How Rubio could lose all the key early states and still win the nomination

There’s precedent for a candidate to wait it out until a more favorable stage of the calendar, and that candidate also happens to be someone who didn’t win Iowa or New Hampshire: Bill Clinton. He won just three of the first 14 contests before Super Tuesday in 1992, when the South voted for a favored son by a tremendous margin.

To manage something similar, Mr. Rubio would need to do well in relatively favorable states like Nevada, Massachusetts, Colorado, Vermont and Virginia. He would need to do well enough to stay competitive in the hard delegate math, preventing either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz from amassing a clear majority of delegates.

From the standpoint of delegates, he would need to start winning on March 15. He would be counting on Florida, his winner-take-all home state, and either Ohio, another winner-take-all state, or Illinois, which has unusual delegate rules that make it pretty close to a winner-take-all state if a candidate wins by a modest margin.

If he were to win Florida and either Illinois or Ohio (or both), he would enter the second half of the primary season in a reasonable position. He wouldn’t be assured of victory (or even a majority of delegates), but the mainstream of the Republican Party would probably see he was worth the investment. He could restock his war chest and go on to fight for the predominantly Democratic-leaning states that make up the final three months of the primary calendar.

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