Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1237,   Dem: 2383
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Rubio the Lone Star in Texas Debate

Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and Ben Carson brought the GOP road show to Houston on Thursday evening. Though this is their 10th meeting, the candidates—or some of them, at least—are trying to keep it interesting. Here are the big story lines of the night, from least to most significant:

What are Ben Carson and John Kasich Doing? Kasich brought out the nice guy persona yet again, while jumping wildly back and forth between staunchly conservative and moderate positions. You can't have it both ways, John. Carson offered his usual "I never get to speak" jokes and meandering position statements. He was also responsible for the oddest remark of the evening, when he said that he would choose a Supreme Court nominee based on the "fruit salad" of their lives. In any case, both men were an afterthought for most of the evening, often standing silent for 10-15 minutes while the other three candidates duked it out. In fact, Trump spoke more than Carson and Kasich combined. This is just not the right forum for these two candidates, and this is not their year. It's only a question of how long it takes for them to realize what everyone else already knows.

So Much for the 11th Commandment: Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment, of course, was "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." For a group of men who claim to be his disciples, and who once again took time onstage to pay homage to the Gipper, they seem to have no regard for this core tenet of his political philosophy. The last GOP debate was nasty, and this one was just as bad, with candidates shouting, and talking over one another, and hurling insults without compunction or restraint. Trump called both Cruz and Rubio "liars," while labeling the former a "basket case" and the latter a "choke artist." Cruz told Trump to get back on his meds, while Rubio said the billionaire is a "fake" and argued he is a hypocrite. And that was just the entree (see below for more). Trump, for good measure, also insulted co-moderator Hugh Hewitt, telling him that, "very few people listen to your radio show." And if being targeted for abuse is not enough, Hewitt, Dana Bash, and Wolf Blitzer had virtually no control over the candidates. The whole thing brought to mind the conduct of the British parliament.

Cruz Sinks: Ted Cruz had a better night than Carson or Kasich, but that's about the best that can be said. He seems to have finally realized that it's now or never when it comes to bringing down Trump, but his shots were not landing very often, particularly given that the home-state audience should have been on his side. The enduring Cruz image from the evening was him whining for a chance to respond to mentions of his name, which must have happened at least a dozen times. While it's certainly necessary to be assertive in these debates (see Ben Carson), there's also such a thing as taking that too far, as Cruz taught us on Thursday.

Rubio Rises: Like Cruz, Rubio seems to have awakened to the fact that Trump is the biggest (only?) obstacle to the nomination. Unlike Cruz, Rubio actually made some headway against The Donald, opening several new lines of attack: That he's a trust fund baby, that he used undocumented labor on several construction projects, and that he cost Americans jobs when he chose to have his line of ties made abroad. Much of this was clearly unexpected, and the billionaire was left sputtering more than once. For this alone, Rubio is the winner of the night. That said, it wasn't a perfect evening for him. He made a number of head-scratching declarations, like "We are the party of diversity, not the Democratic party." 91% white is not exactly "diverse," Marco. Further, the MarcoBot made more than one appearance, most obviously when he repeated almost exactly the same line about Trump's foreign-made ties—"Well, make them in America"—five straight times.

The Trump Pivot Has Begun: Because the media (and most of the candidates on stage) are still thinking in terms of the GOP nomination, the focus will be on Donald Trump's relatively pedestrian performance. As such, the most important subtext of the evening is going to be overlooked. Nonetheless, it is evident that Trump is confident that he will be the Republicans' candidate in the general election, and has begun to move toward the political center in anticipation. Certainly, he issued forth with a generous serving of conservative red meat, such as his usual talk about tall fences along the Mexican border. However, there were numerous occasions when he said things that might well have come from the mouths of Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). For example, while explaining that he would defund Planned Parenthood, he nonetheless acknowledged that:

[M]illions and millions of women—cervical cancer, breast cancer—are helped by Planned Parenthood. So you can say whatever you want, but they have millions of women going through Planned Parenthood that are helped greatly.

