With Super Tuesday firmly in the rear-view, the primary election calendar now shifts to a few separate contests when voters in four states head to the polls Saturday. However, the nature of the contests could to slow frontrunner Donald Trump’s momentum.
There are four Republican primaries or caucuses: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine, and all are “closed” to non-Republicans.
How could that slow down the billionaire who has already won 10 of the previous 16 contests? Because to date the calendar has been predominantly composed of open primaries, meaning Independents, and even Democrats, can cast their ballots in the GOP race.
To date there have been four closed elections: Iowa, Nevada Oklahoma and Alaska. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won three of those four. Trump, as his nature, has boasted about all the new voters his candidacy is attracting and that he could walk with them at any time to launch a third-party bid.
“I signed a letter with the RNC, and I said, you know, I wanna do this as a Republican – the pledges, they call it," he said in Thursday during an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “But I’m not being treated the right way. I am not being treated properly.”
CNN exit polling shows Trump more often than not bests his rivals about Independent voters. But if that bloc is forced to sit out Saturday’s vote, it could make the difference between adding to his delegate count on the way to the necessary 1,237 and watching them go to his contenders.
For example, a Trafalgar Group survey released on Friday found Trump has a narrow lead in Kansas, where 40 delegates are on the line, with 35 percent support to 29 percent for Cruz. Yet 6 percent of voters in the poll said they remain undecided; that group could break for either hopeful, or go to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). Candidates must get at least 10 percent of the vote to qualify for delegates.
In Kentucky, with a 5 percent threshold, and Louisiana each has 46 delegates up for grabs. Delegates will be distributed proportionally in Louisiana, as will Maine’s 23 delegates. However, if any candidate gets over 50 percent in Maine, he gets all the delegates.
One or two losses could give fresh hope to the GOP establishment and the “Never Trump” movement spearheaded by 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney. It could signal bigger trouble ahead for the billionaire, following his good, but not great, showing on Super Tuesday and his vulgar performance in the last presidential debate.
The former reality TV star is clearly aware of the stakes.
On Friday, he withdrew from his Saturday morning speaking slot at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to attend a newly-scheduled rally in Kansas instead.
And there will be little rest for the GOP field. Puerto Rico holds its open primary on Sunday before Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi hold their caucuses and primaries. Hawaii and Idaho are closed competitions.
Democrats will weigh in on their two-person primary, as well. On Saturday, they’ll pick either former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Kansas, Nebraska and Louisiana, followed by caucuses in Maine on Sunday.