Kasich's poor showing, even in relatively unfriendly states, will increase calls for him to withdraw.  That is unlikely as Kasich will be hoping for better results in future contests on east and west coasts as well as a few more in the mid-west.  If he does poorly in Wisconsin in two weeks, you may hear those calls to go grow louder.

Bernie Sanders won big wins in Utah and Idaho.  Again, neither is as big as Arizona, so not as many delegates at stake.  Sanders, who was expected to pull out a relatively close fight was able to push turn out in massive numbers leading to much larger wins in Utah and Idaho, both by over 75%.. Because Democratic contests are still proportional, a big win allows Sanders to collect more delegates than a close win.  Sanders supporters remain much more motivated, giving Sanders increased support in caucuses over primaries.  As a result, Sanders will pick up a larger percentage of delegates in those States.  Overall, it looks like the candidates will probably divide the total delegates of all three States about evenly.

Coming out of these contests, each candidate has a unique spin.

Donald Trump's line will be that he won the most votes for the night and continues to widen his lead over the others.  He will continue to argue he is the clear choice.  Yes, Cruz won a closed caucus on a highly conservative State, but there there are few more contests like that on the calendar.

Ted Cruz will point out that he is the only serious challenger to Trump, that he can take States away from the winner.  Anti-Trump forces should stop dividing their efforts and focus on helping him win more upcoming States.

John Kasich will continue to argue for relevance.  The next Republican contest is Wisconsin in two weeks.  This is an open primary in a more moderate mid-west State.  It is Ohio's next door neighbor. It will be the first favorable State for Kasich in a three person race.  He really has to win there to remain relevant.  If he divides the vote and allows Trump to take all the delegates with a plurality, you will hear screams for him to leave the race and allow the race to become a two person race.  Even if he does, Cruz does not appear to have much of a shot of winning even in a two person race in the mostly mid-Atlantic and west coast States remaining.

Hillary Clinton will argue inevitability and focus on her existing massive delegate lead.  She would point out that Utah and Idaho were relatively small mostly white States with closed caucuses, which tend to benefit Sanders, who tends to lose the larger States with open primaries.

Bernie Sanders will argue the tables are turning, that Clinton did well in southern States with large black populations and those are almost completely done.  Sanders has a few more States upcoming with closed caucuses in largely white States.  If he can rack up similar big wins in upcoming Alaska, Hawaii and Washington caucuses, he may have momentum to carry him into Wisconsin and the mid-Atlantic primaries that follow.

Large voter turnout continues to surprise analysts.  This seems to benefit Sanders who is finding motivated activists who will turn out and fight for him in the typically lightly attended caucuses.  The increased turnout is not usually enough to win larger primaries.  On the Republican side, larger turn out has largely been credited to new Trump supporters.  Utah, however, seemed to show large turn out for Cruz.  Apparently, people are sufficiently afraid of a Trump victory to turn out in large numbers against him as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

March 22 - Arizona and Utah (and Idaho and American Samoa)

This week, there are two contests for both parties: the Utah Caucus and the Arizona Primary.  Both are fairly conservative solidly Republican states.  Idaho is also holding its Democratic Caucus, the Republican contest being several weeks ago.  American Samoa is holding its Republican Convention.

Republicans:

Utah is looking good for Ted Cruz.  He has performed particularly well in closed caucuses in very conservative states.  On top of that, Mitt Romney, the most famous Mormon politician in the country, has announced he will be voting for Cruz.  This may be the first time Cruz wins an outright majority, over 50% of the State.  Even more surprising, Kasich is running a solid second in the polls after taking on most of Rubio's supporters, with Trump's numbers crashing in recent weeks. Winning 50% is important since under State rules, it will give all 40 delegates to Cruz.  Otherwise, delegates are distributed proportionally to any candidate getting over 15%.

This raises an interested challenge for Kasich and Trump.  They will try to keep Cruz below 50%. Trump is also struggling to meet the 15% threshold.  Kasich's best case is keeping Cruz below 50% and Trump below 15%.  It would allow Kasich to collect a respectable number of delegates and freeze out front runner Trump entirely.  Cruz, of course is pushing for a 50% win.  He would probably also like to see Trump do better than Kasich since he is trying to ignore Kasich and make this a two person race.

For his part, Trump has been focusing on the Arizona Primary.  He has held a few rallies in Utah, presumably trying to stay above the 15% threshold and keep Cruz from reaching 50%.  But beyond that, he is looking at Arizona.  He leads Cruz by a good 10 points or more in most polls and Kasich trails badly.  Arizona is a winner take all State with 58 delegates.  Even it Trump gets zero delegates in Utah, if he wins Arizona,  he collects the most delegates for the day.  A few delegates are awarded based on winning a congressional district, so a handful could possibly go to another candidate.   Both Cruz, and Kasich, however, seem to have conceded Arizona to Trump and are focused more on Utah.

American Samoa also holds its Convention on Tuesday, selecting nine delegates for the Republican convention.  These delegates are not bound, so no results to report.  But keep in mind these various unbound delegates make it harder for Trump to reach the magical 50% of bound delegates at the convention.  On the other hand, these are wild card delegates who could support Trump on the first ballot and put him over the 50% mark even without enough bound delegates.

Democrats:

Hillary Clinton has been a good 25-30 points above Bernie Sanders in Arizona.  Clinton has played well with retirees, and Arizona is full of them.  She expects an easy win there.

The Utah Caucus is more up in the air.  It is likely to be close, with polls differing on who will win. Sanders could pull a win here as he tends to do better in closed caucuses.  Even though Utah is a conservative State, its registered Democrats tend to be middle class and white, groups that have tended to favor Sanders.  Since delegates are awarded proportionally, it does not matter much who wins, as it will only affect a couple of delegates.  But if Sanders pulls off a win, it gives him bragging rights for future contests.

Idaho Democrats also hold their closed caucus on Tuesday.  Again, this is a close one. Again, Sanders tends to do better in closed caucuses, especially in States without significant numbers of minorities. This could be a Sanders win as well.

Even though Clinton will win the most delegates for the day, if Sanders can win two of the three contests, it will help to continue his justification for continuing his campaign.

Analysis:

None of these contests will be particularly decisive and probably will not result in any more drop outs.  They are the last Republican contests for two weeks, so candidate would love to two weeks of coverage of wins for their campaigns.  Since the results will be mixed, we should not see any real theme coming from these contests.  Candidate will continue to slog it out and move on the the remaining States.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why Polling is so unreliable

We have all heard politician telling us not to believe the polls.  Sometimes, they are actually right and the polls are wrong.  Sometimes politicians themselves are surprised by the polls.

Polling is a science, but not an exact one.  Sampling, even when done properly, only predicts to a certain degree of probability. In a close race, the result can be well within the margin for error. That is the best case scenario.  In most cases, even good polling is done on the cheap.  Sample sizes are often smaller than they should be.  More importantly, samples are often skewed.  Many of us remember the famous Chicago Tribune headline announcing "Dewey Defeats Truman" the morning that Truman defeated Dewey.  Much of that erroneous prediction was blamed on the fact that the polling was done by phone.  It turns out in the 1940's Republicans were more likely to have phones than Democrats.  That affected the sampling in a significant way.

Sometimes, pollsters try to massage the sample size in order to correct for problems.  For example, Democrats typically tend to turn out in lower numbers than Republicans on election day.  Young people tend to turn out less than older people.  Minorities tend to turn out less than non-minorities.  So, say you have a random sampling with 10% of the sample being 18-25 year olds.  Let's say that is their percentage of the population, but they tend to vote on election day at 7%..  You might discount the sample results by 30% on the assumption that it will represent their numbers on election day.  The problem with that is if your assumption is wrong.  If a candidate has particular appeal to young voters or there is an especially effective get out the vote campaign targeting young people that year, they may turn out in higher percentages.  That was a problem in 2012 for the Republicans.  They discounted black voters based on their turnouts in earlier campaigns.  But blacks turned out in record numbers for Obama and blew away those assumptions. 

