Tag Archives: cruz

Once more unto the Super-Tuesday breach…

S3

Well, last Tuesday we had New York with 291 delegates on the Democratic side, and today five Northeastern states are up at once with a combined 462 more. This looks like one of those rare times that the preferences of the East Coast will have a major effect on choices the nation makes-28% of all the delegates left in the rest of the race will be chosen by this time tomorrow. Here’s where things stand:

Democrats

First off, hoo-boy was I wrong! I said last week that I thought there were signs that Bernie Sanders was going to do better in New York than the polling seemed to indicate. In fact, he got shellacked in New York 58%-42%, a proportion pretty much matching what the polling averages were indicating.

Looking back, I would say that, whatever traces I thought I was sniffing, I should have been a good data-head and really crunched the numbers, because I was badly under-estimating the effect of New York being a closed primary. It’s been observed that Sanders has drawn a lot of his support from voters who register Independent, who can participate in states that have open primaries, but can’t in states with closed primaries. Indeed, if you crunch the numbers on averages of non-Southern open primaries vs. closed primaries, you find the following:

OVC

Sanders wins a narrow majority of total votes in open primaries, but has lost the closed primaries 47-53. All five of today’s states have closed or semi-closed primaries, which means Sanders will not be picking up cross-over voters. Thus, you can probably take the polls that show him facing double-digit losses in Maryland & Pennsylvania at face value. His best bets for the night look like Connecticut and Rhode Island, where he’s narrowly behind:

Conn

RI

If he ends up 0-5 on a night when 28% of the remaining delegates are up, that’s not going to silence the voices calling for him to admit the game is up. Narrowly winning 2 of the smaller states, both from his native New England, won’t either. He’ll certainly have the money and the enthusiastic base of supporters to stay in until the end. There’s even an open primary coming up next week, Indiana, and he remains within striking distance in polling of the largest state of all, California. And a decent argument can be made that he should stay in for the good of his movement, and democracy in general. But in terms of realistic chances, the New York blowout made his already up-hill shot even steeper, and tonight is liable to make it steeper still.

Republicans

In a certain sense, the Republican side is much clearer, and in a certain sense, it’s murky as %$#@. After a very strong New York last week, Trump is showing solid leads in all five states tonight, and the Republican delegate rules are liable to expand his haul even further.

But behind the scenes, Cruz continues to have a much better ground game for the nuts and bolts of picking up delegates that are still being chosen in state conventions even after the voting has ended. In the current Republican game of delegate-by-delegate attrition, in which a Trump who hasn’t reached the required 1,237 delegates by the convention could have serious problems thereafter, every bit counts.

And then there’s the alliance! Cruz and Kasich are strategically agreeing to stay out of each other’s way in several of the remaining contests. This may indeed be too little, too late, but it does stand a decent shot of handing Cruz Indiana next week, and getting Kasich several Western States. If it does work, Cruz getting all 57 of the winner-take-all delegates next week could seriously complicate Trump’s remaining math. If it doesn’t, that 57 plus his haul from tonight will probably put Trump on track to get close enough to the 1,237 that the game is, effectively, over.

Stay tuned!

Advertisements

Election 2016: The Empire State is About to Strike…

empire

After a blessed break from writing about this blasted campaign for a few weeks, we are now entering what could be a vital stage of the primaries. New York votes tomorrow, with a significant portion of the remaining delegates at stake for both parties. This is followed next week by a truly super Tuesday in which Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all vote on the same day. The (North)East Coast is about to have its say! How are things looking on the eve of all of this?

Democrats

Bernie Sanders is coming off of a very strong month. Counting the finalization of the Democrats Abroad Primary results on March 21st, and the primaries and caucuses held between March 22nd and April 9th he’s won 8 out of 9. Am I really going to continue my Sanderskepticism in the face of this winning streak?

