Tuesday Tells the Tale

March 15, 2016 — It’s very likely that today’s results from the all-important Ohio and Florida Winner-Take-All Republican contests will determine whether Donald Trump wins the GOP presidential nomination, or whether the campaign descends into a contested convention.

While Trump appears to be well ahead in Florida, and is the odds-on favorite to capture that state’s 99 delegates, the Ohio race is very much in doubt.

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Though Trump is approaching a mid 40s support range in the last three Sunshine State polls, and appears 20-plus points ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), it is important to remember that only registered Republicans can vote in tomorrow’s closed primary. Therefore, Trump’s polling numbers may be a bit inflated if the pollsters were not properly screening solely for registered Republican voters.

Should Trump win Ohio (66 delegates), he will have a statistical path toward clinching a first ballot nomination victory particularly when remembering some of his strongest northeastern states are scheduled to vote later in the cycle. If Gov. John Kasich instead finds victory in his home state, Trump will have a difficult time reaching his delegate goal especially when the other candidates, who certainly won’t reach the 1,237 delegate votes required for nomination through the primaries and caucuses alone, will be attempting to force a contested convention as their only potential victory scenario.

At the end of last week, we mentioned the Fox News poll that gave Gov. Kasich a 34-29 percent Buckeye State lead over Trump. Now, two later surveys confirm that Kasich indeed has a reasonable chance of overtaking the national Republican front-runner in that state.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist College survey (March 4-10; 564 likely Ohio Republican primary voters; 974 potential Ohio Republican electorate) finds Kasich taking a 39-33 percent lead over Trump among the likely voters and 37-33 percent among those who may be less inclined to cast a ballot. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has 19 and 18 percent, respectively, within the two subsets.

But, the CBS/YouGov poll (March 9-11; 798 likely Ohio GOP primary voters via Internet response) projects the race as a dead heat. According to this data, both Kasich and Trump are tied with 33 percent. Sen. Cruz is a relatively close third with 27 percent.

It is clear from these studies that Kasich has momentum heading into the final voting, but Trump could still eke out a first-place finish. Therefore, even today, the Ohio result is still very much in doubt.

Florida and Ohio are not the only states voting today. North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri voters will also have the opportunity of voicing their opinions at the ballot box. Both North Carolina and Illinois are zero percent threshold states, meaning all the remaining candidates will obtain a significant number of delegate votes.

In addition to their Florida and Ohio surveys, NBC/WSJ/Marist and CBS/YouGov also tested the North Carolina and Illinois electorates during early March. All results find Trump leading, Sen. Cruz placing second, and Gov. Kasich and Sen. Rubio battling for third.

Missouri is a Winner-Take-All by congressional district state, and has 52 delegates, 40 of which will be apportioned from within the state’s eight CDs. Therefore, it is hard to gauge the delegate projection formula with only statewide data as a reference. The scarce polling that is available gives Trump a slight lead over Sen. Cruz, but that result is not necessarily predictive of what will happen today.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks to be a lock in Florida and will capture the lion’s share of that state’s 246 party delegates. She is in similar position in North Carolina and will claim a majority of the 121 Tar Heel State Democratic delegates.

An upset, however, appears possible in Illinois. The CBS/YouGov survey (March 9-11; 722 likely Illinois Democratic voters) finds Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) pulling into a 48-46 percent lead over Clinton. But, the NBC/WSJ/Marist (March 4-10; 529 likely Illinois Democratic voters) contradicts these figures. They find Clinton holding a 51-45 percent advantage. Remembering the Michigan polling and result from last week, Sanders is clearly alive for a win in Illinois.

Today will be exciting and should chart the remaining course at least for the Republicans. The Democratic results will likely yield Clinton building upon her national delegate lead, but still not delivering the final knockout punch needed to end the campaign. The Ohio vote will provide a major clue as to whether Republicans are going to have a first ballot nominee, or end in the first brokered GOP national convention since 1940.

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