The nomination requires 1,237 delegates. A heavy percentage of those delegates are located in blue states – states more unfriendly to Cruz’s message than Rubio’s.
So here’s the road for Cruz to the nomination.
He needs to finish in the top three in New Hampshire, which is probable at this point. Then he needs to move forward and win South Carolina. From there, he needs to clean up with purple states.
Approximately 1037 delegates come from heavy red states that should favor Cruz, but just 115 of those delegates are apportioned based on a winner-take-all system. 531 delegates come from district-by-district apportioned systems; 309 come from proportional representation states. Cruz should win these states overwhelmingly; if he does, his ceiling could be approximately 800 delegates.
In the purple states, 162 delegates come from winner-take-all systems; another 116 come from proportional representation states, and 46 come from district-by-district selections. Cruz has already won Iowa. The other states include Nevada, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia – and Rubio’s competitive in Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Ohio. Assuming best-case outcome, Cruz walks away with just over 100 delegates.
Which brings us to the blue states. There are 778 delegates to be allocated in these states. Cruz would have to win just over 200 of them. That’s doable, if difficult – Cruz probably needs to win California in order to take that many delegates overall.
Cruz is well-positioned here, assuming that Donald Trump begins to fade after New Hampshire in favor of Cruz; if Trump doesn’t, Cruz could still face trouble before we hit the late-breaking blue states that cut in favor of Rubio and Trump. Of course, if Trump stays in the race, he could prevent Rubio from winning delegates in the late states, too – he’s more likely to challenge Rubio in Florida and New York, for example, than Cruz in Texas.
If Trump wins victories, we could actually be looking at a brokered convention. But at this point, you’d have to assume that Cruz is the frontrunner.
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