Well, I will merely observe the following. Here is where the delegate-count currently stands in terms of pledged delegates:

count

And here’s where the cumulative vote total stands:

cummulative

One could point out that this includes the earlier Southern States where Clinton prevailed by a total margin of 67%-33%, and that Sanders has actually won a (albeit slim) majority of the vote in all other states. One could alternately point out that this included many caucuses, where the enthusiasm of Sanders supporters may have given them outsized influence, and there is only one caucus left in the schedule from now through June. Taking the average of the 11 non-Southern primaries, thus theoretically eliminating the pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders distortions, it’s nearly 50-50:

5050.PNG

One could counter that Sanders doesn’t need to get enough delegates to clinch the nomination. He could arrive at the convention with more than Clinton, and make a reasonable appeal to the Superdelegates that they should support him instead. Okay. Here are the delegates left, and the minimum percentage Sanders would have to win in order to arrive at the convention with more delegates than Clinton:

remaining.PNG

This would get him there with 2,182 to her 2,168. Anything less than winning 56% of all remaining delegates, she arrives at the convention with more delegates, and the lead in the popular vote. If he does something like what he’s done so far (splitting it 51/49) in the remaining primaries, they’ll get there with Clinton 2,265 and Sanders 2,085. She would need Superdelegates to win on the first ballot, but less than a quarter of them. Whatever the valid Fall strategy argument may or may not be, no self-respecting Sanders supporter, myself included, would argue in a reverse case (Sanders ahead in votes and delegates) that it would be okay if the Superdelegates nominated Clinton instead. Barring a startling departure in the remaining primaries, the Democratic primary voters have decided.

All this being said, I do think Sanders is going to do much better in New York than expected. Current polling averages have it here:

NY

Meanwhile, however, national polling shows Sanders has pulled nearly even with Clinton:

national

New York is a very large, very diverse state, and one would be surprised to find that it’s Democratic electorate was markedly different from the National Democratic electorate as a whole. Given this kind of disparity between state and national polling, in the absence of something more precise, we might split the difference, and expect it to be something more like Clinton winning by 7%.

Consider also 538.com’s analysis from a few months back of how you would expect Sanders to do, based on demographics, if he and Clinton were tied nationally. More often than not, this has correctly called the direction of contests so far, and here’s what it shows for New York:

New York

Back that off a little from a national tie to Clinton ahead by 1.2% nationally, it suggests a New York that’s a photo-finish. Add to this the size of Sanders’ rallies in the state and his recent union endorsements… I don’t expect he’ll win New York, but I do expect it will be a scarier victory for Clinton than she’s currently expecting. Which keeps us going until the next Super Tuesday…

Republicans

I had so many weeks worth of math pent up on the Democratic side that I’m out of time! I will observe that Trump is in no appearance of any danger at all:

trumpyork

What this means in terms of delegates is a bit more murky. Unlike the proportional allocation on the Democratic side, the Republican primary rules in New York are, “New York allots 14 at-large delegates proportionally based on the statewide results of the primary; 81 delegates — three for each congressional district — are awarded according to the results of the district, and then “split 2-1 between top two finishers, with 50 percent winner-take-all trigger,””. Huh?

In short, Cruz and Kasich have an opportunity to peel off delegates from Trump even given a massive victory on his part. This is significant because the numbers are currently steep for Trump to get enough delegates for a first ballot win at the convention:

trumpelagtes

And there’s a persuasive argument to be made that, if he doesn’t take it on a first ballot, he’ll actually do worse than that on following ballots. His delegates are pledged to vote for him on the first ballot, but the Trump campaign so thoroughly eschewed traditional state-by-state organization that they didn’t make sure there were slates of delegates that actually liked Trump. Cruz has done a far better job of this groundwork, and as soon as they can, many of the delegates in the hall will switch votes from Trump to him.

Cleveland is looking like it could be a wild ride…

 

 

State of the Campaign: Spring Break

maps

Well, we’ve had the first four contests in February. We’ve had three Super Tuesdays! We’ve also had a smattering of other days and un-super Tuesdays, like this week’s confabs in Arizona, Idaho and Utah. Along the way, we’ve whittled things down from 22 candidates to five. From here, things take a little break. The Republicans don’t have another outing for 13 days, and after three contests this Saturday the Democrats are out too until everybody gets back together for Wisconsin on April 5th. So how are things looking on the eve of the campaign’s Spring Break?

Democrats

If you look on a county-by-county basis, there’s almost a Mason-Dixon line going on the Democratic side:

MD

Tuesday’s results reinforced that, with Hillary doing well in Arizona (probably inadvertently helped along by state Republican officials voter suppression strategies), and Bernie doing very well in Utah and Idaho. In fact, Sanders got such lop-sided margins in those two states that he actually slightly reduced his delegate gap versus Clinton, something that he stands to do again this weekend with Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. This follows up on his win by a 2/3 margin of the Democrats Abroad primary announced this Monday. Statistical analysis of where he’s done well so far would also indicate he stands a good shot in the next two states once we resume again in April, Wisconsin & Wyoming.

