The Law of Unintended Consequences

When the Republicans re-wrote the rules for 2016, they shortened the proportionality window — from a full month to two weeks.  That led to several states with Republican legislatures and Republican governors opting for a March 15 primary date — the first day on which Republican state parties can hold a primary that does not follow the proportionality rules.  In particular, the Florida Republican Party (listening to suggestions from the Bush and Rubio campaigns) opted for a winner-take-all primary.  What looked great in 2014 and early 2015, now looks quite differently after last night’s results.

Despite having two more wins to his credit than John Kasich, Marco Rubio is looking like dead Senator walking.  not reaching 20% in a single state.  Florida was designed by the party establishment to create a firewall for Bush or Rubio against someone like Ted Cruz who would do well in some of the other Southern states.  Instead, the most recent polling is showing the Republican party hopelessly fragmented with Trump liking to get another first place finish with less than 40% of the vote.

Right now, as things stand after last night, Trump has less than half of the delegates (getting 73 out of 150 delegates last night).  If Republicans used similar rules to the Democrats, the convention would be looking hopelessly deadlocked and nobody would have any incentive to withdraw.  Instead, Trump is looking at three winner-take-all primaries (Arizona, Florida, and Ohio) and one winner-take-most primary (Missouri) over the next two weeks.  Trump could all but wrap up the Republican nomination if he wins all four.  On the other hand, if somehow Cruz or Rubio can unify the anti-Trump forces in Florida and Kasich can unify the anti-Trump forces in Ohio and all three can micro-target individual districts in Missouri, then the Republicans will be very likely looking at a deadlocked convention.

The Democratic race is an entirely different situation.  Last night, Senator Sanders continued his trend of doing just enough to stay alive.  Right now Senator Sanders is 217 pledged delegates behind Secretary Clinton.  At this point in 2008 (one week after Super Tuesday), Secretary Clinton was effectively 17 delegates behind President Obama.  For the rest of the campaign, while Secretary Clinton was able to get some wins in some states, most of the wins were either narrow or offset by an equally big loss, and Secretary Clinton was unable to close the gap any.

While the primary race is a lot less front-loaded this cycle, last night is a perfect example of the type of win that Senator Sanders is unable to afford.  We do not yet have final numbers from Michigan, but it is looking like Senator Sanders is going to get 67 or 68 delegates from Michigan out of 130.  Giving Senator Sanders the benefit of the doubt, he gained a total of 6 delegates from Michigan while losing Mississippi by about 28 delegates.  There are currently 35 contests left.    If Sanders averages a 6 delegate margin in every contest left, he would still trail Secretary Clinton by 7 delegates.  (To date, Senator Sanders’s best delegate margin has been 16 delegates.  In the nine states that he has won, he has netted a total of 83 delegates, an average of about 9 delegates per contest.  To overtake Secretary Clinton at that rate, he would need to win at least 25 of the remaining 35 contests.  While the mix of remaining contests may be slightly more favorable to Senator Sanders than the mix in the first 22 contests, the mix is not quite that favorable.)

The results in Michigan mean that the Democratic race is not yet over.  The results in Mississippi, however, show how difficult it will be for Senator Sanders to significantly change the path of this race.

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