Another issue can be last minute changes.  A full poll can often take days to complete. Voter views are often fluid, especially in primaries, and may change their positions in the final days, after polls are taken.  Since media now refuse to use exit polls to call elections while polling is still open, for fear of affecting voter turnout, most polls on election day are at least several days out of date.
There is also a  problem with voter response.  Voters are sick and tired of pollsters.  Fifty years ago, a pollster could get 80% of those called to respond to a poll.  Today, that number is closer to 8%.  The self-selection of responses creates a bias in the sample.  Sometimes this does not matter.  Other times, there may be a correlation between supporters of a particular candidate and refusal to respond to polls.  This can be an issue with a politically incorrect candidate.  In some cases respondents may even lie to pollsters out of a shame in admitting who they are really supporting to an anonymous person.

There are ways to tease out these variations, often by asking other questions that can tell the pollster about sample member's behavior patterns.  But again, this is more art than science.  It requires making certain assumptions about samples that may not prove to be correct. 

Polling can be a useful tool to see where a campaign is headed, but relying too much on polls without knowing the details behind them can lead to major miscalculations.
 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Ted Cruz Bandwagon.

Donald Trump has many Republicans running scared.  After Marco Rubio's withdrawal, the establishment republicans are looking for anyone to save them.  Enter Ted Cruz.  Cruz has made a great many enemies among establishment Republicans.  He does not play ball well.  As a Senator, he has called his own Republican leader a liar, shut down the government when it hurt Republicans but gave him more personal "cred" among hardcore conservatives, and has pushed agendas designed to benefit himself over the party.  As a result, many have shunned the Cruz campaign. Lindsey Graham commented “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

Now that Trump looks like he is on a serious glide path to the nomination, establishment Republicans are beginning to hold their noses and embrace Cruz.  Sen. Graham, who also once said supporting Cruz was the equivalent of taking poison has decided to grab the cup of hemlock in both hands and drink heavily by endorsing Cruz.  Former nominee Mitt Romney has also said he would support Cruz in the upcoming Utah Caucus.  Apparently he is the lesser of two evils.

What about John Kasich?  He is still running and has the benefit of not being either Trump or Cruz.  Kasich's numbers are just too low.  Having won only his home State and nothing else, his delegate count is too far behind.  He can only be a spoiler at this point.  Going into many large winner take all states, he is seen as dividing the anti-Trump vote and giving him the win.  It must become a two person race and Kasich is clearly number three.

The next races in Arizona and Utah are almost certain losers for Kasich.  This will only increase momentum of calls for him to go away.  He may be holding out for many of the big east coast and west coast primaries still to come, but his poll numbers don't show him winning.  Party elders have decided that Kasich must go.

At first blush, moving to Cruz may be an odd choice.  Both Cruz and Trump are divisive candidates with high negatives.  But Trump has brought in many more independents to the polls.  He also makes several swing states competitive or at least in question.  By comparison, Cruz has a more predictable appeal to hard core party conservatives and few others.  His ability to bring in independents or win swing states seems near impossible.  Cruz seems like a certain loss in the general election, while Trump could actually win.

Republicans are looking beyond the White House in 2016 though. They worry that Trump will mobilize more voters to support the Democratic candidate and that those increased numbers will cause many Republican Senators and Representatives to lose their seats.  Remember, 2016 is six years after the 2010 Republican congressional landslide. Republican incumbent Senate seats are up for election in 24 of 34 states.  Republican Senators have a lot to lose.

For many establishment Republicans, an even scarier scenario to a massive electoral loss is if Trump win the Presidency.  They fear President Trump would be an absolute disaster.  Part of the fear is that Trump has discussed his policy goals in such vague terms that no one is really sure what he will do. They do know that he will energize the left in way that no President has done since Ronald Reagan, while at the same time fail to inspire the right as Reagan also did.  Trump will tarnish the Republican brand, contributing to even more losses in future years.  Trump will redefine the party in a way that will push a generation of Hispanics and other minorities, as well as many women, toward the Democrats.  

Trump is more likely to start another damaging war.  The disastrous Iraq war tarnished the Republicans, but can be written of as an anomaly.  A second such war becomes part of a pattern that will send voters running out the door.  Trump may also start a devastating trade war which could cripple the economy.  The possibilities of such disasters in such a wild card and untested candidate are just too numerous to mention.

If Cruz wins the nomination but loses the general election, Republicans get to fight another day and have a much better opportunity to retake the White House in four years.  No one, even among most Republicans, believes that Cruz has a serious chance of winning the general.  Long term though, establishment Republicans fear a Trump win more than they do a Cruz loss.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Strategies for a Three Way

With three candidates left in the race, Trump still has an clear path to victory.  Cruz and Kasich will continue to divide the anti-Trump vote, allowing Trump to win States even without an outright majority.  Both Cruz and Kasich hope to drain off enough delegates to prevent Trump from winning an outright majority of delegates at the convention.

I  will say at the outset, that I think these strategies remain real long shots.  I fully expect Trump to collect enough delegates to have a majority at the convention. Still, the strategy to stop him from obtaining a majority at the convention is possible and realistic, even if difficult.

Cruz will continue to make this a two person race between himself and Trump.  Cruz will ignore or belittle Kasich in most places.  The line will be that Kasich won his home state and nothing else.  If he cannot win any other State, he is not a serious contender, even if he picks up a few second or third place delegate here or there.  The next two primaries, next Tue. March 22 are closed primaries in very conservative States: Arizona and Utah.  These should be places where Cruz should have a shot at challenging Trump, although Trump is probably favored to win both.  Arizona is winner take all, while Utah is proportional.  Watch to see if Cruz presses hard in Arizona.  If he does, that tells us his internal polling shows he has a chance at a win there.  Otherwise, he will focus more on Utah to squeeze as many delegates as possible.

Kasich wants to collect all the folks who dislike Trump and Cruz.  There are lots of them, but the next two contests will probably not have much for him.  Kasich may try to pick up some delegates in Utah, but will likely look past these States.

After Arizona and Utah, the map turns more in Kasich's favor.  Wisconsin has an open primary on April 5 which is winner take all.  This will be a test of whether Kasich can win anything outside of Ohio.  It is a midwest state which should be open to his message.  If Trump defeats Kasich in Wisconsin like he did in Michigan, then Kasich again has to consider whether going home is the best thing he can do.

After Wisconsin, Kasich can look forward to a number of other moderate states: New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.  These are not strong states for Cruz.  Kasich needs to be able to pull a few of them away from Trump in order to prevent an end to the primary fight.  If Trump can do well in these States, as polls show, he will get a majority.  The later States in May and June become irrelevant.  If Kasich can start taking even  a few states, the fight goes on.

At present, Trump has 673 delegates, with 1237 needed, 564 more.  Here are the remaining Republican primaries:

  • Tue, Mar 22 Arizona 58 (WTA) Closed
  • Tue, Mar 22 Utah 40 (P) Closed
  • Tue, Apr 5 Wisconsin 42 (WTA) Open
  • Tue, Apr 19 New York 95 (P) Closed
  • Tue, Apr 26 Connecticut 28 (P) Closed
  • Tue, Apr 26 Delaware 16 (WTA) Closed
  • Tue, Apr 26 Maryland 38 (WTA) Closed
  • Tue, Apr 26 Pennsylvania 71 (P, WTA) Closed
  • Tue, Apr 26 Rhode Island 19 (P) Mixed
  • Tue, May 3 Indiana 57 (WTA) Open
  • Tue, May 10 Nebraska  36 Closed
  • Tue, May 10 West Virginia 37 Mixed
  • Tue, May 17 Oregon 28 (P) Closed
  • Tue, May 24 Washington (R) 44 (P) Closed
  • Tue, Jun 7 California 172 (P) Mixed
  • Tue, Jun 7 Montana 27 (WTA) Open
  • Tue, Jun 7 New Jersey 51 (WTA) Closed
  • Tue, Jun 7 New Mexico 24 (P) Closed
  • Tue, Jun 7 South Dakota 29 (WTA)

Let's say Trump wins all the winner take all, and takes about half of the proportional.  That would give him just about enough to win an outright majority of delegates, with maybe 50 or so to spare..  If Cruz or Rubio can win two or three of the winner take all states, and keep Trump's average at or below 50% of delegates in the proportional, there could possibly be a divided convention.