Does all of this improve the outlook on his possibly winning the nomination? In a word: Probably not. Okay, it was two words, you got me. My fellow Berners pretty much aren’t speaking to me at this point because of my stubborn insistence upon the existence of math. She is indeed a harsh mistress, but a fairly clear one. Based purely on pledged delegates (not those wily Superdelegates) this is where the math currently stands:

math

The good news for Sanders? There are no more Southern States, and while Clinton has trounced him in the South, he’s actually narrowly beaten her in total votes for all contests outside that region:

math2

There’s also some interesting analysis out there indicating that Clinton, where she is winning, is doing so largely based on early voting that happened weeks or months ago, and Sanders is beating her on election day voting. Even given all that, though, the numbers still don’t add up. So far, he’s gotten a little over 50% of the vote in all non-Southern states. He’d need to get 69% of all remaining delegates in order to win. One can imagine circumstances where this could happen, a la major Clinton scandal. But in any vaguely status quo scenario, you would be very surprised to see his average in the remaining 25 contests jump to 69% compared to 50% for the 18 non-Southern contests that have happened so far.

Republicans

The outlook here is much cloudier. Trump won resoundingly in Arizona, but Cruz meanwhile did very well in Utah.

map2

The catch is that, unlike Democratic primaries and caucuses, which are almost all proportional to vote, Republican contests often feature some kind of rule- winner-take-all, delegate allocation based on who gets the majority in each congressional district, minimum percentage cut-offs to qualify for any delegates- that tends to magnify the lead of a front-runner. Even if you are a front-runner by virtue of only getting 30-something percent of the vote, you’ll get a much higher percentage than that of the delegates. So that works to Trump’s favor, but the field was fractured enough for long enough that it is very borderline whether he can get to the total before the convention.

If it’s hard to see how he can pull off the total in time, it’s pretty near impossible to see how Cruz or Kasich could do it. The numbers currently stand as follows:

math3

Even if Rubio were to endorse Cruz and pledge his delegates to him (as there are some rumblings may happen), and even given that the party establishment is working its way toward supporting Cruz, despite the fact that they don’t like him much, there isn’t an easy to see scenario where he gets the percentage of delegates he’d need in order to catch Trump before the convention. Meanwhile, Kasich would actually need to win 116% of the remaining delegates, i.e. he has no path forward that doesn’t involve a time machine.

Prominent Republicans continue to say that whoever arrives at the convention with the clear preponderance of delegates should be the nominee. So, Trump. A number of them also continue to say that they’re deeply troubled by Trump’s behavior, and a surprising number hedge on whether they would support him if he is the nominee. So, maybe not Trump. If nothing else, this should be fascinating to watch!

 

Super Tuesday 3!

St3

This election is kind of silly with Super Tuesdays, but in this case, it’s not overkill. We have the above assortment of 5 fine upstanding states, four of which happen to be among the most populous states in the union. So what happens here could indeed be pretty consequential for the race.  Here’s what we have at stake on each side.

Democrats

You may recall that I made the case last week that Sanders is, mathematically speaking, a dead man walking. This was before his surprise win in Michigan, which I was certainly gratified by. So am I changing my tune? Well, I’m modifying the key slightly, but not really.

The thing about last week is that Sanders won a narrow victory in Michigan. A historically unprecedented, great news for his campaign victory, but still narrow. Clinton meanwhile won a lopsided victory in Mississippi, as she has throughout the South. It was so lopsided that, even though Mississippi is a significantly smaller state than Michigan, she ended up with more total votes and more delegates on Tuesday than Sanders, thus increasing the gap between them. Bluntly put, you can generate the best headlines ever, but if your opponent keeps scoring on you like this, you’re not going to win.

So wither my humming in a different key? This recent HuffPo piece makes a good case that Michigan presages that the next phase of the campaign is going to be tougher for Clinton and better for Sanders. We’ve all been noticing all along how lopsided her Southern victories have been. This got me mathematically curious, So I re-ran my totals from last week, honing in on the difference between Southern results and everywhere else. Overall, Clinton/Sanders are at 60/40 for vote totals so far, but if you break it down from there, it looks a bit different:

southern

The significant thing about this is, Clinton is almost out of Southern states. North Carolina and Florida are the only ones left. so one could make a not ridiculous argument that Sanders might win a majority of votes and delegates for the remainder of this race after Super Tuesday 3. Ultimately, though, that doesn’t change the math. Right now, excluding Superdelegates, we’re at:

math

If Sanders performs at the average of his non-Southern state totals for the remaining contests, he would still be under pace for the total of remaining delegates that he needs to win. Clinton would too, but not by as much, and the big wins she’s likely to get in Florida and North Carolina tomorrow will Probably bring it in range- she’ll need mid to high 40s percentage of remaining delegates, and she can be expected to average mid to high 40s percentage of remaining votes.

