Beware a GOP primary calendar front-loaded with states friendly to Trump and Cruz

2. Beware an early, modest lead for Trump or Cruz. Our estimates show that Cruz would need 555 delegates heading into the March 15 primaries to keep pace for the nomination, and Trump would need 469. However, Rubio would need only 371. In other words, the GOP calendar is front-loaded with insurgent-friendly states. Although Rubio can’t afford to get clobbered early by missing thresholds in SEC states (see No. 3 below), he merely needs to stay within striking distance…

4. If any early state is critical, it’s probably New Hampshire. A Trump or Cruz win in Iowa could add to moderate Republicans’ urgency to coalesce behind an alternative. Rubio doesn’t need to win New Hampshire, but to move up nationally, he will need to finish ahead of Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie by a clear margin. One other thing: If Bush and Kasich depart the race after poor New Hampshire showings, Rubio could benefit enormously by consolidating support in their Florida and Ohio backyards ahead of March 15.

5. It’s quite possible that no candidate will end up with 1,237 delegates by June. Early on in the season, it’s likely that no single candidate will hit his target numbers. That’s because with a crowded field of contenders, it will be difficult for even leading candidates to amass large numbers of delegates. But the longer the race goes without Trump, Cruz or Rubio coming close to hitting his cumulative targets, the higher the odds of a contested Cleveland convention.