March 11, 2016 — March 1 earned the billing of “Super Tuesday” because 13 states held a primary or caucus that day, but the real deciding date at least for Republicans is next week’s Tuesday, March 15.
The true action in the coming days is on the Republican side despite Sen. Bernie Sanders’ upset Michigan victory earlier this week. Should Donald Trump win both the key Winner-Take-All states of Florida (99 delegates) and Ohio (66), he would isolate himself as the only candidate able to win a first ballot victory.
If Trump converts Florida and Ohio, and places first in the proportional states of North Carolina (72 delegates) and Illinois (69), as polling currently suggests, while taking a significant share of the Missouri congressional district Winner-Take-All format (52), he will likely fall into the range of committing approximately 712 delegate votes by next Wednesday morning. This means he would need 53.4 percent of the 983 available delegates from the 22 post-March 15 remaining voting entities in order to secure a first ballot victory.
Though it would be possible for Trump to win on the first ballot, his margin for error is very narrow even if next Tuesday goes his way.
A just-released Ohio Fox News poll (March 5-8; 806 likely Ohio GOP primary voters) finds Gov. John Kasich overtaking Trump for first place, which is of critical importance. Should Kasich win the Buckeye State Winner-Take-All event, it is very likely the Republicans would find themselves on a definitive path toward an open, contested, or “brokered” convention.
According to the latest Ohio Fox data, Kasich leads Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, 34-29-19 percent, respectively. Sen. Marco Rubio, now faltering badly, drops to seven percent in this poll. Speculation is rampant that Rubio will soon suspend his campaign, probably after Florida. The latest polling suggests that he is falling further behind Trump in his home state.
Taking the 66 Ohio delegates away from Trump makes it very difficult for him to reach the necessary 1,237 delegate votes, and it’s virtually impossible for any of the other candidates. If Trump falls in Ohio, he would need to secure 60.1 percent of the committed votes in the remaining states and territories to capture the nomination. Considering that Trump’s largest win percentage is 49.3 percent in the Massachusetts primary, obtaining such a high level of support in the final states, even within a smaller field of candidates, is unrealistic.
But, three other Ohio polls, all taken within the March 2-7 period (CNN, Public Policy Polling and Quinnipiac University), find Trump leading Kasich and the others. His range is from 38-41 percent, while Kasich is a close second falling between 32-35 percent. The Fox survey is the most current, however, and has by far the most robust sample size. Therefore, from a methodological perspective, it appears to be the most reliable study.
None of the polls reflect Kasich’s improved second place (virtually tied with Cruz) finish in Michigan, which could result in a momentum boost for him in the closing days just before his home state primary. According to the Fox poll, Kasich’s job approval rating among the tested Republicans is 79:10 percent favorable to unfavorable, which largely accounts for his strong showing.
At least for the Republicans, the March 15 Ohio primary will chart the course for the rest of the nomination campaign. It appears the GOP has two paths: either nominate Trump, or head to a brokered convention for the first time since 1940.