Show Me, Says Missouri, <br>After Which It’s Florida, <br>Where Die Could Be Cast
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
If Donald Trump does not win the Florida primary on March 15, Senator Cruz would become the presumptive GOP nominee. A loss by Mr. Trump would mean Messrs. Rubio or Cruz was a winner. A Rubio win would be a so-what for Mr. Rubio, because it is his home state, and because, even with 99 more delegates, he would still lag well behind the front runners.
For Mr. Trump, a Rubio win would be devastating. First, Mr. Trump would have blown a 20-point lead in the polls from late February, which would amount to campaign malpractice or a catastrophic collapse in his organic support. Already, the gap has narrowed by more than half in today’s Monmouth poll.
Second, it would demonstrate that anti-Trump advertising has the potential to sink him. So the anti-Trump forces, who are spending millions at Florida, would double their efforts going forward. With Mr. Trump severely hobbled and under ongoing attack and Mr. Rubio ever the laggard, Mr. Cruz could become unstoppable.
If Mr. Cruz won, it would have the same ramifications for Mr. Trump, but of such enormously greater dimension that it would be fatal to Mr. Trump. For Mr. Rubio, it would mean the immediate end of his campaign, no explanation needed. With these two eliminated, Mr. Cruz would have no competition left and he would cruise to the nomination.
Evidently, the possibility of winning the nomination in a fell swoop has become so tempting that the Cruz campaign has decided to open ten offices at Florida, as first reported by Politico three days ago. This bet by the Cruz campaign is predicated on the belief that the anti-Trump advertising onslaught will damage Mr. Trump badly and that the failure of the Rubio campaign so far has transformed the Rubio race into a lost cause.
Nevertheless, it is a huge bet, since with a week to go Mr. Cruz is well behind in the polls at Florida. It is a big, expensive bet, as befits a state like Florida. While Mr. Cruz will be as much the beneficiary of the anti-Trump advertising as Mr. Rubio, he still have to steer voters to his candidacy, not just away from Mr. Trump. Politico reports that the Cruz SuperPAC, “Keep the Promise,” plans to launch an ad campaign in Florida.
So, ten offices, advertising. Still to be seen is whether Mr. Cruz will mount the expensive voter outreach and get-out-the-vote operations necessary to close the double-digit leads of Messrs. Trump and Rubio in just eight days. Yet, these efforts are likely, else why the ten offices? Is the bet covered? If you bet big on the upside, you like to cover your downside. Has the Cruz campaign covered its downside?
Yes, because some of the protection is built in. No one expects Mr. Cruz to win Florida, so he has no downside in the expectations game. So far, the Cruz campaign is keeping it that way. Politico reported that the Cruz campaign has “not publicly announced plans” to campaign at Florida ahead of the primary.
Also covering the bet is the fact that the geography of the four big winner-takes-all contests on March 15 favors the Texas senator in respect of the fact that there is one contest where Mr. Cruz would seem to be favored and where he is unlikely to have any competition: Missouri.
The Show Me State is surrounded by states in which Mr. Cruz has won or placed a close second. Presumably, Missouri is similar to its neighbors. It is unlikely that any of the Texas Senator’s three competitors can afford to spend any time in Missouri, since, for them, the contests in Florida and Ohio are absolute must-wins. So, Mr. Cruz is quite likely to win Missouri, and come out of the March 15 primaries with a minimum of one win and 52 delegates.
At least, the Cruz campaign should be doing everything to ensure this win in order to cover the Texas Senator’s downside. Much of the Missouri logic applies also, though to a lesser degree, to the fourth winner-takes-all contest on the 15, Illinois (69 delegates), which neighbors Missouri. So, the upside is cinching the nomination, the downside is claiming at least one win and a big block of delegates.
Tomorrow, there are four contests with 150 delegates at stake. They are comparatively inconsequential, both collectively and individually, because delegates will be awarded proportionately. All the candidates will collect delegates, but none will win so many as to make for a dramatic story or to change the course of the GOP race. The one exception is Michigan which has special importance for Governor Kasich, who must make a good showing as a lead-up to his must-win home state contest one week later. If he fares poorly in neighboring Michigan, Ohio and its 66 delegates will be up for grabs.
Thereafter, all eyes will be on the Sunshine State, which may determine the outcome of the entire GOP nomination race. If Mr. Cruz wins, he will be the nominee. If Mr. Rubio wins, Mr. Cruz becomes the heavy favorite. If Mr. Trump wins, the race becomes a two-man race, with Mr. Trump the almost prohibitive favorite.