That is not an impossible scenario.  Trump has only broken 50% once, and that was in the tiny Northern Mariana Islands caucus.  If Trump has a hard ceiling of 45% and cannot win all the winner take all states, he has a serious problem getting 50% of the delegates.  Some of the states still keep a few delegates uncommitted or award some based on Congressional district wins, meaning Trump may not win "all" in a winner take all state.  Even with all of his big wins so far, Trump has only collected just under 48% of the delegates awarded.  Impressive in a race with lots of candidates, but not enough to get that outright majority.

It will be interesting to see how the voter dynamic changes with Rubio out of the race.  Kasich will now get a much closer look by the electorate and also come under closer scrutiny and criticism.  He could step up and gain momentum, or he could whither under the spotlight as so many have done before.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

And Then There Were Three

Marco Rubio suspended his campaign last night after a decisive defeat in Florida.  Rubio had become the establishment choice after a third place win in Iowa behind Cruz and Trump.  His lackluster debates and uninspired speeches never allowed him to catch fire with the voters.

John Kasich did win in Ohio and keeps going.  He will likely pick up much of Rubio's support, becoming the establishment and moderate candidate of choice.  But this is almost certainly too little too late.  Many Republican leaders are holding their noses and backing Cruz as the only real viable alternative to Trump.

For his part, Cruz is trying to ignore Kasich and call this a two person race between himself an Trump.  Cruz did not win anywhere yesterday. He has yet to win any state other than his home State of Texas which was not a closed primary or caucus, meaning he is poison to independents.  While he has picked up delegates with second place finishes, going into the large and open winner take all States still left on the calendar, his chances look bleak.

Donald Trump has more than half the delegates he needs for the nomination, 621 of 1237.  Wins in Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, and Illinois have only extended his head.  Missouri is still in doubt with Cruz making a close showing there.  But it looks like Trump will take that winner take all state by a fraction of a percent.   Trump even picked up his first outright majority win in the Northern Mariana Island Caucus.  It is hard to see any realistic path to prevent a Trump nomination at this point.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton dominated, defeating Sanders by more than 10 points in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. She also won closer wins in Illinois where Sanders made his strongest efforts, and appears to have won Missouri, which is still in the "too close to call" category.  Sanders still seems to be having trouble gaining traction outside of New England, despite a close and surprising win in Michigan last week.  Clinton also has more than half of the delegates needed, 1561 of 2383.  She only needs about 1/3 of the remaining delegates up for grabs to secure the nomination.

Both front runners will continue to deal with stiff competition that will keep their focus from the general elections for a while longer.  Both, however, seem to have a clear path to victory if they can maintain the campaign successes that they have enjoyed so far.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Last Stand Tuesday

March 15 is a key date on the Republican primary calendar.  Contests held on or after this date may be "winner take all".  The candidate winning the most votes, even without an outright majority, can win 100% of a State's delegates.  Party rules were designed this way to help a front runner pull away and collect an outright majority of delegates. With Trump as the front runner this year, many establishment Republicans are regretting this rule.  The pressure is now increased to make this contest a two person race, which is the only way I see of anyone defeating Trump.

The two most likely drop out candidates are Marco Rubio and John Kasich.  Between them. they have only won one State (Rubio in Minnesota). Rubio has also won contests in Puerto Rico and DC. Kasich has won nothing yet, a poor precedent for moving into winner take all States.  Both candidates have said or strongly implied that failure to win their winner take all home state (Kasich in Ohio, Rubio in Florida) will end their campaigns.  Trump is hoping to defeat both (and is ahead in most polls in both States) and knock out his few remaining impediments to the nomination.  Cruz also seems to be battling for votes in these two States. Support for Cruz makes it harder for Kasich and Rubio to win.  Cruz benefits if both of these candidates are knocked out and the raced winnows to himself and Trump.

Polls show Rubio trailing badly in Florida, losing to Trump by more than 20 points, and possibly coming in third behind Cruz as well I expect Rubio to due better than the polls show due to ground organization and early voting, but probably not enough to win the State.  Therefore, Rubio is likely going to leave the race.  Kasich has been getting stronger in Ohio, with most polls showing him within a few points of Trump either way.  Since Rubio has encouraged Ohio supporters to back Kasich, this has helped him surge in recent days. Kasich could finally win his first State.  This may, however, be too little too late to affect the overall race.

In addition to Florida and Ohio, primaries are also taking place in Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina.  The Northern Mariana Island will also hold a Republican Caucus.  Missouri, like Florida and Ohio, is winner take all.  It is quite possible Trump could win these three States as well as a majority of delegates an Illinois and North Carolina, which would drastically increase his delegate lead.  Even if both Rubio and Kasich drop out, Cruz would remain a distant second and has shown difficulty getting much of any support in open primaries.  Trump's path still remains the odds on favorite.

On the Democratic side, all eyes are on Sanders.  He remains lagging behind Clinton.  After a surprise win in Michigan last week, supporters are hoping that Sanders can once again defy the polls and move that magic into other midwestern States like Illinois and Ohio.  He needs to do something. The polls, however, remain in Clinton's favor. Clinton had been up 30 points in Illinois, and probably more than that in Florida.  She wass also up 20 points in both Ohio and more conservative North Carolina.  Missouri, which tends to be conservative seems to be the closest with Clinton up 7 points, although polling in that State seems to be weak.

Since his Michigan win last week, Sanders had appeared to be making gains in many of these States.  He could possibly win Illinois and Missouri now.  Sanders needs a win somewhere to keep the horse race narrative alive.  Clinton is looking for four knock outs to make her look more inevitable.

Unlike the Republicans, Democrats do not move to a winner take all format.  Even as Sanders loses States, he picks up some delegates.  He keeps open the chance that his fortunes will change and that we will fare better in some of the later primaries.  He remains a long shot.  At the same time it will be difficult for Clinton to deliver a final knock out blow.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Trump v. Protesters

Every political candidate must deal with protesters. Some are sent by the opposition to throw them off their game.  Some are people seeking attention for a cause.  Some genuinely object to the candidate personally.  Whatever the reason, protesters are a fact of life for any campaign.  How a candidate responds to protests can tell us much about the candidate.

Donald Trump has had his share of protests.  His reaction, however, has been rather striking and disturbing.  Trump, in an apparent desire to show that he is strong had encouraged the immediate and forcible removal of any protesters.  If that was the end of it, there would probably be little controversy.  The candidate though has not only encouraged removal, but encouraged supporters to assault protesters.  At one rally, Trump said he would have liked to punch a protester in the face.  At another rally, he asked supporters to "knock the crap" out of protesters and promised to pay their legal fees.  On a different occasion, Trump had security remove protesters during a winter protest where it was well below freezing and encouraged the security team to confiscate the protesters' coats.

Trump supporters have gotten the message.  One supporter sucker punched a protester as the protester was peacefully being led out of the rally.  Amazingly, the protester was arrested but not the assailant. Later that day, the same man said that he might have to kill the protester next time.  The following day, he was arrested after a massive outcry.  There have been numerous other physical altercations that were not quite as blatant or well documented that have gone unpunished, as well as a great many threats.

Almost as disturbing as the use of violence is some of the racial bias, not only from supporters but the campaign itself. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not one for crying "racism" at any incident that may involve minorities.  In fact, I regularly call out my liberal friends to cry racism on issues that can be explained for many other reasons.  For example, when Trump initially refused to disavow KKK support for his campaign on the eve of many southern primaries, I would argue that Trump was not being racist, but only afraid of scaring off many of the racists who planned to vote for him in the next few days.  When Trump supporters repeatedly assault or use racial epithets against black protesters, one might argue the campaign could not control such things or that the focus was on the protest more so than race, though one might wonder why the campaign has not attempted to discourage such behavior.  However, when thirty black students are ejected from a Trump rally despite not expressing any message or disrupting anything in any way, one has to ask why.  The campaign denies it ordered their removal, but there is evidence that they did, and it is hard to imagine why officials would eject audience members otherwise.