On the Middle East:

As president, however, there's nothing that I would rather do to bring peace to Israel and its neighbors generally. And I think it serves no purpose to say that you have a good guy and a bad guy.

Perhaps the most important example, however, came during an argument over the Obamacare mandate, when Trump reiterated that he would dump the program as president, but that "we're not going to let [people] die in the streets." That's really the rub of the Cruz/Rubio positions on Obamacare. Either people are given a mandate to buy insurance, or they get treated without insurance in case of an emergency (thus passing the costs on to those who are insured), or they are turned away from ERs and left to die (or to otherwise suffer the consequences of their non-insured status). Cruz and Rubio hate the mandate, and presumably don't want those with insurance to foot the bill for those without (which is essentially welfare). This means that they are de facto embracing the third option. Trump, by contrast, is essentially advocating a form of compassionate conservatism. Not too appealing to the base, but definitely something that will get the ears of moderates and independents to perk up.

On substance and style, Rubio won while Trump and Cruz acted like beaten dogs. However, online polls gave a different story. The Drudge Report survey of 120,000 people showed Trump winning with 64%, Cruz second at 18%, and Rubio a distant third at 13%. A survey by Time of 17,000 also put Trump on top, with an enormous 71% saying he won. Here Rubio was second at 18% and Kasich third at 6%. Neither of these is anything remotely similar to a scientific poll but it does show that Trump's supporters aren't going to pack up and go home just because Rubio was nasty to him in one debate.

This is the last debate, of course, before Super Tuesday. Given the number of delegates that will be awarded on that day, it seems unlikely that Fox News will need five podiums when the candidates re-convene on March 3. (Z)

Trump Still Won't Release Tax Returns

One potentially important topic that was mentioned during the debate was Trump's tax returns. He hasn't released any of them and claimed he couldn't because he was being audited. According to Stanford law professor Joseph Bankman, it is common that very wealthy individuals are frequently audited, adding: "I'm not sure why that prevents him from releasing his returns. They are his to release." It is true that IRS is forbidden from releasing anyone's tax returns without that person's permission, but nothing in the law prevents anyone from voluntarily publishing his or her tax returns.

Hillary Clinton, for example, not only has released all of her tax returns from 2001 to 2014, but she has posted them prominently on her Website. In 2014, she paid a combined federal, state, and local tax rate of 46%. It could be that Trump has used various accounting tricks, off-shore corporations, and other methods to reduce his tax rate and this could work to change the public perception of him from the new George Wallace to the new Mitt Romney. If Trump and Clinton face off in the general election, expect Clinton to hound him mercilessly on his tax returns. They could be an oppo researcher's dream come true. (V)

Trump Has Huge Lead in the Bible Belt

A new Purple Strategies poll of the seven states that have primaries on Tuesday has Donald Trump with a huge lead. The states polled were Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Here are the results:

SEC Primary
Rank Candidate Pct
1 Donald Trump 37%
2 Ted Cruz 20%
3 Marco Rubio 20%
4 Ben Carson 8%
5 John Kasich 6%

The twice-divorced Trump is more popular in the South than the Pope, even among Catholics. He beats both Cruz and Rubio on authenticity, terrorism, and having a positive vision of the future. They rate him as the least committed conservative and the least committed Christian and don't care. The pollster, Doug Usher, said: "He's turning everything we thought we knew about Republican primary voters on its head."

If Trump indeed gets twice as many votes as either Rubio or Cruz next Tuesday, it will be awfully hard for anyone to stop him from coming in first in delegates. What might still be possible is to deny him a majority. As we have pointed out before, in many states, candidates coming in below 15% or 20% of the vote get no delegates, so it is crucial for Cruz and Rubio to pass the threshold, even by one vote.

