For those of us counting the Republican delegate math in the past few weeks, two states have long seemed the most uncertain and the most consequential for Donald Trump's hopes of locking down a majority: California and Indiana.
And two new polls from Fox News show Trump winning both.
In California, the poll shows Trump with a massive lead — 49 percent of the vote, to Ted Cruz's 22 percent and John Kasich's 20 percent. In Indiana, things are closer but Trump is still ahead, with 41 percent to Cruz's 33 percent and Kasich's 16 percent.
If these two polls are correct, it looks like it will be game over for the #NeverTrumpers. Solid wins for Trump in both states would likely result in him clinching a majority of delegates by the time primary voting concludes. And, barring unprecedented shenanigans with the rules, that would allow him to avoid a contested convention and win the GOP nomination on the first ballot.
Trump's path to a majority is still difficult
California and Indiana are particularly important to Trump's path to a delegate majority because they're the two biggest remaining delegate-heavy states where the outcome has appeared really uncertain.
In contrast, most of the other states either seem easily set to go to either Trump or Cruz, or to split their delegates between them due to their delegate allocation rules. For instance:
- Trump is expected to clean up in the Northeastern states voting this Tuesday (and in New Jersey, which votes in June), particularly after his extremely strong New York showing.
- Cruz is expected to get all the delegates from winner-take-all Nebraska, Montana, and South Dakota due to his strength in similar nearby states.
- Several of the other states remaining (Washington, Oregon, New Mexico) allocate their delegates proportionally, so it's highly likely both Trump and Cruz (and perhaps Kasich) will get some.
- And Pennsylvania and West Virginia both have odd systems where they elect delegates directly on the ballot. No one quite knows how this will play out in practice. Though Trump polls well in both states, these confusing rules may well depress his delegate haul somewhat.
All in all, if these state outcomes break down like this, Trump will likely still be 160 to 180 delegates away from a majority. And there are 229 delegates at stake in California and Indiana.
Why California and Indiana matter most
California and Indiana have been major question marks in delegate math projections for a while, and it's long seemed that the question of whether Trump gets his majority could come down to the two of them.
- Both allot their delegates winner-take-all (though some are allotted to the statewide winner, and some to the winner in each congressional district), so they're really important.
- California has the most delegates of any state, with 172 — but broad-based strength across the state is important, since 159 of those are given out in separately each of the state's 53 congressional districts (three delegates in each).
- Indiana's 57 delegates — 30 to the statewide winner, 27 in districts — are nothing to sneeze at either.
- Yet these states have appeared the most uncertain, because it hasn't been clear how Trump would play on the West Coast, or whether Indiana would look more like the Midwestern states Cruz has won (Wisconsin, Iowa) or the Midwestern states Trump has won (Illinois, Michigan).
But these new polls — and a few other recent ones — seem to clear up some of that uncertainty. Trump has led every recent publicly released poll in both states. Another California poll released this week showed Trump leading in every region of the state, which would likely position him to pick up the vast majority of those congressional district delegates.
Now, these polls could of course be wrong. For instance, there's been very little public polling in Indiana, which votes on May 3, and there have been reports that some private polls show a tied race there. And some other recent California polls show a closer contest, though all show Trump ahead.
But unless something big changes, unless these polls are very wrong, or unless there's some sort of convention rules coup, this points toward a first-ballot victory for Donald Trump.