Trump has not limited his wrath to protesters.  Trump has also threatened the media covering his events.  Trump seems to regard the media as hostile and seems to hold them in the same contempt as protesters.  While Trump has not explicitly advocated violence against reporters in his public statements.  He has expressed disdain and disgust for them, encouraging jeers and angry statements from his supporters aimed at the press.  There have also been several attacks on reporters, one by a Secret Service Agent working for Trump, who choked and knocked a reporter to the ground after the reporter apparently refused to comply immediately with an order to move away from the edge of the area to which reporters are restricted at rallies.  On another occasion, a reporter was allegedly assaulted by a member of the Trump campaign while trying to ask the candidate a question.  Trump has refused to apologize or take any responsibility for either event.

Trump's disdain for the press goes beyond violent events.  He has threatened to sue reporters who have published undisputed facts and has called for changes to libel laws to allow for easier lawsuits against reporters, an act that would seem to go against decades of Supreme Court cases which jealously guard the right of a free press to publish allegations about those in power.  Trump's refusal to allow reporters to leave designated zones at rallies and other events, which prevent reporters from speaking with supporters or taking many good pictures is also disturbing.

The result of the tone set by the campaign has been increased violence as angry protesters and supporters come into conflict, as happened at the Chicago rally that was cancelled due to violence.

In the rough and tumble world of business, it is often acceptable to cut corners, intimidate opposition, use whatever means necessary to achieve one's goal.  Even a little low level violence may go unnoticed.  But such behavior in a President, ignoring laws or basic Constitutional rights, becomes deeply disturbing.  Mr. Trump does not seem to make this distinction, nor do his supporters.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Saturday March 12 Results

Saturday March 12, saw a few minor contests.  With all eyes on Last Stand Tuesday this week, these contests have gone largely ignored.  Delegates are delegates and these contests awarded a few.

Washington, DC Republican Caucus was the largest contest of the day with 19 delegates up for grabs.  This highly Democratic district saw a Republican turn out of of less than 3000 voters.  Rubio was the big winner with 37.3%, collecting 10 delegates.  Kasich was a close second with 35.5% and 9 delegates.  Trump (13.8%) and Cruz (12.4%) received no delegates.

Wyoming also held a Caucus with 12 delegates up for grabs.  Wyoming actually has 29 delegates at the Convention, but most of these will be selected at the State Convention next month.  Of the 12 awarded at the Caucus, Cruz won overwhelmingly with 66.3% of the vote and collected 9 delegates.  Rubio finished a distant second with 19.5% and collected 1 delegate.. Cruz with 7.2% also won one delegate while Kasich literally received 0 votes.  Not just a few votes that rounded down to 0%.  Not a single person in the entire State voted for Kasich!  Less than 1000 people voted total in this tiny caucus, but still not one vote?

Guam also held a Republican Caucus on Saturday.  A mere 350 people attended, and the exact vote totals were not released.  Cruz was said to have won the Caucus.  However, all 9 delegates go to the Convention uncommitted, so no change in delegate counts for the candidates.  This only adds a few more wild cards in the event of a divided convention.

On the Democrat site, the Northern Mariana Islands held its first territorial Caucus ever.  Clinton won only 102 votes, but that was enough for a 54% victory in this tiny contest, to Sanders' 34%, the remainder voted for "uncommitted".  Clinton collected 4 delegates, which she added to the 1 Super Delegate from the islands who had already committed to Clinton.  Sanders collected 2 delegates.

Analysis:

No real surprises in any of these contests since there were little expectations.  Trump and Cruz seem highly unpopular among DC Republicans, who tend to be overwhelmingly establishment.  Cruz did well in another closed primary in the highly conservative State of Wyoming.  Rubio still seems to be doing better than Kasich, despite the fact that Kasich's star seemed to be rising in recent weeks while Rubio's was falling.  This may be relevant if only one of those two drop out after last stand Tuesday. But as I have said earlier, that will more likely be the result of how each does in his home state.

Clinton's tiny win in a jurisdiction visited by neither candidate does not say much.  Since Clinton has a pledged super delegate on the islands, that probably gave her some increased advocacy.  Both candidates remain focused on next Tuesday, when the number of delegates at stake make the numbers from yesterday look like a rounding error.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Last Stand

This coming Tuesday, March 15 appears to be the last stand for Marco Rubio and John Kasich.  Both are gearing up for a winner take all contest in their home States: Kasich in Ohio and Rubio in Florida. Both candidates have trailed Trump and Cruz and have almost no outright wins.  Ironically, Kasich who has not won a single contest, may have a better chance to keep going than Rubio, who has won two.

The conventional wisdom is that if either one of them cannot win their home State, they will finally call it quits.  Here are the four scenarios as I see them.
  • Scenario 1: Trump wins both Ohio and Florida.  Kasich and Rubio both quit and we get a two person race between Trump and Cruz.
  • Scenario 2: Kasich wins Ohio and Rubio wins Florida.  Both keep fighting for a divided convention that they hope will allow them to become the eventual nominee, or at least stop Trump from becoming the nominee.
  • Scenario 3: Kasich wins Ohio and Trump wins Florida.  Rubio drops out and Kasich becomes the establishment favorite.
  • Scenario 4: Rubio wins Florida and Trump wins Ohio. Kasich drops out and Rubio gets renewed vigor as the establishment favorite.
At present, the polls are indicating scenario 1, a Trump victory in both States.  Trump is a few points ahead in Ohio, and a good 15-20 points ahead in Florida.  Cruz is actually pushing for this scenario as well.  He would like to see Kasich and Rubio go away so that he can collect all of the anti-Trump vote for himself.  This is a risk for Cruz since he will not collect all Kasich and Rubio voters and has shown trouble himself doing well in the large open primaries in more moderate regions of the country.  He would remain a long shot, but it is probably his best chance at the nomination.  For this reason, Cruz has been campaigning heavily in Florida, which mostly cuts into Rubio's support.

Polls, however, are not the only thing to consider.  Home State advantage is a real thing.  Candidates have strong "get out the vote" systems in place and know better than outsiders how to get their supporters to the polls.  Both Kasich and Rubio have been pushing advanced voting in their States and are collecting big numbers.  It is possible that Kasich and / or  Rubio could win at home.

The more likely to win according to the polls is Kasich.  This would be his first State win.  Establishment voters have tried to rally around Rubio.  But if Rubio falls, Kasich is the obvious beneficiary.  Unfortunately, even if he gets all the Rubio votes, the two candidates combined have often failed to break 20% or 25% in many States.  It may not be enough to make much difference.  Still, Kasich's profile would rise from being one of the final three, and may come off well against Trump and Cruz, who both have high negatives.

If Rubio wins and Kasich loses, that might reinvigorate establishment support for Rubio.  Voters have been trying to rally around him though, and found him unable to generate a charismatic message that translates into votes.  Rubio probably has less of a chance at gaining momentum than Kasich does, and Kasich is a huge long shot at this point.

If both win (scenario 4) the four person race would likely continue a little longer.  But most of the big State remaining are winner take all States.  If Trump can continue to get 35%-45% of the vote in a State, as he has been, and then collect 100% of the delegates in that State, he will quickly collect a majority of delegates.  This scenario is probably the best for a Trump nomination.  Trump, of course is the favorite in all four scenarios.  His path just seems a little easier in a four person race.

Remember, even if Kasich wins Ohio and Rubio wins Florida, Trump could win Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina that same day.  In doing so, he would win the most delegates for the day, only increasing his already significant lead.

Nate Silver, at fivethirtyeight.com, posted an interesting article today based on an exit poll taken in Michigan and Mississippi asking how voters would vote if they had to pick between Trump and Cruz.  He then took the Kasich and Rubio voters who said they would either stay home, vote for Trump, or vote for Cruz and applied that to the Kasich and Rubio votes in all the primaries so far.  His calculation indicated Cruz would now be more than 100 delegates ahead of Trump.  He then ran the same numbers with just Trump, Cruz, and Kasich and found that Trump would still be in the lead, although with a slightly lower lead.