Sanders, meanwhile, based on where he’s done well so far, will probably win Missouri, and be quite competitive in Ohio and Illinois, maybe even score a narrow victory in one of them. I don’t think this changes the ultimate trajectory, but he now has every chance of remaining in the race, and strongly so, for the duration.

Republicans

The big story here is the winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio. Unlike the Democrats, who generally reward delegates proportional to vote most everywhere, the Republicans have many states where the highest placing candidate gets all the delegates. In this case, interestingly, it intersects with the home states of two of the remaining candidates, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.  Unfortunately for Rubio, all signs are that this won’t work out for him:

florida

Kasich, meanwhile, seems to have a pretty decent shot of taking his home state, and all of its delegates:

Ohio

All of this is quite volatile. You can make a good case that, notwithstanding what happens in Florida and Ohio, Trump could do well enough in the other states to effectively put the whole thing away. On the other hand, you could also make the case that Cruz is close enough that, if Super Tuesday 3 ends up knocking out both Kasich and Rubio, he could still win a one-on-one with Trump. We could also have a case where, by virtue of winning Ohio while Rubio loses Florida and places badly elsewhere, Kasich becomes the surviving establishment candidate, holding down a roughly equal percentage of votes to Cruz going forward, and keeping all three of them below the threshold before the convention.

This is where the numbers stand at the moment:

math2

Where they are at this point next week will be fascinating to see!

 

State of the Race: Post Super Tuesday And Swell Saturday

state

stae2

 

In last week’s column, I posited that it was super-possible that both nominations would effectively be decided on Super Tuesday. Now that the Tuesday in question has come and gone and we’ve also had a pretty swell Saturday’s (and pinch of Sunday) worth of contests, how am I doing? In all honesty, I’d have to give myself a 42.5%. As follows…

Democrats

I think it’s important to fully out myself before I say what I’m about to say. No surprise to anybody who knows me, I lean toward the Progressive side of the fence. I would vastly prefer to see Sanders be the nominee instead of Clinton, and I think he’s the only major candidate in the race who is even close to talking about the magnitude of changes we’ll need to make to avoid disaster at home and as a global species in the coming decades. I voted for him in our primary in Vermont, contribute to his campaign every pay day, and will continue to do so as long as he’s in the race. Despite all this, I am, reluctantly, 85% confident that the Democratic Race has in fact been decided for Clinton, though it will take the numbers a while to catch up.

It comes down to some simple facts of math. Counting just the pledged delegates because, as many people have pointed out, Superdelegates can (and do) change their votes as the race shifts, we currently have:

delegate

Given what each candidate has, how many delegates are remaining, and how many are needed for the nomination, this is the percentage of remaining delegates each would have to win to get the nomination:

maths

The issue with pledged delegates on the Democratic side is that they are more or less proportional- if you win, say 60% of the votes, you would expect to also win roughly 60% of the delegates. Some of the caucus states don’t report their numbers in a way that votes can be tabulated, but of the seventeen states and territories that have voted so far that we can add up votes for, this is the percentage breakdown:

bdown

Refer back to the delegate target numbers above. Clinton has won 61% of the vote so far, and she would need roughly 54.5% of the remaining delegates. She could actually do about 10% worse than she’s done so far in all the remaining contests and still do it. Sanders has won 39% of the vote so far, but he’d need to win 60% of the remaining delegates. He would have to do about 50% better than he’s done so far in all the remaining contests to take it.

Is this categorically impossible? No. Bernie clearly has the financial and enthusiastic supporter resources to stay competitive, and is still less well known than Clinton, so he has room to grow. And Clinton has often proven to be a less appealing campaigner when she’s ahead than when she’s behind, and also has investigations brewing which (based on bullshit or not) could blow up at any time. Barring something truly disruptive, though, you would be surprised to see Clinton do markedly worse in the 2/3 remaining than the 1/3 behind. And you’d be really surprised to see Sanders do 50% better.

