By Jim Ellis
April 22, 2016 — Donald Trump’s major New York Republican primary win on Tuesday (he captured 90 of the state’s 95 delegates, exceeding expectations by at least 10 convention votes) revives talk of a first ballot victory, but is such speculation realistic?
The evening propelled Trump to 847 bound delegates, or 390 away from clinching the GOP presidential nomination. In the remaining 15 states that will complete the primary/caucus process, the Republican front-runner must secure 57 percent of the outstanding convention votes in order to score a first-ballot victory without the aid of unbound delegates.
On April 26, voters in five eastern states will visit the polls. The aggregate bound delegate contingent hailing from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island through their various apportionment systems is 112. The minimum combined number Trump must secure is 92 from these states.
His 83 percent available delegate quota from the eastern pool is high for two reasons. First, he is heavily favored in all five states headed into Election Day. Second, he must run up the score in the east to neutralize at least three states where he likely won’t do well: Indiana (May 3), Nebraska (May 10) and South Dakota (June 7). Since Nebraska and South Dakota are Winner-Take-All states, it is probable that Trump will be shut out in both places.
Since he does well in coal country, Trump will field pressure to convert West Virginia into a backdoor Winner-Take-All state on May 10. West Virginia is one of three places — Illinois and Pennsylvania are the other two — that choose their convention delegates by direct vote.
Instead of marking a ballot for the candidates themselves, voters will support individual delegates who will then represent the state at the national party convention. The delegate candidates have the option of listing the presidential candidate to whom they pledge, but could also declare themselves unbound. It will take a strong organizational effort to convert all 34 of the state’s Republican delegates. To stay on track for a first ballot win, however, the Trump forces will have to do just that.
Oregon and Washington, voting as stand-alone primaries on May 17 and 24, respectively, are difficult to predict. To stay on the minimum first-ballot track, Trump will have to commit at least 33 of 66 delegates from the two states.
The June 7 primary features five states: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota. We have already mentioned that South Dakota is likely to give all of its 29 delegates to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump is an overwhelming favorite to claim New Jersey’s 51 Winner-Take-All delegates, and will need to win at least 10 of New Mexico’s 21 bound convention votes. Trump taking Montana’s 27 Winner-Take-All votes now becomes a must. Though Cruz has run well in the Rocky Mountain region, Trump must take advantage of his coal country strength to convert this state.
This brings us to California’s Winner-Take-All by congressional district system and its 53 CDs. To give you an idea of the Trump first-ballot difficulty factor, if he achieves all of the aforementioned benchmarks, he would still have to win the California statewide vote and 41 of the 53 congressional districts. This overwhelming victory would allow him to meet the minimum national delegate threshold.
Though the odds of Trump winning on the first ballot are slim, he does have a mathematical chance of doing so, and is the only candidate who can. The stretch drive begins now.