Post-Super Tuesday Delegate Math Does Not Favor Cruz

The blue states that vote next have more power in the presidential contest than solidly Republican ones.

Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas gives a speech in Henderson, Nevada, February 21
Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas gives a speech in Henderson, Nevada, February 21 (Gage Skidmore)

After winning three state contests and 213 delegates on “Super Tuesday” earlier this week, Texas senator Ted Cruz is claiming he is now the best candidate to stop businessman Donald Trump from seizing the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

Except the states that vote next don’t look favorable to Cruz.

Among the ones that vote later this month are Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio — not the sort of places where Cruz’ uncompromising conservatism plays very well.

It gets even worse for him. Under Republican Party rules, some of these states, which will almost certainly vote for the Democratic candidate in November, send proportionately more delegates to the convention than deep-red states in the South.

As long as Cruz splits the anti-Trump vote with Ohio governor John Kasich and Florida senator Marco Rubio, both of whom will be hoping to win their home states, racking up delegates is what matters. Assuming Trump, who is despised by many in the Republican Party and even most in the broader conservative movement, fails to win a majority of the delegates beforehand, the convention will be contested — and could nominate anyone.

Delegate rules

Part of the reason why “blue” states like Illinois and New York have more influence in the Republican presidential contest is simply that they are more populous than, say, Alabama or Kansas. A bigger population means more delegates.

But the rules are also skewed in their favor, as FiveThirtyEight has reported.

Just one in five Republican senators and only one in ten Republican congressmen are from states and districts that voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Yet those same states have more delegates at stake in the presidential race: 1,247 against 1,166 from states that Mitt Romney won for the Republicans that year.

This explains why Republicans have selected relatively moderate presidential nominees while the party’s members in Congress have continued to veer right.

The Republican National Committee allows state parties to decide whether to award their delegates on a winner-takes-all or on a proportionate basis. Most opt for the latter.

Proportionate selection can simply be done according to the statewide result. Virginia is one of the states that does this. Donald Trump won 35 percent of the votes there on Tuesday, so he got 35 percent of the delegates: seventeen out of 49.

But states can also take the winner in each congressional district into account when allocating their delegates.

That’s where it get interesting.

Under the rules, three delegates must be at stake in every district, no matter their population or partisan lopsidedness.

As a result, a district in the multicultural Bronx of New York City, which gave just 5,315 votes to Romney in 2012, has as much power in the presidential primary as the whitest suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama where 233,803 residents voted for Romney.

832 delegates, about a third of the total, will be awarded based on the results at the district level. FiveThirtyEight has calculated that the average blue district allocates one delegate per 28,912 Romney voters while the average red district allocates one delegate for every 56,714 Romney voters.

Put another way, a Republican voter in the average blue district has nearly twice as much power in the presidential primary as his or her counterpart in the average conservative district.

This might explain why Rubio, who has only won a single contest so far, and Kasich, who has won none, are not suspending their campaigns. Not only are their counting on wins in their home states; they are hoping to take advantage of delegate rules that benefit a candidate with centrist appeal.

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