Now Silver's calculations have a great many flaws, the first of which is assuming the Michigan and Mississippi voters are a fair random sampling of the rest of the States.  It also does not take into account changing attitudes over time.  Finally, if we try to apply these finding to races going forward, we make the mistake of assuming the heavily southern states who voted so far are going to vote the same is mid-west, northeast, and western states that have not voted yet.  Those are not good assumptions.  Cruz especially is expected to do worse in many of the upcoming costests than he did in the highly conservative south.  Therefore, I'm not sure that Silver's article tells us much of anything more than raw speculation would.  The consensus, however, is that some candidates need to leave the race in order to create any chance of defeating Trump.  Next Tuesday will decide who leaves.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Saturday March 12 Contests

This Saturday, there will be a few minor contests that will go largely unnoticed.  They will only deliver a handful of delegates.

DC Republicans will hold their caucus this Saturday, March 12.  They can probably meet around a table in a Georgetown restaurant, and not even have push several together.  Seriously, this is a small group.  DC is only about 6% Republican.  It has never elected a Republican to district wide office and is one of only two jurisdictions to vote for a Democratic President in the 1984 Reagan landslide.  Nevertheless, they will award 19 delegates to attend the Republican convention, making them the biggest contest on Saturday.

Guam will hold its Republican convention on Saturday March 12 where it will select nine delegates. These delegates will be unbound, meaning they can vote for whomever they like at the national convention. Therefore, anything decided on Saturday will not have any impact on the race for now.

Democrats will also be active with their Northern Marianas Caucus on Saturday, awarding a whopping 11 to the Democratic Convention.

I have not seen any polling for any of these jurisdictions.  DC is decidedly establishment and will likely oppose Trump.  Cruz may find a win in DC, but this is really just a guess absent any polling. Since Guam does not bind its delegates, any results released are largely irrelevant to the ongoing delegate fight.   Northern Marianas has already had one super delegate pledge to Clinton, so perhaps that is an indication of Clinton popularity on the islands.

Candidates, however, are largely ignoring these minor contests and looking toward the much larger ones next Tuesday.  I plan to discuss those much more important events in tomorrow's post.



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tuesday March 8 results

There were six contests yesterday.  Democrats and Republicans both held primaries in Michigan and Mississippi.  Republicans also held contests in Hawaii and Idaho.  All eyes have been on Michigan, where Kasich was hoping for something to carry him into Ohio next week.  On the Democratic side, it is the first major contest outside the south with a large black population.

Republicans:

Once again, Trump emerged victorious with the most delegates.

  • Michigan Primary (59 delegates): Trump dominated the night with a 36.5% victory in the largest state, collecting 25 delegates.  Cruz and Kasich were in a virtual tie for second place, Cruz edging out Kasich with 24.9% to 24.3%.  Both took home 14 delegates.  Rubio failed to meet the threshold and got zero delegates.
  • Mississippi Primary  (40 delegates): Trump did even better in Mississippi with 47.3% earning him 24 delegates.  Cruz finished second with 36.3% and 13 delegates.  Kasich and Rubio failed to meet the threshold and got zero.
  • Idaho Primary (32 delegates): Cruz takes his one victory for the night in this highly conservative State with a closed primary, winning 45.4% and taking 14 delegates.  Trump finished second with 28.1% for 10 delegates.  Rubio and Kasich failed to meet the threshold and got zero delegates.
  • Hawaii Caucus (19 delegates); Trump wins with 42.4%, followed by Cruz with 32.7%, Rubio with 13.1% and Kasich with 10.6%.  Hawaii has not yet released results on who will get how many delegates.
Trump continues to widen his lead.  Kasich and Rubio both had disappointing nights.  Both will probably hold their campaigns open for another week when their respective home states of Ohio and Florida vote.  If, however, Trump defeats them at home, they will almost certainly end their campaigns.   Cruz seems to remain the only viable Trump alternative and even that is a big long shot. There are many large moderate winner take all primaries coming up, the type where Cruz has failed to win.  Absent some game changing event, Trump's nomination seems more and more certain.
Democrats:

Clinton continues to leave Sanders in her dust, extending her already wide lead.
  • Michigan (148 delegates): Sanders (49.9%) won a surprise victory over Clinton (48.2%) in a close vote.  It is a testament to the Sanders GOTV (get out the vote) work and good ground organization.  Beating Clinton in a non-New England State with a significant minority population is a new feat for Sanders.  As a result, he gets 65 delegates to Clinton's 58.
  • Mississippi (41 delegates): Clinton won an unsurprising decisive victory in this southern State with a large African American voting base.  Clinton won a dominant 82.6% of the vote to Sanders' 16.6%.   Clinton took 29 delegates while Sanders won 4.
Analysis:

While others remain in the game as long shot candidates, Trump and Clinton have a clear path to their party nominations.  Unless something big changes in the later states, the pattern of victory seems in place.  All candidates continue to fight on toward major contests next Tuesday, which may further winnow the Republican field.

Delegate Count:

Republican:
(1,237 Needed to Win) 

Trump - 458
Cruz - 359
Rubio - 151
Kasich - 54
Carson - 8


Total delegates available in future contests - 1435.

Democrat: 
(2,382 Needed to Win)

Clinton - 745 + 461 super
Sanders - 540 + 25 super

Total delegates available in future contests - 2973

* Super delegates are permitted to change commitments at any time up to the Convention.  Therefore, they may not be as reliable as committed delegates won in primaries.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The "favorite son" strategy

Back before the modern primary system was put in place in the 1970's, national conventions actually had a purpose beyond existing as a week long celebration for party loyalists.  It was often at the convention where the party's nominee was chosen.  Most States did not have primaries. Few people had any real nationwide recognition before the era of radio and TV.  The convention was the time that all party professionals got together and figured out a nominee the whole country could support.

Aspiring politicians who did not have national acclaim would often attend the convention as a "favorite son".  That is, someone nominated by their home state for President, but little support beyond that.  Many times, candidates would get themselves nominated as a favorite son, not because they expected to be the party's nominee, but because it gave them delegates that they could use to make deals.  It might be getting some cabinet appointment, or even the Vice Presidency.  It might be getting some concession from the candidate on an important policy matter, or something that would bring money to the home state.  Delegates were currency in these deals.  If you showed up to the convention in control of delegates, it made you a player.

This brief history lesson could be relevant this year.  No party has had a divided convention, that is one where the nominee did not come in with everyone knowing he would be the nominee, for more than half a century.  Pundits talk about the possibility because it keeps things interesting.  But the odds of it happening in the current system are highly unlikely, especially in the Republican party where most late primaries are winner take all.  The only way a divided convention is possible is if multiple candidates can win first place in a sizable number of States.  If Trump continues to win the most States, even if not by a majority, he will win the most delegates and easily take the nomination.

No other candidate has any reasonable chance of winning the nomination outright anymore.  The three remaining hopefuls, Cruz, Rubio, and Kasich are hoping to keep Trump from getting a majority by collecting a majority between the three of them.  In some ways, each is almost trying to become a "favorite son", although they certainly need to have at least a few more states each beyond their respective home State.  

Cruz has already won his home State of Texas, and has a few other wins under his belt, but mostly in conservative closed primaries and caucuses which are not open to independents.  Rubio has two small victories, but really must win his winner take all home state of Florida on March 15 to keep going. Similarly, Kasich, with zero first place finishes is hoping to continue collecting some delegates in proportional states to remain relevant, and to win his home State in the winner take all contest on March 15 as well.  Trump, of course, hopes to defeat Rubio and Kasich in their home States, which would likely force them to quit the race.

Trump is ahead in both Ohio and Florida right now.  Even if Trump loses both contests on March 15, he could still win Illinois, Missouri, and North Carolina on that same day and walk away with the most delegates for the day.  Therefore, challengers putting all their chips on their home state seems like a risk, which may still fail even if they win their respective home states.  The hope, of course, is that those victories will help them in a few of the subsequent contests and deny Trump the majority.

