Cruz Control

Sorry, couldn’t resist that title for a Ted Cruz post.  Jamelle Bouie has an interesting take that Cruz could essentially be the Obama of 2008 and outlines a plausible path for a Cruz victory:

Yes, Cruz is disliked by fellow Republicans and seemingly eclipsed by rivals like Rubio. At the same time, he has a path to victory.

To get a sense of what it could look like, it’s worth a jump back to 2008, when Sen. Barack Obama was fighting a tough insurgent battle for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton…

Super Tuesday came, and while Clinton won the most votes, Obama won the most states and scored the most delegates. It wasn’t the beginning of the end for the Clinton effort—that would come with the subsequent contests in Washington, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, where Obama expanded his delegate lead into something almost insurmountable—but more than Iowa or South Carolina, it marked the Illinois senator as a truly national competitor.

Moreover, it established a strategy for overtaking a favored candidate with formidable resources and institutional support. Obama’s Super Tuesday success was a function of organizing. While Team Clinton focused on polls and television ads, the Obama campaign made heavy investment in grassroots and local organizing in small (but critical) states. Months of finding supporters, recruiting volunteers, and building infrastructure paid off on election night, where Obama could maximize his gains in favorable (or otherwise neglected) territory and minimize his losses in the large states that backed Clinton. Obama wouldn’t win a clean victory with this strategic, delegate-centered campaign—the 2008 race was a grind that lasted to the end of the primary calendar—but he would win. And that’s what mattered. [emphasis mine]

Cruz, on the other hand, is running an insurgent campaign, and it looks a lot like Obama’s. The most serious obstacle to running outside the party establishment is cash. Absent huge sums to organize and build camp across multiple states, there’s almost no way to turn popularity into votes. Obama solved this problem by merging unprecedented grassroots fundraising with traditonal big dollar donations. Cruz is doing the same. In the first half of this year, billionaires and other supporters put more than $37 million into his super PACs while Cruz raised $14 million through small donations to his campaign. The campaign, reports the Washington Post, has 219 “bundlers” who have raised $9 million, as well as 120,000 small donors. Together, this $51 million puts him ahead of everyone other than Bush.

What has Cruz done with this hefty war chest of direct contributions? He’s carefully managed it—at last count, he has $13.8 million “on hand,” more than any other GOP candidate—and invested in infrastructure. The Cruz campaign has invested much of its resources into “high-tech fundraising efforts” and building local organizations in states like Alabama, Georgia, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee…

t’s hard to say whether either Trump or Carson will leave before voting begins, but even if they don’t, Cruz isn’t lost. He’s on track to do well in Iowa, where he’s third behind Carson and Trump. If he can hold that position, or even move to second, he’s in a good spot for the similarly conservative primaries in Nevada and South Carolina. Key to his strategy, again like Obama’s in 2008, is surviving the rough spots and maximizing delegate wins. With campaign infrastructure in the South and momentum from Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina, Cruz could finish the Super Tuesday and the “SEC primary” with a commanding plurality of delegates…

Which is to say that the other major question of the post–Super Tuesday race is what the establishment “lane” is doing. If it’s just Rubio or Bush, then it’s possible that either of them could consolidate enough mainstream support to win outright, like Mitt Romney did in the 2012 primary. But if there’s more than one establishment figure—most likely Rubio and Bush, but also possibly Christie and Kasich—then they could split the vote and give Cruz a path to the front.

Hmmm, I must say, indeed a plausible scenario.  And one I would love to see come to fruition.  And though I don’t think Cruz is near the general election disaster of Carson or Trump, he is a far weaker general election candidate than Jeb, Rubio, Kasich, or Christie.

All that said, I couldn’t help but think of a recent 538 post (piggybacking off of a terrific Nate Cohn post earlier this year) making a good case that the GOP rules actually have a huge bias towards more moderate candidates:

As The New York Times’ Nate Cohn astutely observed in January, Republicans in blue states hold surprising power in the GOP presidential primary process even though they are “all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats.” This explains why Republicans have selected relatively moderate presidential nominees while the party’s members in Congress have continued to veer right.

The key to this pattern: “Blue-state Republicans are less religious, more moderate and less rural than their red-state counterparts,” Cohn concluded after crunching Pew Research survey data. By Cohn’s math, Republicans in states that Obama won in 2012 were 15 percentage points likelier to support Romney in the 2012 primary and 9 points likelier to support McCain in 2008 than their red-state compatriots. Romney and McCain’s advantage in blue states made it “all but impossible for their more conservative challengers to win the nomination,” Cohn wrote…

But their real mojo lurks in the delegate chase. The electorate that nominates GOP presidential candidates is much bluer than the ones that nominate other GOP officials, a distinction that is almost impossible to overstate. Look at where the Republican Party lives: Only 11 of 54 GOP senators and 26 of 247 GOP representatives hail from Obama-won locales, but there are 1,247 delegates at stake in Obama-won states, compared with just 1,166 in Romney states…

The average blue district awards one convention delegate per 28,912 Romney voters, while the average red district awards one delegate per every 56,714 Romney voters. Thanks to this disparity, if a hard-right candidate like Cruz dominates deeply red Southern districts in the SEC primary, a more electable candidate like Rubio could quickly erase that deficit by quietly piling up smaller raw-vote wins in more liberal urban and coastal districts…

But the bigger boon to Rubio, Bush and other moderates is that the opinions of GOP voters in places like Massachusetts count at all in this process — in an era when the Bay State sends zero Republicans to Congress. It’s a huge factor that many pundits tend to overlook, and it’s why the temperament and qualities that the broader party looks for in a nominee differ so much from those of the loudest and most ideological Freedom Caucus types in Washington.

It’s not that national polls are skewed in favor of conservative, red-meat Republicans. It’s that the Republican Party’s delegate geography rewards their moderate rivals.

Hmmm.  Alright, time to put the money on Rubio after all.  But I would love to see Cruz make it interesting in a way that I think Trump or Carson ultimately will not be able to.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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