It’s a 3-Man Race for the GOP Nomination

Trump, Kasich win key states, Rubio drops out; Clinton begins to pull away.

March 16, 2016

By James Irwin

And then there were three.

Donald Trump scored a knockout win in Florida on Tuesday, forcing Marco Rubio from the Republican presidential race and widening his delegate lead over challengers Ted Cruz and John Kasich.

Mr. Trump also won the North Carolina and Illinois primaries and was leading Sen. Cruz (Texas) by a little more than 1,700 votes in Missouri as of Wednesday morning.

It was a good night for the New York businessman, said Michael Cornfield, associate professor at the Graduate School of Political Management. But it could have been bigger. Gov. Kasich secured his first victory of the campaign, winning his home state of Ohio. And so even with Sen. Rubio (Fla.) out, it is a multi-candidate race for the foreseeable future.

“Neither Kasich nor Cruz is ready to give up,” said Dr. Cornfield, research director at the Global Center for Political Engagement. “The logic is clear: All three [candidates] recognize Trump is the dominant figure but he may not clinch a majority of delegates before the convention, and so hope springs eternal for the two challengers.”

A few takeaways from Tuesday:

Clear choices, unclear outcome

While the delegate math remains murky, the narrowing of the GOP field is providing clarity with respect to choices, Dr. Cornfield said. The three remaining candidates are very different from each other.

Sen. Cruz, he said, is a committed ideological conservative with a legal approach to politics. Gov. Kasich—“the most optimistic and most openly emotional of the three,” Dr. Cornfield said—is a more traditional candidate who infuses his politics with compassion. Mr. Trump is the torch-bearer for populists, nativists and outsiders.

“The three are very different in temperament, in agenda, and so I think the choices—if not the delegate counts—have been clarified,” Dr. Cornfield said. “You can see these different styles and distinct positions.”

Courting delegates

After 24 states—plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands—held primaries between March 1 and 15, the GOP race is about to slow down drastically.

Arizona—an important state for Sen. Cruz, Dr. Cornfield said—and Utah hold primaries March 22. Wisconsin—an important state for Gov. Kasich, Dr. Cornfield said—will vote April 5. They are the only primaries between March 16 and April 18.

There are a little more than 1,000 delegates remaining in states that have not yet voted, and there are Rubio delegates who will go to the convention unbound ahead of the first ballot. Dr. Cornfield said he would go data-heavy from here on out if he were on the Kasich or Cruz campaigns.

“I would ignore the states and focus on the delegates as individuals—try to maximize my delegate count, even if that means not winning a state,” he said. “It is a battle to deny Donald Trump 1,237. Anything that keeps Trump from reaching 1,237 means both Kasich and Cruz have a chance.”

The Democratic race is over

Elsewhere Tuesday, Hillary Clinton swept to victories over Bernie Sanders in Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, and was leading Sen. Sanders (Vt.) by a little more than 1,500 votes in Missouri as of Wednesday morning.

The race is over, Dr. Cornfield said.

“And I say that not just because of the numbers but because of the speeches,” he said. “Clinton thanked Sanders in one sentence and then turned right to Trump. Sanders gave what we political scientists call ‘an expressive speech.’ He didn’t talk about the polls or the votes or where he was going to win next. He talked about his message.”


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