The GOP’s remaining 2016 candidates hide their strategies behind rhetoric and press-releases — but they also reveal those strategies once they announce their travel plans and advertising budgets.
Super Tuesday, on March 1, represents the biggest prize so far in the Republican nomination contest. With 11 states voting, this election day offers 595 delegates, about a quarter of the total amount during the entire primary campaign. So their travel plans reveal a lot about their strategies for Super Tuesday.
Donald Trump is continuing with the strategy that has served him well so far this campaign. He is hosting large, stand-alone rallies in 7 of the Super Tuesday states. He begins Friday in Texas, the day after the Republican debate, and finishes up the day in Oklahoma.
On Saturday, Trump has rallies in Arkansas and Tennessee. Sunday Trump travels to Alabama, followed Monday by events in Virginia and Georgia.
Trump’s schedule hits all of the Southern states in the Super Tuesday primary–the “SEC Primary” portion of the voting day. He is not traveling to Minnesota, Massachusetts, Vermont or Alaska. Recent polling, however, shows him with wide leads in Massachusetts and Vermont.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has two events in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, finishing up the day in Virginia Beach, Virginia. On Saturday, Cruz is campaigning in Atlanta, Georgia and Little Rock. He has three events scheduled in Oklahoma on Sunday and multiple events in Texas on Monday.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is campaigning in Texas and Oklahoma on Friday. He is scheduled to hit three states on Saturday; Georgia, Alabama, and Arkansas. Rubio will campaign in Virginia on Sunday. His campaign has not yet released his schedule for Monday or Tuesday.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is campaigning in Tennessee on Friday and Saturday. On Monday he will be in Vermont and Massachusetts.
Rubio is spending by far the most money on paid advertising in Super Tuesday states. His campaign and Super PAC are pouring $1.2 million into eight states. Cruz is spending around $200k in five states. Kasich is spending around $35k on ads in Vermont and Massachusetts. Trump isn’t spending any money on Super Tuesday advertising.
Now, to try to put some context into those schedules.
Kasich is smart to devote most of his time and resources to Vermont and Massachusetts. While polling shows Trump ahead in both states, Kasich has some credibility in the region after his relatively strong finish in New Hampshire. If he can post solid second-place performances in these two states, then he can win some delegates here but also, more importantly, maintain his viability as an establishment alternative to Trump.
The calendar after Super Tuesday is decent for him, with primaries set for the upper Midwest, including Michigan one week later and Illinois and Ohio on March 15. His presence leaves Rubio with very little room to maneuver.
Ted Cruz’s schedule is also pretty straightforward. He is polling well in Arkansas and Oklahoma, so should be in the mix for delegates here. It also makes sense to close out his campaigning in Texas. Although he is favored to win Texas, the delegate allocation rules there put a premium on an organized and robust campaign effort.
The states awards 44 delegates based on the statewide results. If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, they receive all of these delegates. If the candidate receives less than 50 percent, then the delegates are allocated proportionally among all candidates who received at least 20 percent of the vote.
The state also awards 108 delegates through its 36 Congressional districts, with each having 3 delegates. The same rules apply for each district as statewide. If a candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in a Congressional district they receive all three delegates. If no one receives 50 percent, then delegates are split between candidates receiving at least 20 percent in that district.
If Cruz is able to maximize his vote in particular Congressional districts he can maximize the number of delegates he receives, either by winning them outright or keeping another candidate below the 20 percent threshold.
Donald Trump seems to be running as the national frontrunner with his schedule. He is spreading himself across all of the southern states were he is likely to do well. He is focusing his time equally across of these states, counting on his momentum and national polling leads to carry him to victory.
Rubio’s schedule is much more tentative than any of the other candidates. His schedule suggests he is hedging his bets everywhere, rather than focus on doing particularly well, or winning, anywhere. This is curious because three states in particular ought to offer him real opportunity to bank a win or very close second-place.
Georgia, Virginia and Minnesota, despite their geographic differences have very similar demographic profiles. Republican politics in each state is dominated by metro areas with very large suburban populations. Republicans here are similar to those around Charleston, the only area of South Carolina carried by Rubio.
Republicans in these areas are more affluent and have higher levels of education than those that have voted in the earlier contests. A recent poll from Georgia, for example, showed Trump winning statewide, but Rubio running even in the Atlanta metro-area.
The only recent poll in Minnesota, completed at the end of January, showed Rubio leading that state by 2 points. Rubio visited Minnesota immediately after the Nevada caucus, but isn’t scheduled to return there.
It is also surprising that Rubio seems to be ceding a contest for second place in Vermont and Massachusetts to John Kasich. If Rubio were to eclipse him in either of these states it would complicate Kasich’s argument that he is the establishment candidate with the best chance to challenge Trump.
Rubio’s Super Tuesday strategy still seems to be part of a long-term play to outlast everyone until the start of the winner-take-all contests on March 15th. By spreading himself everywhere he is reducing the chance to have a breakout performance in any particular state, but perhaps ensuring that he isn’t badly defeated anywhere.
It is certainly possible to win the Super Bowl by scoring all of your points in the Fourth Quarter, but it isn’t the best way to approach the game. It does happen, sure, but few would bet a lot of money on it.