If you are interested in know where Trump stands on the issues, check out this list. Note that on many issues, he has two or more contradictory positions. But his supporters don't actually care what his positions are, so it doesn't seem to hurt. What they understand is that he enjoys poking his finger in the establishment's eyes and that's all that matters to them. (V)

Speculation about Trump's Running Mate Is Already Here

Media pundits said The Donald had a Really Bad Night at the debate yesterday, but online polls said he won and pre-debate scientific polls say he has a huge lead in the South, so it is probably a bit premature to say his goose is cooked. So naturally, people are starting to talk about potential running mates for him. Here are Chris Cillizza's picks.

Nikki Haley: The governor of South Carolina makes a lot of sense for Trump or any Republican for that matter. She is a good-looking Indian-American woman who would broaden his base from angry old white men. Also, she is 44 and he will be 70 on election day.

Rick Scott: Although he is currently governor of Florida—the mother of all swing states—Scott was a businessman before becoming governor. He was a health-care executive in the private sector and would be great at explaining why "ObamaCare" is a terrible thing (even though most health-insurance companies rather like it because it brings in millions of new customers). Stylistically, he is the opposite of Haley. She is smooth and pleasant whereas he is angry, like Trump. So between Scott and Haley, Trump would have to choose between more of the same or something different.

Sarah Palin: Pundits and Democrats wouldn't jump for joy with her on the ticket (again), but she has a lot of devoted followers. Her brand of populism fits perfectly with his. OK, she might say something stupid or repulsive, but Trump does that all the time and it doesn't seem to hurt, so why not double down on stupid and repulsive?

Carly Fiorina: Like Scott, she has a business background and she even has some campaign experience, both when she ran against Barbara Boxer for the Senate in 2010 (and was crushed) and this year. It's true she was fired by Hewlett Packard in a very public way, but Trump has gone bankrupt four times and nobody seems to care much. Her value on the ticket would be to draw women away from Hillary Clinton.

Some other businessman?: How about another deal maker like Carl Icahn or Jack Welch. By picking a businessman who has never been in politics, Trump cements his image as an "outsider."

Of course, if Trump really wants to shock people—and he seems to revel in that—he could pick someone not on anyone's radar. How about his wife, Melania Knauss Trump, saying they work as a team so why not make it official? Melania, a former supermodel from Slovenia, once posed nude (sorry, you have to find the links yourself) and Trump could allude to what she could do in the Lincoln Bedroom. It might make Bill Clinton blush. Or maybe not. (V)

List of Upcoming Democratic Contests

Now on to the Democrats. Tomorrow's South Carolina primary is interesting only to learn if Hillary Clinton's margin here is as big as Bernie Sanders' was in New Hampshire. But between tomorrow and March 15, almost half the Democratic delegates will be awarded. Here is a summary of the upcoming events. For more information on them, see Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball.

State Date Type At large CD Dels 2008 White Notes
South Carolina Feb. 27 Primary 18 35 Obama 43% Majority black electorate
Alabama March 1 Primary 18 35 Obama 44% State is identical to SC
Amer. Samoa March 1 Caucus 6 0 Clinton Low Not a lot of polling here
Arkansas March 1 Primary 11 21 Clinton 80% Bill was governor long ago
Colorado March 1 Caucus 23 43 Obama 80% Sanders country
Dems Abroad Mar. 1-8 Primary 4 9* Obama ? For Democrats living outside U.S.
Georgia March 1 Primary 35 67 Obama 43% Like SC and AL
Massachusetts March 1 Primary 32 59 Clinton 85% A bigger New Hampshire
Minnesota March 1 Caucus 27 50 Clinton 89% Few blacks, many social democrats
Oklahoma March 1 Primary 13 25 Clinton 82% Voters hate Obama; maybe hate Clinton?
Tennessee March 1 Primary 23 44 Clinton 66% A sightly less white Oklahoma
Texas March 1 Primary 77 145** Clinton 46% Latino-heavy state
Vermont March 1 Primary 16 0 Obama 94% Think of it as West Hampshire
Virginia March 1 Primary 33 62 Obama 62% Enough blacks that Clinton is favorite
Kansas March 5 Caucus 11 22 Obama 87% Iowa with wheat instead of corn
Louisiana March 5 Primary 18 33 Obama 48% As Alabama goes, so goes Louisiana
Nebraska March 5 Caucus 8 17 Obama 88% See Kansas
Maine March 6 Caucus 8 17 Obama 95% Think of it as North Hampshire
Michigan March 8 Primary 45 85 Clinton 72% Competes only with MS in the news
Mississippi March 8 Primary 13 23 Obama 48% Will do whatever Alabama does
N. Marianas March 12 Caucus 6 0 (None) Low First time the Islands hold a contest
Florida March 15 Primary 74 140 Clinton 66% Lots of old people, blacks, Latinos
Illinois March 15 Primary 54 102 Obama 57% Clinton grew up here and many blacks
Missouri March 15 Primary 24 47 Obama 77% More like Oklahoma than like Iowa
North Carolina March 15 Primary 37 70 Obama 62% Sort of like Virgina which votes earlier
Ohio March 15 Primary 50 93 Clinton 76% Key Senate primary same day