Even if they succeed in that, and Trump enters the convention with the most delegates but not a majority, there is still the possibility that he can acquire the remaining few he would need to win the nomination.  But given the high negatives against Trump, that may be a difficult proposition, even with his legendary deal making skills.

For all the candidates not named Trump, however, any strategy at this point is going to have to be a long shot.  The odds remain squarely in Trump's favor.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Sunday March 6 Results

Two contests on Sunday finished off an interesting weekend.

The Democrats had their Democratic Caucus.  Sanders beat Clinton by 65% to 35%.  It adds to Sanders' successes in Kansas and Nebraska, but still leaves Clinton with more delegates this weekend after her big victory in Louisiana.

Maine gives continued hope to Sanders supporters that he can continue to chip away and Clinton's lead.  If he can carry the momentum into larger States this Tuesday, it is possible we could see a real match.  But Clinton is favored in both Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday, which should allow her to pull further away from Sanders.  Clinton is expected to win by 20 points in Michigan and 40 points in Mississippi.  If those predictions come true, Sanders' path to the nomination looks bleak indeed.

Rubio scored his second big win this campaign season with an impressive and overwhelming victory in Puerto Rico, winning all 23 delegates with more than 70% of the vote. Rubio was the only candidate who bothered to campaign on the island, with the others focused more on larger State contests approaching over the next few days.

Rubio's win cuts into Cruz's call to become the sole Trump alternative in the race.  It also takes away from Kasich's attempt to displace Rubio as the Establishment choice against the top two: Trump and Cruz.  Perhaps Trump is the real winner as each of the three opponents divide the anti-Trump opposition.

On Tuesday, Trump is favored in the polls in both Michigan and Mississipi. However, Kasich hopes to do well in Michigan, better than the polls suggest.  If he can, win or at least take a strong second,  he can perhaps carry that momentum into his home State of Ohio for his first State win.  If not, he will likely fold his campaign.  Mississippi could possibly be a place for Cruz to shine, although a second place finish to Trump is most likely.  Idaho and Hawaii also have primaries on Tuesday, but no public polling is available.  Most people will be watching Michigan as the most important contest of the day.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sat. March 5 Results.

Saturday saw a total of five contests, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana decided for both parties. Maine voted for Republicans only and Nebraska for Democrats only.  Today was a day for rivals to make a bit of a comeback.

Contests this weekend were all closed, meaning that only party members could vote, no independents. Also, four of the five states held caucuses, meaning voters have to spend more time than simply stopping in to vote.  These types of contests tend to benefit the more extreme candidates - hard core conservatives for the Republicans and hard core liberals for the Democrats.  As a result, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders had better than average success.

Republicans: 

  • The Louisiana Primary was the biggest prize yesterday (47 delegates), and the only primary of the day. Trump (41%) just barely beat Cruz (38%).  As a result, Cruz won 15 delegates to Cruz's 14.  Rubio (11%) and Kasich (6%) both failed to meet the 20% threshold and get nothing.  Some of you math whiz's may have noticed that there are 47 delegates and only 29 awarded.  Because of the odd State allocation rules, the remaining delegates go to the convention "unbound" meaning they can vote for whomever they like.  So even though Rubio and Kasich won not delegates, their participation helped keep the top candidate percentages lower and denied them bound delegates.
  • Kentucky Caucus (45 delegates): Trump (36% had another close win over Cruz (32%).  As a result, Trump won 16 delegates to Cruz's 14.  Rubio (16%) took 7 delegates and Kasich (14%) took 6 delegates).  The 2 remaining delegates are unbound.
  • Kansas Caucus (40 delegates): Cruz won a solid victory with 48%, as close to 50% as any Republican has gotten this year.  This earned him 24 delegates.  Trump with 23% walks away with 9 delegates.  Because Kansas has a mere 10% threshold, Rubio (17%) picked up 6 delegates and Kasich 11%) picked up 1.  Kansas binds its delegates until released.  This means, that in the event no candidate wins on the first ballot, Kansas delegates must continue to vote for their candidate on subsequent ballots until the candidate releases them. 
  • Maine Caucus (23) delegates: Cruz was the big winner with 46% and 12 delegates.  Trump took 33% and 9 delegates.  Kasich (12%) squeaked over the 10% threshold to win 2 delegates, while Rubio (8%) threshold failure  means he gets no delegates.
The big takeaway from yesterday's race is Cruz seems to be solidifying his status as the only viable alternative to Trump.  Cruz's 64 delegates to Trump's 49 narrows Trump's lead a little.  But Cruz has yet to show the same vote getting prowess in open primaries beyond his home State.  He still has a major uphill fight.  Rubio's star seems to be falling.  While these were some tough States for him, his pathetic third and fourth place finishes were not even close to the top two.  Voters who once thought he could be the anti-Trump seem to be giving up on him.  Kasich remains at best a spoiler.

Democrats
  • Louisiana Primary (58 delegates) Clinton won the largest prize of the night overwhelmingly with 71% to Sanders 23%, netting her 35 delegates to Sanders' 10 (13 delegates remain unbound).
  • Kansas Caucus (45 delegates) Sanders (68%) won nearly just as decisive a win in Kansas over Clinton (32%) giving him 23 delegates to Clinton's 10 (2 unbound).
  • Nebraska Caucus (30 delegates) saw a slightly less robust victory for Sanders (56%) over Clinton (44%) giving Sanders 14 delegates to Clinton's 10 (2 unbound).
Clinton won the delegate count for the day, netting 55 delegates, while Sanders picked up 47.  But the press will focus on Sanders winning two States to Clinton's one, questioning whether Sanders really is down and out.

Looking Ahead

Later today Puerto Rico will hold its Repubilican primary and Main will hold its Democratic Caucus. If Rubio does well in Puerto Rico, it can offset his "loser" label going into Michigan later this week. If Sanders can win in Maine, it will help his "comeback" narrative going into Michigan.

Michigan (Tuesday 3/8) may be Kasich's last stand.  If Trump defeats him there as expected, Kasich may drop out before his home State of Ohio votes on March 15.  Because Ohio is a winner take all state, Kasich may not want to divide the anti-Trump vote there.  If he drops out and endorses another Candidate, it may change the math for the State, which currently is looking like a Trump victory.  On the other hand, if Kasich can beat Trump in Michigan (as some polls now suggest) Ohio voters may be more confident in support him the following week.  This could give Kasich a good block of votes for a divided convention.  It may also allow him to supplant Rubio as the establishment favorite against Trump and Cruz.  Even this optimistic scenario is a long shot for Kasich, but it may give his campaign a sliver of hope.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Trump Problem

Last summer, I was talking politics with someone I know fairly well.  I asked him who he was supporting for President.  When he said Donald Trump, I burst out laughing in his face.  I certainly did not mean to do that, but it was a visceral reaction.  I thought he was joking and could not fathom anyone seriously supporting that guy.  This is someone I generally respect and did not mean to show any disrespect to his views.  His answer just really took me by surprise.

Like most people who follow politics, I thought Trump was a joke candidate back then. I figured he wanted some publicity for his reality TV show.  He had no serious political experience.  He expressed no serious policy plans, he did not even have a serious campaign staff, fundraising strategy, or much of any State organization.  Although he had high name recognition, he had extremely high negative ratings.  Many election seasons see candidates like this in the early months, well before the primaries start.  They get attention for a few weeks based mostly on outrageous statements or an interesting life story, but then the press and voters move on to more serious candidates. Almost everyone, including myself, thought Trump would fall into this category.

Based on this pattern, most candidates followed the antics for months, waiting for the moment when his campaign imploded.  No candidate wanted to engage with Trump as the level of argument would simply make both of them look unpresidential.  Voters would then move to some third candidate.  As a result, Trump did not go away.

Now, after winning three of the four early contests and dominating Super Tuesday,  Trump has proven that he can turn his poll numbers into electoral wins.  Few experienced pols saw this coming and most of them are now apoplectic.  We now see many Republican heavyweights, like former nominee Mitt Romney denouncing Trump.  Behind the scenes, party leaders are looking for ways to push Trump out of the way before the convention.  The problem is that all the party rules are designed to give the front runner an increased advantage in order to prevent some debilitating convention fight.  Even though Trump may have 30%-40% support within the party, he can continue to win 60%-70% of the vote and easily win the nomination because the party remains deeply divided as to who should oppose him.

