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Eye On Candidates
March 18, 2016

GOP Candidates’ Twisting Paths to Nomination

The term “delegate math” is likely to become more popular in the coming weeks, as the three remaining Republican candidates all try to bring in enough delegates to either win on the first ballot (businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz both have difficult but plausible paths to do this) or show enough momentum and strength to win on the second or subsequent ballot (Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s only chance).

The good news for Kasich is that, at least according to the Politico Insiders, he stands a decent chance at prevailing in a contested convention:

Insiders: Kasich could win a contested convention

In the event of a contested Republican convention this summer, John Kasich is the candidate most acceptable to GOP delegates.

That’s according to members of The POLITICO Caucus – a panel of political insiders in seven battleground states – who said Kasich would be the most palatable of the three remaining Republican presidential candidates in a contested convention, despite the fact the Ohio governor is last in delegates and the only one mathematically eliminated from clinching a majority before the July convention….

“John Kasich has worked hard not to alienate the other candidates and their supporters by remaining fairly positive during the primary portion of the campaign,” said a Virginia Republican, who like all respondents, completed the survey anonymously. “I think there is a better chance of the most conservative Republicans accepting Kasich than there is of the more moderate candidates accepting either Trump or Cruz.”

Others pointed to Kasich’s electability in the fall and insisted GOP delegates would pick a candidate who can win….

The view was hardly unanimous, however – Kasich only received a plurality of insider votes, 45 percent. Another 33 percent thought Cruz would emerge victorious, with the rest opting for Trump:

Some insiders disagreed – arguing Cruz is the more viable anti-Trump candidate because he’s more acceptable to conservatives….

“Cruz has established a nationwide ground game and is working to pack delegate halls as we speak,” said an Iowa Republican. “Kasich doesn't have the infrastructure, and Trump is hoping for momentum, numbers and sheer force to gain the nomination. The Cruz people aren't budging. Grab the popcorn….”

A number of GOP insiders also warned of the risks of not giving Trump the nomination if we wins the most delegates.

“If Trump has more delegates than anyone else and has won the most states, the GOP would be incite a grassroots revolt if somebody else was nominated,” a New Hampshire Republican said, adding, “And I'm not a Trump lover!”

While Cruz also seems to have a reasonable chance of walking away with the nomination at a contested convention, he isn’t banking on it, as CNN reports on his campaigns’ effort to win the 1,237 delegates needed for a first-ballot victory:

Cruz's aides are hopeful for a path that leads them to as many as 1,252 delegates, according to a campaign memo authored by Cruz analytics chief Chris Wilson. Trump currently leads him by 254 delegates, and that lead may grow next Tuesday, when campaign aides are signaling that Trump is likely to defeat them in Arizona, which awards 58 delegates.

Cruz aides predict that 55% of the vote there has already been cast, and they expect John Kasich to play spoiler and prevent Cruz from overtaking Trump's early vote lead on election day. They are more confident next Tuesday about Utah, which has fewer delegates but is a caucus state and one where they hope Utah Sen. Mike Lee's endorsement can pay dividends….

The map turns significantly less friendly though for Cruz in coming months, with very few evangelical and deep red states left to vote. Johnson though is pointing to two April states where they expect to wage war: Wisconsin, where advisers say to expect "a lot of Cruz campaign activity," and Trump's delegate-rich homestate of New York….

The other date circled on the Cruz calendar: June 7, the largest delegate day remaining on the calendar. Cruz has long pointed to surprisingly strong polling in California, and the memo says he is currently on track to win 55% of the vote there. It also says Cruz is positioned to win Montana, and to take home a majority of New Mexico's delegates.

But that's the best-case scenario. A far hairier -- and likelier -- position for Cruz would be to wage a tense and complicated delegate battle at the Republican National Convention, an audience full of party regulars unlikely to break for a candidate of Cruz's ideological ilk.

Trump’s path to 1,237 delegates is somewhat more manageable, although by no means easy. ABC News explained recently what it views as the five main keys to Trump getting the necessary delegates to win on the first ballot, including the following:

Donald Trump Realistically Can’t Clinch The Nomination Until The Last Day Of Voting… The real estate mogul would need to win a whopping 78 percent of the remaining delegates before June 7 in order to clinch the nomination -– virtually impossible given the number of states that dole out their delegates proportionally.

On that final day of voting just six weeks before the convention, Trump will need a win in the crucial winner-take-all contest in New Jersey, as well as a broad victory in delegate-rich California, where congressional districts award nearly all of the state's 172 delegates….

Run Up The Score In Big Blue States Like New York and California. While Arizona is the biggest delegate prize of the winner take all states, New York and California, which cast votes April 19 and June 7 respectively, have the biggest delegate prizes overall. And Trump has a chance to pick up a majority of the delegates there, if he plays his cards right.

Both have potential to become winner-take-all if a candidate racks up over 50 percent of the vote, both statewide and in congressional districts.

If Trump manages to rack up huge margins across all regions of the states, the way he did in South Carolina, he has potential to amass all of the two states’ combined 267 delegates.

The final piece of a first-ballot win by Trump according to ABC News could be the so-called unbound delegates, a mix of state party officials and those originally pledged to candidates who have dropped out of the race. The number of unbound delegates won’t be known for a while and will depend largely on whether Florida Sen. Marco Rubio releases his delegates, but it could be between 200 and 250 delegates, more than enough to make up the difference for Trump – or Cruz, for that matter.

So each of the three remaining GOP candidates has a realistic, if difficult, path to the nomination, and “delegate math” is likely to become the “hanging chad” of the 2016 presidential election as a result.