WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite Donald Trump’s string of Super Tuesday victories, the billionaire businessman must do even better in upcoming primaries to claim the Republican presidential nomination before the party’s national convention this summer, an AP delegate count shows.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is emerging as the candidate who might stop him — with a little help from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
The good news for Trump: He is in a better position than any of his rivals. Through the first 15 states of the 2016 campaign season, the best chance for Cruz, Rubio or any of the other candidates could be a contested national convention in July that would almost certainly wreak further havoc on the deeply divided Republican Party.
“I think anybody that precludes any possibility at this point doesn’t understand what’s going on,” said John Jordan, a California-based Republican donor now supporting Rubio. “Anything can happen.”
While Trump has racked up 10 wins so far, he’s won only 46 percent of the delegates awarded since voting began. It takes an outright majority of delegates to win the nomination.
To win enough delegates to claim that prize, Trump would have to win 51 percent of the remaining delegates awarded in the state-by-state contests scheduled through early June. That could be difficult if three or more candidates stay in the race.
Republican leaders in Washington and in statehouses across the country are scrambling to stop Trump.
Trump’s main Republican opponents are vowing to stay in the race until the end. And that could prevent him from getting the delegates needed to win the nomination outright — even if they can’t overtake him on their own.
“We’re beyond the winning states stage. This is now purely a competition for delegates,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said.
Rubio, in a Tuesday interview on Fox News, promised to campaign in all 50 states, “even if I have to get in my pickup truck and drive all over this country. I will do whatever it takes to prevent a con artist like Donald Trump from ever becoming the Republican nominee.”
While not giving up on beating Trump before the convention, both the Cruz and Rubio camps concede that their best opportunity could come at a contested convention in July.
That happens only if no candidate takes a majority of delegates before then. Under such a scenario, delegates on the floor of the Cleveland convention would decide on their own whom to support in a series of floor votes.
Not since 1976 has there been a contested convention.
Some Republicans warn of dire consequences should the party go that route this year, especially if Trump has a commanding delegate lead.
“If the establishment thinks there’s a backlash now, wait until the guy with the most delegates gets to the convention and they decide to take it from him,” said GOP operative Hogan Gidley. “Then you’re going to see an all-out political jihad.”
The Republican campaign now enters a critical two-week stretch ahead of the March 15 primaries. These are the first primaries that can award all of a state’s delegates to the winner, and the two big prizes are Florida and Ohio. Florida has 99 delegates, Ohio 66.
Winning those states could boost Trump to a commanding lead in the delegate count, but Florida is Rubio’s home state and Ohio is home for John Kasich, the state’s governor.
Only nine states award delegates winner-take-all. Five more make it possible for one candidate to win all of the delegates, or at least a large majority. These states could take an outsized role in determining who wins the nomination.
Among the other winner-take-all primaries: Arizona on March 22, Nebraska on May 10 and New Jersey on June 7.
The delegate math from Super Tuesday shows how difficult it can be to rack up a big lead when states award delegates in proportion to the vote.
Trump won seven of 11 states, but his gains were limited by Cruz’s big win in delegate-rich Texas — his home state. For the night, Trump won at least 237 delegates and Cruz won at least 209. Rubio was a distant third with at least 94.
There were still 33 delegates left to be allocated on Wednesday.
Cruz won at least 99 of the 155 delegates at stake in Texas. Trump got at least 38, with 14 left to be awarded. Rubio picked up four.
Overall, Trump leads the field with 319 delegates and Cruz has 226. Rubio has 110, Kasich has 25 and Ben Carson has eight.
It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.