Republican front-runner Donald Trump is expected to sweep all five GOP primaries today — including nearby Rhode Island and Connecticut — but faces perhaps his toughest test in the month of May with little margin for error in his battle to clinch the nomination on a first ballot.
“Based on the polling, tomorrow should be a big night for him,” said GOP operative Ford O’Connell. “It’s probably going to be the last great night he’ll have before we hit New Jersey and California (on June 7).”
Trump leads by double-digits in polls in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, which will award a combined 172 delegates today.
But it’s a different story next month in states like Nebraska, where Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s organization is seen as unstoppable, and Oregon, where Ohio Gov. John Kasich could rack up his second primary victory.
A critical showdown for Trump comes May 3 in the Indiana primary. It’s the biggest prize in May — 57 delegates — and a big test for the new Cruz-Kasich alliance that essentially lets the Texas senator go head-to-head against Trump in the Hoosier State. Kasich, in return, gets Cruz to back out of Oregon and New Mexico.
“If he (Trump) wins Indiana, he could break Cruz and Kasich’s back,” said O’Connell. “If Cruz wins Indiana, these guys are more likely to work the alliance until the end of the calendar.”
It is mathematically impossible for either Cruz or Kasich to reach the 1,237 needed to win the nomination on a first ballot.
But Trump, who has 845 delegates so far, needs 392 more to hit the magic number and put to rest fears of convention chaos this summer.
Some 674 delegates are up for grabs through June 7, including the 172 at stake tonight.
So Trump needs 58.2 percent of all the remaining delegates, including tonight’s, to clinch the nomination.
Assuming a strong showing today, Trump still needs to out-perform in Indiana, then win big in West Virginia, California and New Jersey just to get within striking distance of 1,237. Then, his campaign would have to sway some of the more-than 100 “unbound” delegates, including 54 from Pennsylvania.
There have been some reassuring signs for Trump in the last few days. He leads Cruz in Indiana, 41-33 percent, according to a recent Fox News poll. And a George Washington University survey released yesterday showed Trump pulling within 3 points of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in a general-election showdown, trailing 46-43 percent.
But in a sign of just how polarizing both parties’ front-runners are, some 59 percent said they wouldn’t even consider voting for Trump, while 53 percent felt the same toward Clinton.
“I think there’s more of a sense that, ‘This is the best we’ve got, and I guess we just have to live with it,'” said Andy Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. “That’s not a strong way to motivate a lot of voters in a general election.”
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