Ted Cruz faces a tough battle tomorrow in Arizona, which has been polling pretty steadily in favor of Donald Trump. As much as the Never Trump forces have tried to stunt Trump’s lead, a closed primary, voter demographics and turnout may work against Cruz. The race, however is far from over (like Florida was).
Neither Cruz nor Trump are popular with Arizona Latinos as a group because of their hard line stance on illegal immigration. Although Trump has a special place of scorn among them, politically, Cruz’s Cuban heritage does him very little good.
Two factors really hurt the most:
- Approximately 79 percent of AZ Latinos support the Democratic Party. In a closed primary, they cannot swap over to vote in the GOP primary even if they wanted to.
- Historically, Latino turnout in AZ is low. The total number of Latinos projected to vote in the general election (in the most likely scenario) is between 566 and 638 thousand. That would mean no more than 100 to 125 thousand Latino voters in the GOP primary. If Cruz had a great GOTV operation, he could mobilize an additional 25 thousand, possibly.
Arizona is not a particularly religious state. That could help or hurt Cruz, who did poorly in the Bible belt, but crushed Texas and Oklahoma (No. 11 and No. 8 most religious states, respectively). Arizona is in the middle of the pack at No. 27, way behind Missouri (No. 15). There’s a positive correlation between church attendance and opposition to Trump.
In the March 1 “Super Tuesday” races, Trump failed to win a majority of evangelicals in any southern state and lost more than half of evangelicals, on average, overall. A look at the second Super Tuesday from March 15 reveals similar results with a couple of surprises. The bottom line is that a majority of evangelicals are still backing candidates other than Trump.
Trump did better in Florida among evangelicals and Roman Catholics, but that was (so far) a one-time result.
Still, even in Florida, Trump only garnered 19 percent of votes from those who chose their candidate based on “shared values.” This includes both Catholics and evangelicals. This hardly supports a conclusion that “values voters” are in Trump’s back pocket. In contrast, Cruz carried pluralities of evangelicals in Missouri (46 percent), North Carolina (43 percent), and Illinois (37 percent) while Kasich carried a plurality of evangelicals in Ohio (43 percent). It seems misleading to continually push a narrative that evangelicals are en masse supporting Trump when his win-loss record (in terms of pluralities) was a paltry 1-5.
It’s possible that a large turnout of evangelical voters could stunt Trump’s lead. But are there enough votes?
The projected 2016 educational demographics show Arizona with 36.7 percent college-educated white voters, and 35.1 percent non-college whites. Trump does best among non-college educated whites.
The latest Westgroup/Merrill poll data was gathered before Rubio exited the race, and shows Trump ahead of Cruz 31 to 19 percent. Will Rubio’s 10 percent break to Kasich (who also had 10 percent) or to Cruz? A large undecided block of 30 percent will be the key to the race, according to the poll. The MBQF poll from early March shows a similar breakdown.
Over 249,000 early votes had been cast as of last Thursday in Maricopa County alone, according to John Fund. “That’s already more votes than the total cast in Maricopa in the 2012 GOP primary,” he wrote. Based on the MBQF poll results, those voters are breaking for Trump with about 40 percent of the total. To win, Cruz would have to get a plurality of election day votes.
This is certainly possible, as Cruz did it in Louisiana. But Louisiana’s evangelical demographics (No. 4 most religious state) certainly helped. Cruz would have to count on the large number of undecideds and educated voters, plus a relatively small but dedicated Latino turnout to help him.
Endorsements have not been a gigantic factor in the race thus far, except for South Carolina, where the popular Nikki Haley helped Marco Rubio. However, here Cruz wins the grass roots, while Trump wins the big names.
Reps. Trent Franks (8th District, Maricopa County), Matt Salmon (5th District, Maricopa/Pinal Counties), and Paul Gosar (4th District, rural western/Prescott) support Cruz. He also has considerable support within the state legislature.
Trump has the popular Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former Governor Jan Brewer in his corner, and AZ State Treasurer Jeff DeWit.
It’s unclear how the high profile endorsements will help Trump, other than energizing his already-enamored base and providing network TV moments for Arpaio.
If we don’t see a large Cruz turnout on election day, the exit pollsters will call the race almost immediately for Trump. If the exit polls show Cruz ahead in key parts of Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima Counties, we could have a very close race. I’m not willing to put any “magic numbers” on Arizona due to the dearth of advance polling and the confusing demographics.
As a winner-take-all state with 58 delegates, a win for Cruz would change the delegate math considerably, and put Trump in a projected shortfall to reach 1,237 by June. If Cruz can pick up Arizona plus a plurality in Utah, with a 98 delegate sweep, that kind of momentum could change the momentum heading into Wisconsin. At this point, the odds are against it, but it’s not over until the votes are counted.