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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Breaking down the GOP's Super Tuesday map

A state-by-state look at the day that will define the rest of the Republican primary.

Ben Carson, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich


Super Tuesday could cripple every Republican presidential candidate not named Donald Trump.

The best-case scenario for Trump would put him far ahead of his rivals in the race for delegates, and polls have him competitive almost everywhere that Republicans are voting. But even if he stumbles, Trump leaves Super Tuesday with enough delegates to remain at the front of the race.
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Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson all lack that luxury. Rubio revived establishment hopes with an aggressive debate performance on Thursday, but a weak finish this week would leave him hobbled heading into his must-win home state of Florida on March 15. Cruz is hoping his brand of conservatism will resonate in the seven Southern states that will dole out the largest share of delegates, but polls show Trump uncomfortably close even in Texas, where even Cruz allies admit a loss would be disastrous. Kasich is holding out for Ohio later in March, but if he doesn’t outperform his polls, he’ll struggle to make the case that he’s a national candidate. And even Carson’s allies are suggesting that, barring a miracle, Super Tuesday is likely the end of the line.

There are about 600 delegates are up for grabs, more than a quarter of all delegates that will be handed out throughout the primary. Though every state is required by party rules to divide those delegates proportionally, rules setting minimum thresholds could end up shutting out Cruz or Rubio if they fall even narrowly short.

Here's a breakdown of each Super Tuesday state and the dynamics in play:

Alabama primary; 50 delegates
Don't be fooled by Gov. Robert Bentley's endorsement of his colleague John Kasich. This is conservative country. It's the home of immigration hardliner Jeff Sessions, whose endorsement has been courted by both Cruz and Trump. There have been few polls of the largely rural state, but Trump dominated the most recent one, a December poll funded by state lawmakers that showed Trump with a 20-point edge over Cruz.

Brent Buchanan, an unaligned Republican strategist in Alabama, said he expects the state to mirror the results of South Carolina: a strong Trump win, and a Rubio second-place finish. Buchanan noted that Rubio just earned the endorsement of 31 state lawmakers and Cruz pulled out of an Alabama forum set for Saturday, though Rubio still plans to attend. Anecdotally, he said, energy for Cruz has slid. It could leave Cruz empty-handed if he fails to reach 20 percent support in the state, the minimum threshold for receiving delegates.

Alaska caucuses; 28 delegates
The Alaska caucuses are virtually invisible. The low-population state is so far out of the way, few candidates devoted much time there. One potential factor: Sarah Palin. A longtime Cruz ally, Palin endorsed Trump last month. In a small state like Alaska, where Palin was governor before her vice presidential run in 2008, an endorsement could carry weight. The only poll that included Trump, taken in early January, showed a close race between the mogul and Cruz.

Arkansas primary; 40 delegates
One of the few obvious opportunities on the map for non-Trump candidates is here. The only recent poll shows Cruz with a narrow lead and a second-place tie between Trump and Rubio. Rubio is the beneficiary of a recent endorsement by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, part of a wave of establishment support he received after Jeb Bush dropped out of the race last weekend. Trump has spent time here, though. He held a rally shortly before the New Hampshire primary and he returned Saturday for a rally in Bentonville. He also recently hired Sarah Huckabee, daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, as a senior communications adviser.

Georgia primary; 76 delegates
Donald Trump holds massive leads over his rivals in recent polls of Georgia, the second-largest prize on Super Tuesday. It may be the reason that Trump will spend his night of the week in Valdosta. The state also has a 20 percent support threshold for doling out delegates, a dangerous dynamic for Cruz and Rubio who have both floated around that level in recent polls. Rubio recently opened his first office in the state, though Trump and Cruz have had a presence there for a while.

Massachusetts primary; 42 delegates
Trump is poised to run away with a win in Massachusetts. The main question is by how much. A resounding victory that features buy-in from the state's significant contingent of blue-collar, Reagan Democrat/independent voters is already spooking Democrats about Trump's strength for the general election. It's also bad news for Kasich, whose team and supporters hoped his second-place finish in New Hampshire would come with Massachusetts coattails. Kasich is expected to get crushed in the South and hasn't had the resources to build much of an organization, so he's been counting on victories on less conservative turf to carry him through Super Tuesday. He won't find much shelter here though. He will, however, likely pick up a few delegates. The state distributes delegates to any candidate that receives more than 5 percent of the vote.

