Ted Cruz’s faint hopes for a first-ballot Republican convention victory are all but mathematically impossible, thanks to Donald Trump’s landslide New York win Tuesday.
The senator from Texas, reeling from a bruising third-place finish, now needs to win almost every delegate awarded in upcoming primaries to reach the 1,237 needed for nomination at the July convention.
Cruz was in danger of getting shut out in the crucial New York delegate race. Trump won 89 of the 95 delegates. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio picked up three.
Trump now has 845 delegates. Cruz has 559 and Kasich 147.
With 98.5 percent of the votes in New York’s precincts counted, Trump had more than 60 percent of the vote, overwhelming Kasich, who had about 25 percent, and Cruz, who had about 15 percent.
“If Cruz even had a faint glimmer of hope of winning on a first ballot, the results in New York tonight will extinguish it,” said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University.
The Cruz camp insisted that a big Trump victory did not make a first-ballot win for the senator unreachable.
“The numbers add up,” said Alice Stewart, Cruz communications director, without providing specific numbers. Asked whether Cruz could win on the first ballot, she said, “We’re not going to get into the prediction game.”
Speaking about Trump, she said, “It doesn’t make it where he automatically wins on the first ballot.”
Not at all, and Trump still has a challenge to obtain a majority of delegates before the convention.
Cruz’s chance of a first ballot victory is long gone.
Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University
But Cruz’s prospects aren’t bright in many of the remaining contests. Next Tuesday features primaries in Maryland, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, where polls show him far behind Trump. Nor is Cruz expected to do well in the other two states voting that day, Delaware and Rhode Island.
His best hope in those states rests with blocs of active conservative voters who turn out in bigger numbers than centrists. But that’s a long shot.
“Most Republicans in Maryland are more moderate,” said Steve Raabe, president of OpinionWorks, an Annapolis-based research and strategy firm. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, is extremely popular in heavily Democratic Maryland, largely because of his moderate views.
Pennsylvania probably has the best possibilities for Cruz. Fifty-four delegate candidates run without being identified as to whom they’re supporting on the ballot. They’ll be unbound on the first ballot, among the few in any state who are not obligated to vote for specific candidates. The remaining 17 delegates, chosen by the party in a May meeting, are bound on first ballot to the state winner.
“I think Cruz will be successful in some places,” said Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Chester County Republican Committee, a county north of Philadelphia, who is not endorsing a candidate. “Cruz is playing the game smarter, going to where the delegates are.”
If Trump wins the state, as polls now suggest, Cruz faces an even grimmer path forward in primaries. The post-Tuesday math dilutes one of his key arguments, that a vote for him is the only way to stop Trump.
“Two weeks ago the argument Cruz people were making was that as long as Kasich was in, Cruz couldn’t get to 1,237,” said John McKinney, former Connecticut state Senate Republican leader. “Now the argument is that he needs to get to a second ballot.”
These are states for us.
Alice Stewart, Cruz communications director, on upcoming primaries
The Republican campaign will now move in two directions. Cruz will keep targeting convention delegates loyal to Trump on the first ballot, aiming to convert them into second-ballot supporters. No GOP convention has gone to a second ballot since 1948.
Trump will keep pushing hard to win remaining primaries so he can head for the Cleveland convention claiming he’s the inevitable, popular choice. The more the numbers look grim for Cruz, the more Trump can claim momentum.
“It’s hard for me to imagine how somebody who carried only a few states and is several hundred delegates short can demand to leap over the person who got more votes,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Trump supporter.
The next big battleground for Cruz is Indiana on May 3. After next Tuesday, the state’s 57 delegates are the most any remaining state will award except for California’s 172.
“We’re doing well there,” Stewart said. “Based on our tracking, we’re in good shape to do well . . . because we have momentum behind us and support of grass-roots conservatives.”
Then come the rest, and after June 7, the date of the final GOP primaries?
Trump “will have six weeks to do deals with unpledged delegates – and Cruz will have six weeks to stop him,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
California and four other states vote June 7, and the GOP convention in Cleveland starts six weeks later.