Republicans

As for my prediction about Trump before Super Tuesday, I would have to mark myself as totally wrong! It looked quite possible, going in, that Cruz wouldn’t win anything except his home state of Texas, and Rubio wouldn’t win anything. But, while Trump did quite well, Rubio won Minnesota and hung in there in other races (albeit much less well than he would have if Kasich weren’t still hanging around). Cruz, meanwhile, won several states, and racked up some more this weekend.

You can’t as readily do the kind of delegate vs. votes analysis I did above for the Democrats with the Republicans, as they have several large winner-take all states, and also have many states where there’s a threshold of 20% to get any delegates at all. However, their delegate math at the moment is:

totals

And their vote totals have been:

totals2

In other words, even allowing for the distorting effects of Republican delegate allocation rules, nobody so far has had nearly a total vote percentage even roughly comparable to the delegate percentage total they’d need. This outlook could change if it got down to a two-person race. However, that’s not remotely likely to happen until after March 15th, since Rubio and Kasich both aim to win their respective winner-take-all home states that day (Florida and Ohio).

Another 12 states and territories will have had contests by then, including five of the ten most populous states in the country (Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina & Ohio). So, come 3/16, more than half of all delegates will have been handed out, and odds are three candidates will have major blocks, all of them needing much more to go to get to the total. If anything, at this point, I might start to put my money on a brokered convention.

It’s Super-possible both nominees will be chosen Tuesday

12741984_772007845014_2167794878190818737_n

Yes, that image is from 2008. But it so Super-well combines two of my loves, Presidential Politics and Comics, that I had to do it. You may have heard that this Tuesday is Super. Some election cycles it’s more super, some less so, but this year on both sides the calendar is so front-loaded that half of all the delegates will be chosen by the end of March. So this kickoff with more than a fifth of the states in the Union voting on the same day is pretty significant. In fact, I think a good case can be made that both nominations will effectively be decided tomorrow…

Democrats

Sanders had been hewing pretty close to what I pegged in my first election blog of the year as his “best case”: “he wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, and does better than-expected in Nevada and South Carolina, and goes on to get a striking distance 40% or more of the states and delegates on Super Tuesday”. Until Sunday, when he lost South Carolina by almost 50%.

The campaign made a deliberate decision over the past week to basically concede the state, and concentrate resources on making as big a splash later in March as possible. It’s an understandable strategy in a case where you know you’re going to lose a state anyway and so does everyone else. But there’s “lose” and then there’s “get obliterated”. 538.com has an analysis suggesting that, if he performs as poorly with Black voters on Super Tuesday as he did he in South Carolina, even if he wins several other states, Clinton may do so well in the Southern states with larger delegate totals that she’ll open a delegate lead he just can’t catch even if he has upside surprises later in the month.

Another way to look at is to work backwards from the national numbers. Currently the averages show the following:

Capture

These numbers are kind of so all over the place that you can wonder what’s up, but it does look like the momentum is tipping back to Hillary. If you take the old data analysis trick of removing the highest and lowest (Clinton ahead by 17 and Sanders ahead by 3) and averaging the rest, you’d still come to the conclusion that Clinton is ahead by about 6% nationally. Over at 538.com, Nate Silver has a pretty sophisticated analysis indicating where Clinton and Sanders would be state by state if tied nationally. Let’s zoom in on the “Super Tuesday” portion of that:

gap

If, instead of being tied, you assume Clinton is ahead by 6 points nationally, you’d expect Sanders to win Vermont, Minnesota, Colorado, and Massachusetts, and Clinton to take everything else. Since everything else in this case includes some very populous states, her delegate haul from that would put him far enough behind that he would not only have to perform, but outperform the rest of the contests to catch up. This is pretty much what Obama did to Clinton in 2008, and she was unable to rally back even though she stayed competitive the whole time, with several big wins along the way. And if Sanders doesn’t even manage to capture all four of those states…

Clearly he has the money and the core supporter enthusiasm to stick it out throughout March and well into April. And even if he does slip as I’m outlining here, I’d expect some surprises in March and April that will lead to “Sanders is back!” headlines. But the mathematical path forward is hard to see unless he really outperforms tomorrow.

