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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.


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