Cruz, Not Trump, Has Shot to Beat Clinton
Posted on March 25, 2016 by Palmer Gibbs
On the heels of a split set of primary victories on so-called Western Tuesday, the remaining five presidential hopefuls are all still very much alive and kicking. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump continue to hold firm leads in their respective party’s overall delegate count, but the race is far from wrapped up.
Clinton and Trump both won the Arizona primary on Tuesday, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders nabbed victories in the Idaho and Utah Democratic caucuses, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Republican caucus in Utah. After those results, per the Associated Press delegate tracker, Clinton is in the lead for the Democratic nomination with 1,690 total delegates, while Sanders has 946 total delegates. Among the Republicans, Trump has 739 delegates, Cruz has 465 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has 143. These are all estimated figures based on primary and caucus results; delegate counts won’t actually be official until each party’s nominating conventions this summer.
Clinton vs. Cruz
As the visualization below shows, the Clinton-Cruz matchup has the potential to be a tight race. While Clinton had a strong lead for most of 2015, the race tightened in late fall, with Cruz riding his slow-and-steady climb to an exact tie on Jan. 3, 2016.
Cruz maintained a minimal lead for the next 11 weeks, according to polling data from RealClearPolitics. But in the last few days, Clinton has edged up slightly as Cruz has dipped. As of March 24, it’s a three-point race, with Clinton at 46.7 percent and Cruz at 43.8 percent.
This may reflect some of the shifting attitudes toward Cruz among Republicans. The first-term Texas lawmaker is a well-known Washington outsider with few friends among his Senate colleagues. Utah Sen. Mike Lee recently became the first senator to endorse Cruz, doing so on March 10.
Since then, other more establishment-type Republicans have announced their support for Cruz. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, said he would vote for Cruz in the Utah caucuses. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed his previous primary rival Cruz on March 23.
And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a one-time presidential candidate who described the choice between Trump and Cruz “like being shot or poisoned,” recently threw his support behind Cruz, hosting a fundraiser for Cruz on March 21. When asked about the change of heart on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” Graham quipped: “He was my 15th choice. What can I say?”
Clinton vs. Trump
When it comes to a one-on-one matchup between Clinton and Trump, Clinton has maintained her lead. They were closest in early December 2015, and were within about five points of each other during the first two months of 2016. But in mid-March, Clinton started to climb as Trump faltered. As of March 24, Clinton was at 50 percent and Trump is at 38.8 percent.
Trump has found much success this election with a campaign that centers on the intersection of fear and frustration about immigration, the economy and national security. After the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, for example, Trump reiterated his support for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and for enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.
Trump’s recent dip might have something to do with louder and louder chatter about a contested convention, or about a potential third-party challenger if the businessman wins the nomination. Although Trump has gotten some support from Republicans, many within the party are adamantly against him. At least one group of influential conservatives is reportedly plotting a third-party challenge should Trump become the GOP nominee.
And Kasich, who is far behind in the delegate count but remains in the race, said after winning his home state’s primary: “We are going to go all the way to Cleveland and secure the Republican nomination.” Cleveland is the site of the Republican convention in July, and Kasich’s comment is a not-so-veiled indicator that he’s pinning his hopes on a contested convention, a rare occurrence where delegates pick their preferred candidate at the party meeting.
For Democrats, the next big day on the voting calendar is Saturday, March 26, when 172 total delegates are up for grabs during the caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. On April 5, Republicans and Democrats will head to the polls for the Wisconsin primary.
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