Republicans

If I think it’s starting to smell like Clinton pulls into an uncatchable lead tomorrow, this is doubly so for Trump. The Republicans have even more states on the docket than the Democrats do:

docket

Some of these states haven’t had any recent good polling. But if you look at the RCP run-down of the ones that have, you’ll immediately see that Cruz has a lead in Arkansas and his home state of Texas, but everything else is coming up Trump. If Cruz isn’t performing better than that in the Southern states that should be his strongest, it’s hard to find a plausible scenario where he overtakes Trump later. Rubio has a somewhat more conceivable path, namely that if he can get himself into a one-on-one with Trump, he can start winning some of the large and more moderate “winner take all” states that are coming up later in the calendar.

Except, Cruz has every incentive to see how many delegates he can build up through the end of March, and Kasich is showing every sign of refusing to clear the stage for Rubio at least until his home state of Ohio votes  on March 15th. By then, Trump will have cleared enough of the board that he will be very hard to catch. We may know as soon as tomorrow if Rubio and Cruz are effectively unable to catch up. They could still stay in and keep anyone from getting enough delegates to take it before the convention , leading to a floor fight there. But the major donors are already showing reluctance to spend against Trump, and he’s getting his first establishment endorsements. The party may decline to join their fight, and instead get on board with Trump.

Tune in tomorrow, and we shall see!

 

 

 

A Slot Machine and a Palmetto walk in to a voting booth…

NevSC

…and a President walks out? Well, probably not quite this early, but the next stage of our little every four-years elimination death match is happening this Saturday, courtesy of the Republican primary in South Carolina and the Democratic caucus in Nevada. (Nifty graphic above from FiveThirtyEight.com, by the way.) So, how’s it looking?

Democrats

All the leading indicators are giving Clinton an edge over Sanders, but also indicating that he’s surprisingly competitive. Let’s start with the straight polling. Nevada has only been lightly polled so far, but the recent polls all have Sanders and Clinton within a few points of each other:

rcpnev

Keep in mind that this is a state which, as recently as late December, Clinton led by more than 20 percent. Over at 538.com, their polls-only and polls-plus models are both tilting to Clinton:

538nevpo

538nevpp

In terms of margin, their polls-only model (which takes an average of polling, weighted by reliability of the pollster) has Clinton ahead by 4 points, and their polls-plus model (which takes the polling but also adds in effects of national polls, trend-line changes, outside factors like endorsements, etc.) has her ahead by 7 points. This is basically the same outcome as 2008, where Clinton beat Obama in the state 50.1% to 45.8%. It is, in other words, a very strong showing for Sanders, even if he doesn’t win.

If you recall my first election column of the year, Sanders seems to be not too far off what I outlined there as his “best case” scenario: “he wins Iowa, then New Hampshire, and does better than-expected in Nevada and South Carolina, and goes on to get a striking distance 40% or more of the states and delegates on Super Tuesday.” So far, he’s tied Iowa, blown-out New Hampshire, and is definitely better than expected in Nevada. Of course my next sentence in that column was that “best case” gives him, at best, a tough, but at least still conceivable path to the nomination. 538.com has just done an excellent state-by-state overview of what that might look like for him. If nothing else though, a strong Nevada showing for Sanders will keep South Carolina interesting when Democrats vote there next weekend.

Republicans

All indications are that Donald Trump retains a solid lead in South Carolina. Which, let’s pause to think about it for a second, is really remarkable. A win there this weekend would make him legitimately the front runner of a party that continues to not want him, to the extent that a packed room of party operatives kept booing him at this past weekend’s debate, and he hasn’t picked up a single endorsement from a current or former Republican Governor, Representative, or Senator, despite being almost-continuously in the lead since he announced in July. The numbers, though, are hardly ambiguous. Based on eight polls all from the last few days, RCP has this:

rcpsc

538.com is showing the following:

538sc

And the betting markets agree:

predictsc

As with New Hampshire, the real interest here may be in the second spot. Rubio seems to have recovered from his pre-New Hampshire debate stumble and fifth (!) place finish there, and is clearly narrowing in on Cruz. 538’s “polls plus” model actually has him narrowly beating Cruz. If Rubio can get a second-place, it will go a long way to bolstering his claim to being the anti-Trump that the party is looking for. Cruz, meanwhile, has a strategy that depends on gaining momentum from strong showings in the Southern states voting in March. A distant second, or much worse, a third, in a state that should be a good fit for him would cloud that path.

Of course the whole party’s path is somewhat cloudy at the moment. Trump is clearly viable, Cruz has every incentive to hang in there until the March voting is done, and Rubio continues to split the “consensus” party vote with Bush and, though probably not for much longer given his South Carolina numbers, Kasich. Mutterings about a brokered convention are beginning to seem more plausible…