Today is the first day of the rest of the GOP race

Ready or not, the battle for the Republican presidential nomination heats up again today with contests in Utah and Arizona. Ted Cruz is expected to win the vast majority, if not all, of Utah’s 44 delegates. Donald Trump is likely to capture all 58 of Arizona’s.

American Samoa will also dole out nine delegates. I have no idea how they will be divided.

Meanwhile, the crew at FiveThirtyEight surveyed political experts on the question of how many delegates they expect Trump to win going forward. In addition to Henry Silver and Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight, the experts included Steve Hayward’s friend Henry Olsen, Patrick Ruffini, a star of the Bush-Cheney reelection effort in 2004, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, Adam Geller, Chris Christie’s lead pollster, and two others with whom I am not familiar.

Right now, Trump has 695 delegates. On average, those surveyed by FiveThirtyEight estimate that he will have added 513 more when the final primary results are tabulated on June 7. This would give him a total of 1,208, 29 delegates short of the 1,237 required for the nomination.

If the experts surveyed are even slightly off on the low side, Trump will get to 1,237 via the primaries and caucuses. Moreover, if, collectively, they have it right, Trump will be close enough that he might well pick up the delegates he needs during the six weeks or so before the convention.

However, the FiveThirtyEight survey shows that Trump doesn’t have the nomination the bag. The experts might be off on the high side in their estimate of Trump’s delegate count. In this scenario, the tycoon might be hard pressed to get to 1,237 given what is likely to be strong resistance to his candidacy.

According to the FiveThirtyEight crew, the biggest variable is the Kasich effect. Will Governor “Reward Me” help Trump by preventing Cruz from getting the vote he needs in winner-take-all primaries and/or congressional district? Or will he hurt Trump by actually winning congressional districts in states like New York that otherwise would go to Trump?

My guess is that the former (pro-Trump) effect will outweigh the latter, but who knows?

As for key states, FiveThirtyEight highlights several. California, with 172 delegates, is seen as critical. Nate Silver notes that it is the state with the largest standard deviation among the experts surveyed. “It has a lot of delegates, and we don’t have a great idea of what’s going to happen there,” he says.

Indiana could also be key. The experts, collectively, see Trump winning 37 of that state’s 57 delegates. However, like Missouri, Indiana could be a very close race, and it’s not difficult to imagine Cruz winning statewide and collecting 45 delegates, according to Wasserman.

In any event, it seems unlikely that we’ll know whether Trump gets to 1,237 via the primaries and caucuses until June 7, the last day of voting. So tonight is just one chapter in a drama that has a long time left to run.

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