* Democrats Abroad has 9 regional delegates
** Texas allocates 145 delegates based on state senate districts

All states have a certain number of delegates that are allocated proportionally to the statewide vote. These are listed in column 4 above. So, for example, if Sanders gets 75% of the statewide vote in Massachusetts, he gets 24 of the 32 statewide delegates. Most states also have delegates allocated by congressional or state senate district, listed in column 5. In most cases the number of statewide delegates is about one-third of the total and the number of district delegates is two-thirds. This explains why column 5 above is about twice that of column 4. This means that both Clinton and especially Sanders can target parts of a state. In general, Sanders benefits from delegates being allocated by CD because he can hit college towns like Boulder, CO, Austin, TX, Ann Arbor, MI, Urbana, IL, and Columbus, OH, and pick up delegates there, even if he doesn't have much chance to win the state as a whole. And, of course, votes he gets in the college towns add to his statewide totals, which helps with the at-large delegates. The total number of delegates at stake in these contests is 1,395, about 58% of the 2,383 needed to get the nomination.

The second thing to notice about the upcoming contests is that only Maine and Vermont have over 90% white voters, like New Hampshire. Sanders is likely to win massive victories in these states and sweep nearly all of their 41 delegates. However, in six states (South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), white voters are less than half the electorate. These states have a total of 231 delegates at stake. Clinton is almost sure to win the lion's share here.

On Super Tuesday, Clinton is likely to sweep the South. A Sanders victory in any state of the Confederacy would be a huge upset. His best states next week are likely to be Vermont, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. He might also do well in Oklahoma, because everyone there so hates Obama that that they might see a vote for Clinton as a vote for Obama and a vote for Sanders as a repudiation of Obama. Sanders is not likely to campaign much there except maybe in Norman, OK, where the 30,000 students at the University of Oklahoma might vote for him rather than against Clinton. Still, a delegate is a delegate.

A big factor in next week's voting is momentum. If Clinton crushes Sanders in South Carolina tomorrow, especially if she has a bigger margin than he had in New Hampshire, she will go into Super Tuesday, only 3 days later, with a full head of steam. Undecided voters often prefer going with the "winner" and that could help her. (V)

Sanders and Clinton Voted the Same Way 93% of the Time

While a lot of Sanders supporters see Hillary Clinton as a corporate shill who can't be trusted, in reality Sanders and Clinton don't actually differ that much. The New York Times investigated how they voted during the two years they were in the Senate together. On 93% of the votes, they voted the same way. They did differ 31 times, though (7%) and the article lists every vote where they didn't agree. Clinton's voting record is comparable to that of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), both liberal stalwarts.

Clinton and Sanders differed eight times on foreign policy and defense, mostly on Iran, Guantanamo, and the defense budget. Most times Clinton voted with overwhelming Democratic majorities and Sanders opposed them. On immigration, they differed seven times, once on Y-1 visas and six times on procedural questions. On the financial crisis of 2008, they disagreed three times. Clinton supported Obama on bailing out the banks to avoid destroying the financial system; Sanders voted with the Republicans to let the banks fail.

