Tuesday marks the biggest day of the GOP primary season when 13 states and American Samoa vote. Campaigns are already at work spinning expectations to prevent media reports of underperforming. With most of the states that are voting in the South, hence the nickname the SEC primary, conventional wisdom signals Cruz (coming from Texas) and Trump (winner of South Carolina) should be the big winners of the night. With that in mind, the three major candidates have key focuses and marks to meet in order to display strength moving forward. Noticeably absent from this analysis are Ben Carson and John Kasich who are essentially spoiling the vote for Cruz and Rubio, respectively, without standing a chance at the nomination.
Let’s start with Trump’s requirements to have a good night on Tuesday. For Trump to strike a decisive blow to Cruz, he must win Texas and a vast majority of the other Southern states that will be voting. Realistically, Trump will be on par or better if he wins at least 10 of the 13 states. Anything less would be seen as a crack in Trump’s frontrunner status after setting high expectations by winning 3 of the first 4 states. After days of continuous assault from Rubio and Cruz, Trump might win by smaller margins, leading to a tighter race. With such limited polling between the Thursday night debate and Tuesday, shifts in the race will come as a surprise to all when votes start rolling in.
Cruz NEEDS to win Texas in order to survive past March 1st. He has sunk large sums of resources in this state which he is Senator of. Additionally, since Cruz’s path to the nomination lies through the Southern states, he must also win a couple other states besides Texas. Failure to do so will shut the doors to a Cruz nomination, whether he accepts the facts quickly or not. Especially telling will be where Cruz falls in the states Trump wins. Should Cruz land in 3rd place behind Trump and Rubio in a majority of Southern states, the writing is on the wall for his campaign as well. Should Cruz fall flat on Tuesday night, expect deal-making to occur while votes are still being counted.
Finally, Rubio, the man who came at Trump the most in the Thursday debate and since, is looking to beat current polling estimates as he positions to be the anti-Trump. Looking at Tuesday night, Rubio should really be focused on finally picking up a win, potentially from Minnesota, Arkansas, or a slew of other states that momentum and organization could carry. The most important task for Rubio on Tuesday is crossing the 20% threshold in Texas to be eligible for delegates, since Texas wields an impressive 155 delegates. Given that feat, Rubio still maintains a path to the nomination. Should Rubio not cross that mark in Texas or rival/place second in states carried by Trump, many doors to the nomination will close, possibly leading to propelling Trump as the clear nominee or a second look at Cruz as the anti-Trump.
Despite the multitude of states voting Tuesday, the central focus will be on Texas. Is it possible for Trump to sweep the Super Tuesday primaries? Can Cruz defeat Trump on his home turf and keep his campaign alive? Will Rubio cross the 20% threshold to earn delegates? How can Kasich and Carson continue on with expected poor showings and dwindling funds? The answers will start to be clear in less than 72 hours and will shape the remainder of the 2016 election.