Minnesota caucuses; 38 delegates
The only Midwestern state on the calendar Tuesday, Minnesota will be a true wildcard. Trump reportedly has limited organization in the state, and the most recent poll there actually puts Rubio and Cruz in a statistical tie with Trump. That might explain Rubio's recent visit there. He's in search of any state to notch an outright win, so he's not swept on Super Tuesday as he was in the early states. Rubio received endorsements last week from two prominent Minnesota Republicans, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Sen. Norm Coleman. Trump didn't schedule any time in Minnesota over the past week, as he barnstormed the South.

State GOP chairman Keith Downey said Minnesota is one of the few mysteries on the map. He's urged party officials to prepare for up to twice their record-level of turnout reached in 2008. "I think Cruz, Rubio and Trump might be a little more bunched together in Minnesota, similar to Iowa," he said. Downey added that Trump, of late, has begun assembling a field team that could help him corral more votes on Tuesday.

Oklahoma primary; 43 delegates
Oklahoma is looking like the "bragging rights" state. That's the way Party Chairwoman Pam Pollard sees it. Pollard noted that Oklahoma, one of three most conservative states in the country, also holds the first totally "closed" primaries -- meaning only voters who registered as Republicans by Feb. 5 can cast ballots. Earlier states and even other Super Tuesday states allow some crossover voting by Democrats or voting by independents.

That means, the winner here can demonstrate he won a stte in which only "Republicans voted for Republicans." That might explain the late flurry of activity here. Trump was in Oklahoma City on Friday, and Pollard said Rubio would be in the state for two stops on Monday. Cruz, she said, had visited three times and would be back again before Tuesday's primary.

Polls have shown Trump holding a solid but potentially surmountable lead. The Oklahoman poll put Trump ahead with 29 percent support to Rubio's 21 percent. According to the State Elections Board, as of Friday afternoon, mail-in absentee ballots in Oklahoma hit 13,600, already significantly outpacing the 10,500 in 2012, and early voting hit 15,700, already beating 2012's 14,500

Tennessee primary; 58 delegates
The state -- whose elongated geography drew candidates due to its overlap with media markets in a slew of surrounding states -- is something of an ideological mystery. The state's governor, Bill Haslam, was reelected resoundingly in 2014, but he drew ire from conservatives during a failed attempt to expand Medicaid. Haslam endorsed Rubio last week. An MTSU poll taken in mid-January showed Trump lapping the field with 33 percent to Cruz's 17 percent, though more than a quarter of voters were still undecided.

Texas primary; 155 delegates
This is must-win turf for Cruz. In fact, anything other than a huge victory would be a problem for his campaign. Cruz's path to the nomination revolves around dominance in the South, starting in his home state. If he doesn't come away from Super Tuesday with a delegate lead, it will raise enormous questions about his viability going forward. Absent that kind of showing, his best hope may be a divided electorate that sends the contest to a floor fight at the July convention. Cruz has shown strength in recent polls, leading by double digits in a new Monmouth University survey.

The state party requires a 20 percent threshold of support for candidates to receive delegates. Trump and Cruz may be the only two who come away with delegates if current polling trends hold.

Vermont primary; 16 delegates
The tiniest pot of delegates up for grabs Tuesday, Vermont hasn't gotten much attention. But Trump did hold a rally here in January, and Kasich has argued that like Massachusetts, this generally liberal state could be a pickup opportunity for a more moderate candidate. The state's only recent poll tells a different story. Trump is dominant, and trailed distantly by a second-place Rubio. If these, as well as Massachusetts poll results hold, Kasich could come away winless on the day. The state only doles out delegates to candidates who earn 20 percent support or more -- meaning Trump could shut out his rivals if he holds his large lead.

Virginia primary; 49 delegates
Donald Trump held a double-digit lead over Rubio and Cruz here in recent polls of the state. But the state's impact will be diluted because it doesn't have a delegate threshold, ensuring that even lower-performing candidates will come away with a share of delegates. Kasich made three stops here last week, and his team has cast Virginia as a state where he could prove sneaky-strong, but polls don't bear that out. A Roanoke College poll out Friday gives Trump a 23-point edge over Cruz, who is statistically tied with Rubio. Carson and Kasich lag the field with just 8 percent support apiece.

Wyoming convention; 29 delegates
No drama here. Wyoming will send its 29 delegates to the July convention unbound. It holds no presidential preference poll or vote of any kind, a decision shared only by North Dakota and Guam. If the Republican convention becomes a first-ballot nail-biter, these unbound delegates could help tip the balance.


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