Check the polls in New York and you’ll see that having The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave hanging around might not be all bad this time. Kasich is ahead of Cruz in three of the last five polls there, which suggests a lot of resistance to Cruz among New York Republicans. If Kasich drops tomorrow, it’s reasonable to think a sizable share of his voters would break for Trump, and if that happens, it’s a lock that Trump will surge past 50 percent in most or all of New York’s congressional districts. (New York awards its delegates proportionally in each district unless one candidate cracks 50 percent there, in which case he gets all three district delegates.) In blue states like New York and Maryland, it might be better to have Kasich around vacuuming up some anti-Cruz moderates who would otherwise vote Trump than to have him on the sidelines. The price of that, though, is the clip below. Arguably it makes more sense for Kasich to attack Cruz, whose support is probably soft, than Trump, who’s a lock to win the state. If Kasich can move some of Cruz’s voters towards him, he may even end up with more delegates from New York than Cruz has, which should raise his odds of winning the nomination in Cleveland from zero to, uh, zero. Just one hitch: Unless Trump finishes below 50 percent in a district, it doesn’t matter how Kasich and Cruz finish. Trump gets all the delegates. So why isn’t Kasich’s PAC attacking Trump here to try to drive his numbers down into the 40s? Nothing matters delegate-wise in New York unless that happens first. I don’t get it.
Anyway: Does everyone understand why Ted Cruz, Mr. Conservative, is screwing around in the beating heart of New York City today instead of heading to Staten Island and upstate, where there are many more Republican voters? People on social media are guffawing at him for touring the Bronx and Brooklyn, looking for votes, when there are barely any Republicans there. But that’s the whole point — there are barely any Republicans there and yet those congressional districts will send the same number of delegates to the Republican convention (three) as districts with hundreds of thousands of Republican voters will. What’s a better use of your time, then? Spending lots of money on ads and GOTV efforts in a big Republican district which Trump is almost certainly going to win anyway, or honing in on a small district and trying to bend a few thousand Republicans your way, knowing that you’ll get the same bang for your buck delegate-wise if you win the latter district than if you win the former? Kristen Soltis Anderson calls that the “moneyball” strategy. Paradoxically, the least conservative congressional districts in blue states are a prime target for the field’s most conservative candidate precisely because they include a smaller pool of Republican voters who need persuading. And a small pool of voters is a ripe target for a man with a strong organization:
California, like Wisconsin, does not have its Republicans evenly spread across the state. A district like California’s 48th, a Newport Beach-area district that broke fairly significantly for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race, will send three delegates. Over a hundred thousand voters cast their ballot for Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher there in the last midterm.
Meanwhile, Maxine Waters’ district, California’s 43rd, is a “minority-majority” district where most voters are Latino or African-American, and where fewer than 30,000 votes were cast for her Republican opponent in 2014. This is exactly the kind of district where a candidate could find that small pool of Republican voters, make contact, pick up those votes and convert that into three delegates.
“Many of the majority minority districts are top targets for us due to our ground organization. In fact, Senator Cruz is the only candidate with the volunteer base to contact every single target voter regardless of their location,” Chris Wilson, Cruz’s director of analytics, told the Examiner.
A conservative activist based in Orange County, California, told the LA Times he expects to be canvassing for Cruz in south central Los Angeles, again because there are so few Republicans there. Another obvious target for Team Cruz: Nancy Pelosi’s district. Find the six Republican voters or whatever the number is who live there, convince them to turn out for Cruz, and boom — you’ve got three more delegates to your national total. The one hitch in this strategy for Cruz is that it’s actually Trump who’s benefited most electorally from winning deep blue districts thus far. Why? Dave Wasserman explained a few days ago:
Trump has bulldozed this assumption about blue districts, through his dominance in the enclaves of working-class white Republican voters who live in majority-minority districts — defined as those where non-Hispanic whites are a minority of residents. Part of Trump’s appeal in these mostly urban areas may be attributable to his brash, big-city persona.
But as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar and others have pointed out, strained race relations also appear to be playing a role. Areas in racial transition are often flashpoints for racial tension and tend to be ripe for Trump’s oft-stated support for police, implicitly viewed as a rebuke of Black Lives Matter activism. For example, Trump carried all five delegates from the majority-minority district encompassing Ferguson, Missouri.
Majority-minority districts may be more fertile ground for populism among Republicans than for Cruz-style doctrinaire conservatism, but “moneyball” suggests that they’re still a decent bet because of his microtargeting and GOTV capabilities. That’s why he’s in New York City this week.
Exit question: Was the “New York values” comment the dumbest moment of Cruz’s campaign so far? There haven’t been many truly dumb moments and even “New York values” had a strategic logic at the time, aiming to turn southern evangelical voters against Trump on culture-war grounds. It failed badly, though: Trump cleaned up in the south despite the fact that he’s the type of secular northeastern “Republican” who’s supposed to be pure poison to southern voters. And it was short-sighted in that it was obvious even at the time, before Iowa voted, that the race for the nomination might well run deep into the spring, which would make New York itself (and other blue states) important in deciding the nominee. I wrote about that in mid-January, in fact. Cruz rolled the dice on “New York values” because he thought Trump could be beaten by convincing conservatives that he wasn’t one of them. Too many of them turned out not to care. Now Cruz is paying the price.