Establishment Republicans fear a Trump candidacy for many reasons.  He is a loose canon.  He often says what is on his mind with very little filter.  He tends to alienate many voters and groups by saying and acting in ways that seem borderline racist, that characterize whole ethnic and religious groups and un-American, and which seem to promote some ideas more in keeping with a fascist dictator than an elected leader of a free society. Republicans fear not only losing the White House, but also being tied to this reputation, that could affect Congressional elections and future elections for many years.  Part of the problem is that many of these unpalatable ideas have been supported by others in the Party for years, albeit expressed in a more filtered and politically correct way.  It therefore becomes easier for Democrats to paint all Republicans as Trump-lite.  The party simply cannot afford to alienate women, Hispanics, homosexuals, religious minorities and others, and still remain a major party in the 21st century.

The thought of Trump's antics taking down the party, allowing the election of Hillary Clinton and a Democratic Congress, is a fear only second to Trump actually winning the Presidency.  Trump has the ability to bring new voters to the polls and seems to do very well among some independent voters. Against a Democratic opponent who also has high negatives it is possible that Trump could win the general election.  Because Trump does not seem to have any real guiding principle except to do whatever is most expedient at the moment, there are real questions about what a Trump Presidency would be like.  Would he create a Constitutional crisis by ignoring Congress and directing the executive branch to do whatever he wanted?  Would he start a war because some foreign power simply annoyed him a little too much?  Would he follow the conservative policies he has espoused recently, or revert back to many of his liberal positions he espoused a decade ago?  No one seems to know exactly what a Trump Presidency would mean.

Historically, Republicans are in a difficult position.  One reason they still hearken back to Ronald Reagan as a political hero is that the last two Republican Presidencies have been disasters.  Both took office in a period of relative economic success and peace.  Both started multiple wars and saw the country fall into serious recession, only to be bailed out by Democrats who replaced them.  A third Republican disaster in the White House may cause voters to associate the Republican brand with failure.  A Trump Presidency could be the Republican's third strike.

Despite the recent attacks, I don't think there is a good way to stop Trump at this point.  Unless his electoral support drops off in a major way,  Trump will have a majority of delegates at the convention.  Even if he does not, having a plurality and being denied the nomination in a convention fight is a recipe for losing in November.  Some Republicans may prefer that loss though to damaging the Republican brand for a generation to come.



Friday, March 4, 2016

How Candidates Acquire Delegates

With Super Tuesday behind us, State primaries become less about winning and losing and more about how many delegates each candidate receives.  After all, it is the delegates who pick the nominee at the convention.  That is all that really matters.

Democrats

The Democrats will have 4765 delegates for their convention.  4051 are pledged delegates, that is those candidates won in the primaries and caucuses.  For the most part, any candidate who has a certain level of support in a state, usually 15%, wins a proportion of the delegates based on their percentage of victory.  For this reason, the percentage of a victory is often more important than who won the State.

In addition to pledged delegates, there are about 714 super delegates.  These are party leaders, elected officials, and other establishment figure who can support whomever they like.  Many super delegates announce their support of a candidate well in advance.  But unlike pledged delegates, super delegates can change their support at any time up to the convention vote.  A Democratic nominee needs 2383 delegates to have a majority to win the nomination. For more details exactly how delegates are allocated, check out this article.

Also, keep in mind that the number of delegates a State receives is not based on the State's population.  The calculation is made based on the number of people who voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate over the prior three elections, with some additional changes made based on the number of electoral votes the State has had, and when the State holds its primary.  States that hold a primary later in the season get bonus delegates.

As a result, different States with similar populations can have very different numbers of delegates. For example, Arizona and Massachusetts have about the same population size. But because Massachusetts has many more Democratic voters, it ends up with 116 delegates, while Arizona gets only 85.  If Arizona moved its primary to later in the season, it could bump up its delegate count to 96.

Super delegates are given to States for each Democratic governor, Senator, or Member of Congress. But these super delegates are not pledged to any candidate and can vote for whomever they want. The elected officials are the super delegates.  They cannot transfer this to anyone else.  For more details, check out this article.

Republicans

The Republicans have a smaller Convention, with a total of 2472 voting delegates.  Republican delegates are mostly won by Congressional District, bonus delegates are also given to the winner of a State.  Primaries after March 15 can be winner take all, so that in a multi-person race a candidate with only a plurality of support can easily rack up a majority of delegates.  There is much less uniformity for Republicans as the party leaves a great many details up to the individual States.  States may set different minimum thresholds to win delegates, can create different bonuses or allocation rules, etc. Therefore a candidate's strategy to maximize delegate awards may be very different from State to State.

The Republicans also have RNC delegates which are party officials from the various States.  But unlike the Democrats, these delegates are usually required to support the candidate who won their home States and there are only 168 of them.  A candidate must collected 1237 delegates to have a majority at the convention.  For more details exactly how delegates are allocated, check out this article.

Republicans allocate delegates very differently.  Each State, regardless of size, gets ten delegates (five for each Senator) plus three delegates for each congressional district.  These are given regardless of whether the elected officials are Republican or Democrat or how the State has voted in prior elections.  States may, however, get bonus delegates for voting for the Republican nominee in the last election, having Republican Senators, having a majority Republican congressional delegation, or having majorities in the State Senate or House.  There are no bonuses for holding later primaries, but States can suffer penalties for holding a primary before certain dates, or for holding a winner-take-all primary early in the season.

Bonus delegates can make a big difference for Republicans, especially in smaller States.  For example, Delaware and South Dakota both have only one congressional district, meaning they both start with 13 delegates (five for each Senator and one for each Congressman).  But SD voted for the Republican nominee, has a Republican governor, two Republican Senators, a Republican congressman and Republican majorities in State legislatures.  As a result, it gets a total of 29 delegates, while Democratic Delaware is stuck with only its base of 13.  For more details, check out this article.

Primary Strategy

Once a candidate of either party has a majority of delegates, or it becomes clear that it is virtually impossible for him or her not to reach that majority, the candidate can pretty much ignore the remaining primary states and begin focusing on the general election.   This is why most States do not like holding late primaries.  They tend to become irrelevant.  But especially for Democrats, later dates mean more bonus delegates, so States must decide which is more important to them.

For candidates, winning with big percentages early is nice, but one's position (finishing first, second, or third) is more important because few delegates are at stake and finishing first or among the top means you get more notice (and likely more contributions) as you continue into the larger States. Once the race dwindles to two or three candidates, it becomes a fight over delegates.  It is rare that either side would not have a clear nominee by the end of March (although 2008 for the Democrats was a big exception to this rule).  Although there have been a few occasions when a candidate went into the convention without an outright majority, there has not been a fight that went past the first ballot since 1952, well before the modern primary system was put in place.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

March Madness underway Weekend Primaries March 5-6

We have entered the "March Madness" phase of the primary season.  The majority of delegates will be awarded in March for both parties.  Several States will hold contests each week, with candidates desperately darting from State to State hoping to make their last minute appeals to voters.

