Nevada & South Carolina Post Mortem
Nevada first because it’s simpler:
Good but not great news for Hillary. She pulled out the win – and although it was still close, it was a lot less close than I would have expected. She absolutely needed to win. But she really, really wanted to win by a much larger margin. But, as they say, a win is a win.
Oddly, I also think it’s good but not great news for Sanders. In January Clinton had a 20+ point lead in Nevada. On Saturday she one by a mere 5.3 points. He didn’t quite get below the 5 point margin I claimed would be a huge win for him – but he kept it close to that. The Democratic primaries are almost all proportional, so by continuing to keep the race close he still racks up delegates. But sooner or later he’s going to have to actually win. I continue to think that he’ll eventually pull it out. The evidence is there for a preference cascade. The question for Sanders is whether it’s too little, too late.
A further data point: there’s evidence that the Clinton campaign is running into a fundraising wall. She’s been reliant on big donors contributing the maximum allowed, but there are only so many people who can contribute $2700 to a political campaign. Evidently she’s already hit them all up. If Clinton runs low on cash halfway through this thing and Sanders keeps up his smashing success with small donors, the race could get very interesting in a few weeks.
At dead last, Carson hit his worst case scenario. Why he’s still in the race is beyond me. Kasich didn’t hit either his best or worst case scenario. He avoided “dead last,” but couldn’t quite beat out Jeb. He’ll most likely limp along through March 15th to see if he can win Ohio. Unless he runs out of money.
The reports aren’t saying it yet, but Jeb ran out of money. Count on it. As I noted last week, that was the only reason he’d actually be out yet if he didn’t fall behind Kasich. Good riddance. I’m not interested in a hereditary monarchy.
Cruz hit what I laid out as his second-worst case scenario. If he can’t beat Rubio in a state as heavily evangelical as South Carolina, it’s extremely difficult to see where he does win. His path to the nomination is not looking good. He’s got the money and organization to hang in for a good while – and a few upcoming states, such as Texas, still look good for him.
But a win in his home state is unlikely to revitalize his campaign, and even there the trend is running the wrong direction. He needs more, and it’s hard to see where he gets it at this point. Also, he’s not polling anywhere close to high enough to hit the 50% threshold for winner-take-all status, which means that Trump and/or Rubio is likely to rack up a fair amount of delegates here as well. None of the other Super Tuesday states where he’s polling well have recent enough polls to be reliable. Super Tuesday simply isn’t looking good for him.
Rubio came very close to his second-best scenario. The finish order wasn’t quite what I laid out yesterday (Kasich couldn’t beat out Bush) but the end result was what Rubio needed: Jeb out of the race.
Rubio gets Bush’s donors… or does he? There are reports that the Republican megadonors are gun shy after seeing how little their money did for Jeb. Some are saying that they plan to sit out the rest of the race. Others are merely reluctant and may eventually cut Rubio his checks.
And Rubio get’s Bush’s voters, right? Well… maybe not. It’s unclear where they go, but it seems to be a given that they won’t go 100% to Rubio. A USA Today/Suffolk poll shows them actually going heaviest for Kasich – and both Trump and Cruz do nearly as well as Rubio. That’s just not enough for Rubio, in the end.
Still, this was about as well as Rubio could’ve reasonably expected to do this weekend.
And what can we say about Donald Trump? He got the best win order he could’ve hoped for. But Jeb still dropped out and that’s not great for him. On the other hand, it’s not as terrible as many make it out to be. For one, see above about Jeb’s voters. For another, though, it’s one more challenger gone. In a way, it’s very like a reality show: each round, you want to not be the guy voted off the island, and this is one more round that Trump survived – and held onto his lead.
He also managed to pull of something I absolutely didn’t expect: he very well might have won all of South Carolina’s delegates. And if not, he got very nearly all of them. That’s 4% of the delegates needed to win all in one go, and that’s definitely a good night for him. Also, the media is very much solidifying on the “Trump is front runner” narrative. That’s also good for him. Ignore the cross tabs. At the end of the day, everyone wants to root for either the underdog or the winner. Trump can make a reasonable claim now at both.
Also, both Cruz and Rubio did well enough to keep them in the race a while longer. And the only thing better for Trump than both of them dropping out is both of them staying in. The Republican Nevada Caucus is tomorrow, and although the polling there is likely to still be sketchy it’s also looking very good for him. He’s got room for Cruz and Rubio to both overperform and still not be able to touch him. The only way Nevada is even news tomorrow is if Trump doesn’t win.
Otherwise, he’s looking strong going into Super Tuesday next week. Massachusetts looks terrific for him, and Georgia, Minnesota and Oklahoma are all looking good.
FiveThirtyEight.com shows Virginia looking rough for him in their polls-plus model – but their polls-only model shows it looking quite good for him, and so far this cycle it seems to have been the better predictor. Virginia is commonly thought of as the hardest state to get on the primary ballot for, due to the number of signatures involved. Trump was the first candidate to file. We can thus expect his organization and ground game there to be one of the better ones he has, and that will help him.
Texas is honestly looking good for Cruz… but not so good that he can afford to ignore it. And the Texas polls are a month out of date now. Don’t be surprised if they change between now and Super Tuesday.
TL;DR: Both Clinton and Sanders did well but neither did as well as they’d have liked. Cruz had a bad night. Rubio had a good night, but probably not good enough. Trump’s night wasn’t absolutely perfect… but was pretty darn close.