Tuesday’s Republican primaries will start to reveal some of the complexity behind the nominating process. Or, to put it another way, they will make clear that this whole thing was supposed to be over already. Our primaries have evolved to crown nominees, not to select them. We are sailing into uncharted, treacherous waters.
Rules and practices vary so widely among the 13 states participating that it’s tough to pin down a standard figure for the number of delegates being assigned. In all, 595 delegates will be assigned to different campaigns based on outcomes on Tuesday. The process of selecting another 66 unbound delegates will be initiated.
Here’s a quick rundown of the states involved, their unique rules, and what to watch for in each contest.
Alabama – 50, primary
Proportional, with a split by Congressional District and statewide, and 50% winner-take-all threshold. Many states adopt this pattern, in which two pools of delegates are assigned by different methods, one by the statewide total and another by Congressional District. Outcomes are proportional, unless someone tops 50%, in which case the take the whole lot. We’ll call this the SEC primary method.
Expect most of the Deep South states to follow South Carolina in voting for Trump. They talk a lot about Jesus Christ, but their favorite political figure is still Jim Crow. One interesting race to watch here is Sen. Shelby’s re-election bid. He’s facing a semi-serious challenger. Difficult to tell how the crazy dynamics of this cycle might impact him.
Alaska – 28, caucus
Though described as a caucus, this is functionally a closed primary. Delegates will be assigned on a proportional basis among candidates earning more than 13% of the vote. You’ll see this method elsewhere and we’ll just call it the Alaska model.
As a closed vote in a small state, polling is pretty useless. It is impossible to predict how this might go, though it seems like the kind of place where Trump should do well.
Arkansas – 40, primary
Using the SEC Primary method for allocation. There are signs that Cruz may be doing unusually well here versus Trump. That may be a unique feature of Arkansas, or it may reflect a shift in late polling in the Deep South. This is a place where evangelical religion may be more important than immigrant-bashing. Watch outcomes in Arkansas’ northwest counties, the Wal-Mart corridor, for clues about the later direction of this race. It’s the only place in the state with a high concentration of educated professionals and expats.
Colorado – 37, caucus
No delegates will be assigned to candidates by voters in Colorado. All of Colorado’s delegates will be unbound. Several other states are sending unbound delegates, a method that gives extraordinary influence to the state party. These people will be interesting to watch in a convention fight.
Georgia – 76, primary
This is another SEC Primary in terms of the method. Trump is leading here by a significant margin, but this is a very fluid race.
Massachusetts – 42, primary
This is a purely proportional race, in which everyone earning more than 5% can win a delegate. Trump is leading in Massachusetts by a surprising margin.
Minnesota – 38, caucus
Delegates will be bound based on Congressional District and statewide results of a caucus vote. To earn delegates a candidate needs to top 10%. To win all of the state’s delegates a candidate needs to top 85%.
Oklahoma – 43, primary
Another SEC Primary. Trump leads in polls, but only by a small margin.
Tennessee – 58, primary
Another SEC Primary, with one interesting twist. No one earning less than 20% will be assigned any delegates from TN. The cutoff to win all of the state’s delegates is 2/3 rather than 50%.
Texas – 155, primary
Here’s where it gets interesting. A quarter of the delegates assigned on March 1 will come from Texas. Texas follows the SEC Primary method, splitting up the statewide and Congressional District results. The floor for delegate assignment is 20%. The results become winner-take-all at 50%.
Polls indicate that Cruz is within striking distance of the 50% cutoff. Anecdotally I can report that the same category of religious voters who are supporting Trump in places like South Carolina and Georgia are fiercely supportive of Cruz in Texas. In fact, they are electric and they are pushing very, very hard.
Cruz is virtually guaranteed 100 delegates from Texas. Combined with proportional results elsewhere, that’s enough to make him a force all the way to the convention floor. If he tops the 50% threshold here he might be the biggest delegate winner of the day even if he fails to win another contest. Cruz wins Texas and Kasich ekes out a win in Ohio on March 15 (66 delegates, winner-take-all) and you’ve got a deadlocked primary, followed by a floor-fight at the convention. Texas may be the only race you need to watch on Tuesday.
Vermont – 16, primary
There are Republicans in Vermont. With the stakes so high this cycle, expect all 15 of them to vote in this year’s primary. The state follows the SEC Primary method, without the CD split (small state).
Virginia – 49, primary
Delegates will be assigned on a fully proportional basis. Virginia is interesting because the counties around DC are essentially ‘East Coast’ in terms of their orientation. Beyond the DC suburbs it’s a Deep South state. The primary results, divided by county, will provide an interesting gauge of how the party’s so-called moderates view Trump, and how well Cruz can perform with evangelical voters. So far, the state’s religious fundamentalist leaders have lined up strongly in favor of Trump.
Wyoming – 29, caucus
Like Colorado, Wyoming will not hold a Presidential preference ballot, instead sending its delegates to the convention unbound.
Overall, it will be interesting to see whether anyone can top 50% anywhere. Evangelical voters also bear watching. As the race moves past the Deep South states where white identity issues are so close to the surface, will Trump still win religious voters? Is a Trump grand strategy starting to emerge from his word salad, in which Northern voters who care little about conservatism link up with religious bigots elsewhere to put him over the top?
By Wednesday we can put aside a lot of the speculation and start making predictions based on data. Should be fun.
Here are a couple of good sources for details on each of the individual races: