On March 15, all eyes will be on Florida and Ohio. This is understandable because (1) they are the home states of Marco Rubio and John Kasich, respectively and (2) they are winner-take-all contests.
However, attention should also be paid to the primary in Illinois on the same day. In some ways, this primary may be more indicative of GOP sentiment than the ones in Florida and Ohio. There is no “home court” advantage in Illinois, so the voting in Illinois may give us a better sense of what to expect in states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. (Note, however, that Pennsylvania is a “closed” primary; the others are open).
So how do things look in Illinois? A new Chicago Tribune poll shows Donald Trump leading with 32 percent support. He is followed by Ted Cruz with 22 percent, Marco Rubio with 21 percent, and John Kasich with 18 percent. 7 percent were undecided.
The poll surveyed 600 registered voters considered likely to cast a ballot in the Republican primary. The margin of error is 4.1 percentage points.
Trump leads throughout the State. However, Cruz is close in Cook County (five points behind) and downstate (just two points behind). Thus, he might be able to capture some of the delegates being awarded for winning congressional districts. (The winner of the primary gets 15 delegates and the winner of each of 18 congressional districts gets three delegates per district).
I draw several conclusions from this survey. First, Trump does seem to be slipping. In the previous Illinois poll I’m aware of, he was backed by 38 of those surveyed and led Rubio by 17 points and Cruz by 18.
Second, Trump would be very unlikely to win a two-man race in Illinois. 42 percent of those surveyed have an unfavorable view of the tycoon. Getting from 32 percent to 51 percent under these circumstances would be a daunting task.
Third, it’s not clear that Trump would win a three way race in Illinois involving Kasich and Cruz. Cruz and Rubio combined have 43 percent support, 11 points better than Trump. Not all of Rubio’s backers would switch to Cruz in a three-way race, of course. Some would go to Kasich and Trump.
Thus, it’s quite likely that Trump would prevail in Illinois based on the numbers in the Chicago Tribune poll. However, if Cruz pulled a bit closer to Trump, one could easily imagine Cruz winning Illinois in the absence of Rubio.
Neither Rubio nor Kasich is going anywhere until after March 15. Thus, Cruz will have to close the 10 point gap in the context of the current four-man race. But if the field shrinks after March 15, Cruz might have a shot in delegate-rich, winner-take-all primaries in states like Pennsylvania (71 delegates), Wisconsin (42), and Indiana (57). Otherwise, there’s a very good chance that Trump will grab all of these delegates.
The field shrinks, however, only if Trump wins the delegate-rich winner-take-all primaries in Florida and/or Ohio.