If GOP frontrunner Donald Trump wins next week’s March 22 winner-take-all primary in Arizona, his chances of securing enough delegates to wrap up the Republican nomination for president on the first ballot at the party’s July convention in Cleveland, Ohio will improve significantly. But the results of the majority-take-all Utah caucus held on the same day could change that trajectory.
As the delegate count stands today, Trump will need to win either 53 percent (using the latest Real Clear Politics delegate count) or 54 percent (using the latest New York Times delegate count) of the remaining delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot.
If Trump were to win Arizona, hold Sen. Ted Cruz below 50 percent in Utah, and sweep the four remaining winner-take-all primaries (Delaware–16 delegates–on April 26, Nebraska–36 delegates–on May 10, and New Jersey–51 delegates–and Montana–27 delegates– on June 7), he would only need to take 43 percent of the remaining delegates, a standard slightly below the 45 percent of allocated delegates he currently has.
The New York Times delegate count released on Wednesday, which does not yet include delegate allocations from Tuesday’s Missouri and Illinois primaries, shows Donald Trump with 621 of the 1,237 delegates needed to win a majority of the 2,472 first ballot votes to win the nomination at the convention. Under this count Trump would need to win about 54 percent of the 1,134 delegates still to be allocated to secure the nomination.
The Real Clear Politics delegate count from Wednesday, which includes a partial allocation of delegates from Missouri and Illinois, shows Trump with 661 of the 1,235 delegates needed to win. Under this count Trump would need to win about 53 percent of the 1,095 delegates still to be allocated to secure the nomination.
Should Trump win Arizona and keep Cruz below the 50 percent mark in Utah, while passing the 15 percent threshold himself in that state, he would need to take 51 percent of the outstanding delegates to secure a first ballot nomination. But if Cruz wins more than 50 percent, that number increases to 53 percent for Trump. If Cruz wins Arizona, Trump’s “need to win” number jumps to 58 percent.
The most recent Arizona poll, conducted on March 8 prior to Rubio’s withdrawal, showed Trump with a 14 point lead over Cruz in the state.
While Arizona, where Trump also benefits from the endorsements of former Governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, looks to be a likely Trump win, Utah is another matter entirely.
The decision today to cancel the planned March 21 Fox News debate in Utah following Trump’s decision not to attend, and Kasich’s subsequent decision not to attend as well, adds a significant element of uncertainty to the outcome in Utah.
Cruz won an upset victory over Trump in nearby Idaho, with help from the state’s 19 percent Mormon population and Trump’s failure to visit the state.
It is currently unclear how much, if any, time Trump will spend in Utah prior to the March 22 caucus, but the Trump campaign tells Breitbart News an announcement of his scheduled events for the next week will be made Wednesday afternoon and posted to the campaign’s website. If that schedule shows several trips to Utah as well as Arizona over the next week, it will be a clear signal Trump intends to contest both states.
Utah, where more than 55 percent of the residents are Mormons, is the only state that has a higher percentage of the population that is Mormon than Idaho.
Governor Mitt Romney, a Mormon with strong ties to the state where he helped lead the 1998 Winter Olympics out of financial trouble, chose Utah as the venue to make his recent anti-Trump pronouncement.
While Romney campaigned with Kasich in Ohio, he did not endorse him, and it is unclear if he will choose to strategically campaign with Cruz, who was leading both Trump and Kasich in a February poll taken there prior to Sen. Marco Rubio’s withdrawal from the race.
Presumably, Cruz is the favorite to win more than a majority of the votes in the Utah caucus, a form of delegate selection where he has historically performed better than Trump. Note, for instance, the recent huge Cruz victories in two caucus states, Kansas and Wyoming.
But Ohio Governor John Kasich, the third candidate remaining in the race, has made it clear he intends to compete in Utah, with several town halls already scheduled there for March 18.
If Trump were to win Arizona, hold Cruz below 50 percent in Utah, and lose winner-take-all Nebraska and Montana while winning in winner-take-all Delaware and New Jersey, his “need to win” number of remaining delegates would jump from 43 percent if he took all four to 51 percent.
The most recent poll shows Trump with a 27 point lead in New Jersey, but Nebraska, next door to Iowa and Kansas, where Cruz won, and Montana, next door to Idaho where Cruz also won, probably lean to Cruz now, although polling in either state is sparse.
The bottom line on the race for the GOP nomination is that Trump’s ability to convert his frontrunner status to first ballot nominee is still unknown.
Politico made a more definitive prognostication that predicted Republican chaos if Trump did not win both Florida and Ohio:
But if Trump doesn’t win both states [Florida and Ohio], the GOP is likely to find itself in Cleveland with no candidate above the 1,237-delegate majority needed to claim the nomination. If that happens, the Republican Party’s own rules lock in a quagmire in Cleveland—and likely a multi-ballot, no-holds-barred convention.
Kasich’s win in Ohio, however, does not mean Trump cannot win the nomination on a first ballot. Whether he will be able to secure a first ballot victory is a matter to be determined week by week as he, Cruz, and Kasich slug it out in the remaining states, each of which has unique circumstances and its own delegate selection process.
In other words, expect hand-to-hand combat in each state as Trump, Cruz, and Kasich exhaust every effort to secure every last possible delegate between now and the July 18 convention.