By Jim Ellis
April 29, 2016 — The 2016 presidential campaign has taken a dramatic turn in a very short amount of time. Is the race reaching its end, or will we see yet another twist?
Before last week’s New York primary, Donald Trump was reeling, clearly experiencing the most significant momentum downturn since his campaign began. Then came the primary, and he exceeded his pre-determined delegate goal, thus righting the ship. In this week’s eastern regional primary, the real estate mogul performed in similar fashion and even topped his New York finish. Now, it is Sen. Ted Cruz who is suddenly facing elimination as the Indiana primary quickly approaches next Tuesday. For Trump to remain on his first-ballot victory track, he must take at least 39 votes from the 57 Indiana Republican delegates.
According to The Green Papers.com website that compiles political statistics, Trump has a first-ballot delegate count of 956, which tells us he is 281 away from winning the nomination. This means that the GOP front-runner must obtain 56 percent of the remaining 502 delegates from the 10 states yet to vote. Trump is the only candidate who can qualify for a first-ballot victory and do so without the aid of unbound delegates. Sen. Cruz and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) can now only band together in hopes of denying Trump the outright majority in order to force a contested convention.
Now it is Sen. Cruz who desperately needs a win. Since his new goal is to deny Trump as many delegates as possible, any sizeable Indiana victory will blunt his opponent’s momentum and stop the march toward a first ballot nomination. Gov. Kasich’s decision to not campaign there will help, but there will have to be a sizable push from the Ohio governor to encourage his Indiana supporters to vote for Cruz. With a series of recent polls finding Cruz trailing Trump from five to eight points, the Kasich push is a critical component for the Texas senator to move into first place. Failure to win Indiana may prove fatal to Sen. Cruz’s 2016 presidential aspirations.
After the Hoosier State, the campaigns head to West Virginia and Nebraska. The two candidates will likely split the pair, with Trump winning the former and Cruz the latter. Oregon and Washington will then be decided in the two succeeding weeks, and these states appear to be wild cards, though Trump is expected to finish first in both. The spread between the candidates will matter significantly since both states award their delegates on a proportional basis.
This brings us to the final campaign day, June 7, when voters in the last five states will finally have their opportunity to participate. Three of the five, Montana (27 delegates), New Jersey (51 delegates), and South Dakota (29 delegates) are winner-take-all. Trump is expected to carry New Jersey, while Sen. Cruz should claim South Dakota. This makes Montana, a coal country swing state, a critically important venue to both men.
The last two states, New Mexico and California then come into play. New Mexico is proportional with a 15 percent vote threshold. California will likely be the decider. The biggest delegation, even on the Republican side, has 172 delegates, 159 of which will be elected in winner-take-all fashion from each of the 53 congressional districts.
For Trump to secure first-ballot victory, he needs the aforementioned 39 delegates coming from Indiana, at least 30 of the 34 from West Virginia, doing slightly better than half in Washington, Oregon and New Mexico, and then taking in the neighborhood of 31 of California’s 53 votes in addition to winning the 10 at-large delegates earned from a statewide victory. Exceeding the quota in the states preceding California will ease the pressure on Trump to win as many Golden State CDs.
Therefore, this Republican presidential nomination battle still has weeks to go and is probably not yet at an end despite what the news media is preaching.