This weekend, we will have contests in five states and one territory.  Yes, I've largely ignored non-state primaries so far, but US territories are permitted to vote in Party primaries, even though the citizens of those territories get zero electoral votes in the general election.  This weekend, Puerto Rico votes, along with Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine and Nebraska.  Let's take a closer look at what we can expect:

Republicans

  • Kansas will hold its primary caucus on Saturday.  Kansas has scheduled a primary every election year since 1992, and each time has canceled it and decided to hold a caucus instead. The stated reason is that primaries are more expensive and that Kansas usually goes late in the calendar when the candidate is already decided.  This year, however, there is still some question as to the nominee at this stage.  Nevertheless, Kansas has decided to change to a caucus.  It is also closed to party members only.  This will likely benefit Ted Cruz who does better in such contests, to the detriment of Donald Trump, who benefits more from independents and in primaries that take less of a time commitment for voters.  I have seen no published polls for Kansas, but the State tends to favor evangelical candidates, which are breaking mostly for Cruz this year.  This could be a possible win for Cruz.
  • Kentucky is also holding a closed caucus on the same day.  A Western Kentucky poll taken a few weeks ago shows Trump leading with Rubio second and Cruz third.  Again, Cruz usually does better in closed caucuses than in the polls and Rubio's star has been fading in the weeks since this poll was taken.  I expect Cruz to beat Rubio in Kentucky despite polling to the contrary.  Getting close to Trump would be impressive, but I still expect a Trump win.
  • Louisiana has an open primary.  Again, I have not seen any polls taken in recent months.  Like Kansas, Louisiana tends to favor evangelicals which may benefit Cruz.  Louisiana is also next door neighbor to Cruz's home state of Texas.  Still Cruz has trouble in open primaries.  If he can beat Trump here, it will make him seem more viable.  A Trump victory will mean people will continue to question whether Cruz can ever win an open primary anywhere outside his home state.
  • Maine also holds a caucus.  Again, no current polling is public so its hard to handicap.  Maine Republican voters are similar to New Hampshire, which went big for Trump.  This will probably be another Trump victory.
  • Sunday March 6 is the Puerto Rico Republican Primary.  This will be an interesting one. Once again, the pollsters have taken a vacation.  There has also been little to no direct campaigning by candidates on the island. Trump has been pretty unpopular with Spanish speaking voters, so I would expect problems for him here.  The island also does not tend to go for doctrinaire conservatives like Cruz.  This may be Rubio's best chance at a win this weekend.
Democrats

Kansas and Louisiana both chose Obama over Clinton in 2008.  This Saturday, Clinton may find a warmer environment.  With no recent polling available, it is hard to guess.  But Clinton has beaten Sanders soundly in more conservative southern States.  Sanders has done better in closed caucuses though, giving him some hope for the closed Kansas caucus.  Kansas is probably his best chance to shine on Saturday. Kentucky Democrats don't vote until May.  Puerto Rico Democrats must wait until June.

The Maine Caucus for Democrats takes place on Sunday.  This New England Caucus may be a good one for Sanders, near his home base of Vermont and next door to his big win in New Hampshire. Sanders should be able to win Maine over Clinton.

Analysis

The conventional wisdom is that winners will keep winning.  Trump and Clinton should expand their respective leads.  Cruz will again be trying to frame the results as showing he is the only alternative to Trump.  Rubio needs to win something to remain viable.  Sanders needs a Kansas win to keep Clinton from significantly widening her lead.

I am writing off Kasich at this point.  Kasich may take a few votes away from others in Maine, but I doubt he will make the 15% required to get any delegates anywhere.

Yesterday, Ben Carson said that he did not see a path to victory at this point and would not participate in the next debate.  While he did not formally suspend his campaign, I'm going to take that as the informal end to his bid for the Presidency and will not include him in my further analyses.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Super Tuesday Results

Super Tuesday is over.  Trump and Clinton are the big winners.  With the Super Tuesday results, it seems unlikely that any of their opponents will be able to catch them.  There remains, however, enough of a slim hope to keep fighting.

At this point in the election season, percentage of vote won becomes less important than the number of delegates obtained.  In the early contests, we pay closer attention to percentages because they may be some indication of how candidates may do in future contests.  It helps us pick the front runners. By now, over a quarter of the States have voted. Predictions of future support give way to actual support being achieved: that is how many delegates will vote for a nominee at the convention.  Ultimately, that is what matters.

Republican Results

Donald Trump won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia, collecting a total of 203 delegates.  Trump failed to achieve 50% in any State but did come in second in every State he did not win, except for one third place finish in Minnesota.

Ted Cruz had the second best night, winning his home State of Texas, as well as Oklahoma and Alaska.  He picked up 144 delegates giving him the "Trump alternative" mantel.

Marco Rubio had a particularly disappointing night.  Establishment Republicans have been trying to make him the Trump alternative.  The voters, however, gave Rubio only a single win in Minnesota. Rubio often failed to make 20% in many states, which is often the threshold to be granted any delegates at all.  As a result, Rubio garnered only 71 delegates last night.

John Kasich and Ben Carson failed to win anywhere, only breaking double digits in two States each.  Kasich won 19 delegates and Carson 3.

Republican establishment is now running scared.  Trump has a clear path to the nomination with only Cruz appearing as a viable alternative.  Cruz is presenting himself as such in speeches and calling on the other candidates to end their campaigns so that the anti-Trump voters can move to him. The problem is that the establishment does not like Cruz either.  His few years in the Senate has caused most of his colleague to find him disagreeable and unlikable.  They don't think they can work with him as President any more than they could with Trump.  As a result, it is unlikely Cruz could get the full anti-Trump coalition behind him.

It's also interesting that the only two States that Cruz won outside of his home state were both closed caucuses, meaning independents could not vote in them.  Trump seems more popular with independents than with Republicans.  Many Republicans may decide that Trump has a better chance of beating Clinton in the general election based on his appeal with independents.   Therefore, I still don't see a Cruz bandwagon.

Rubio may continue in hopes that there is some major stumble and realignment, but is looking more like a dead man walking.  Perhaps Minnesota gives him hope that he could win elsewhere, but it is not looking likely.  If Trump beats Rubio in his home State of Florida in two weeks, as expected, it is hard to see how Rubio can remain in the race.

Kasich and Carson should go.  Kasich has wanted to hold out until Michigan later this week and Ohio in two weeks, but is going to get heavy pressure to quit now so his supporters can move to Rubio.  Right now Kasich is polling a pathetic third place in Michigan with about 12% support, not even enough to collect a delegate.  He is also polling second behind Trump in his home State of Ohio, a winner take all state on March 15.  In other words, his best hope of denying a Trump victory in Ohio is to drop out and hope his supporters go to one of the other anti-Trump candidates.  I expect Kasich to drop out in the next few days, possibly waiting for his loss in Michigan on March 8 to make it official.

Carson remains fairly irrelevant due to low numbers, but his supporters may go to Trump if he leaves. Carson has made few rational decisions during the campaign, so when he finally drops out seems to be unrelated to his continuing defeats in the polls.

Remember that beginning on March 15, Republican contests become winner take all.  If last night had been a winner take all night, Trump would have won 331 delegates rather than 203.  Absent a single unifying anti-Trump candidate, Trump will win the nomination as his path gets much easier under winner take all.  There will be extreme pressure on many of the remaining four alternative candidates to drop out and make it a two person race.  Even so, no one seems ready to blink.

Democratic Results

As expected, Hillary Clinton did very well yesterday.  She took the whole south, winning Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, all by more than 30 points over Bernie Sanders. She also won a close victory in Massachusetts, which should have been a strong State for Sanders if he really expects to win the nomination.

Sanders did well though, better than I expected.  He won not only his home State of Vermont, but also in Colorado, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.  But in the delegate count, Sanders continued to fall well behind. winning 284 delegates to Clinton's 453.

Repeatedly finishing a distant second in a two person race is not a path to victory.  Compare this to 2008 when Obama just barely beat Clinton on Super Tuesday, winning 13 States to Clinton's 10 (Super Tuesday was a little more super then).  Obama also won a few more delegates than Clinton, although Clinton won a majority of the total popular vote.  In short it was considered a virtual tie and both candidates went on to fight another day.

By contrast, Sanders lost most of the States and collected only about a third of the available delegates. Outside of his home state though, Sanders victories came in Caucus States (Col. & Okla.) where candidates appealing to smaller but more dedicated voters tend to win.  His other win (Minn) came in a closed primary where Independents could not vote.  Again, this tends to benefit more extreme candidates who may not do as well in a general election.  Sanders supporters may find solace in the fact that Sanders did fairly well in non-southern States and that going forward, most of the south is now behind us.  If Sanders can do well to win in the mid-west and far west, he could possibly pull a come from behind victory.  But he will need to win some open primaries outside of New England.  In short, Sanders did well enough to continue his race, but he remains a clear underdog.