On energy, they differed four times. Clinton supported ethanol (probably because she was already thinking about the Iowa caucuses) and Sanders opposed it. They also differed on some loans and credits. On homeland security, they differed four times, all of which were close votes in the Senate. Three of them related to the conditions of issuing grants related to homeland security. The other one was about giving immunity to suspicious people who reported threats. Clinton was for immunity; Sanders was opposed.

The last five were a mixed bag. Clinton supported NIST's Advanced Technology Program; Sanders didn't. Clinton supported the FDA reform bill (2x), Sanders was opposed. Clinton opposed earmarks and Sanders supported them. Finally, Clinton supported $45 billion in estate tax exemptions and Sanders, this time in the majority, opposed them.

All in all, the idea that Clinton is from Venus and Sanders is from Mars is not true. Their styles and who they pal around with is clearly very different, but when the votes were taken, they were on the same page nearly all the time. (V)

Latinos Like Clinton, Hate Trump

Reports about who Latinos supported in the Democratic caucuses in Nevada were mixed but now a national poll of Latinos shows Clinton with a 2 to 1 lead among Latino Democrats, 57% to 28%. Among millennial Latinos, Sanders has a modest lead, 49% to 35%, but among the 35-49, 50-64, and 65+ age groups it is Clinton +50, Clinton +53, and Clinton +70. And 65+ voters vote at a much higher rate than younger voters.

The results of the poll were disastrous for Donald Trump and the Republicans. Now 8 in 10 Latinos have an "unfavorable" view of Trump and 7 in 10 have a "very unfavorable" view of him. The combination of Latinos liking Clinton and hating Trump is going to be a big problem for the Republicans if the two face off in November. Most calculations show that Republicans need to get 40% of the Latino vote to win. Turning the current numbers around will not be easy. (V)

Democrats Planning to Use Supreme Court Vacancy as a Weapon

Earlier this week, a trial balloon was floated with the name of Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) as the Supreme Court nominee. Sandoval announced yesterday he wasn't interested. Actually, he had been a judge before he was governor and clearly prefers governing to judging. But that probably wasn't a serious suggestion in any case. What is serious is that Obama and the Democrats are going to use the vacancy as a weapon to try to win back the Senate. Partisan voters already know who which party they will vote for and the Court fight makes no difference. But many independent voters, who don't follow politics closely, don't understand why this nomination is so terribly important. What they do know is that "Washington doesn't work." The Democrats are going to pound the Republican senators in blue states who are up for reelection as the ones who make Washington dysfunctional because they refuse to do their jobs. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) are already feeling the heat and the fight has barely started. If the Democrats can defeat those four, hold all their own seats, and capture the Vice Presidency, they will get control of the Senate back.

There are many ways the Democrats can play this, especially once the name of the nominee is known. For example, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee could hold their own "hearing" and lob softballs at the nominee. It would have no meaning, of course, but by inviting the media to cover it, the nominee would get plenty of publicity and the voting public would start saying: "This person seems pretty reasonable. Why won't the Republicans even allow a vote?" It's all about the politics. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Feb25 Republicans Will Debate in Houston Tonight
Feb25 Is the Conventional Wisdom about Trump Wrong?
Feb25 What Would Trump's Platform Look Like?
Feb25 Conservative Group May Drop Cruz for Rubio
Feb25 Trial Balloon: Brian Sandoval to Replace Scalia
Feb25 Senate Races Beginning to Heat Up
Feb24 Nevada GOP Votes: Trump Makes His Point, Kasich Craps Out
Feb24 Does Winning NH and SC Mean You Will Be the Republican Nominee?
Feb24 Trump Holds Huge Lead Nationally
Feb24 Has the Republican Party Fractured into Three Parts?
Feb24 Judiciary Committee Will Not Hold A Hearing on Scalia's Successor
Feb24 Rubio Picks Up Megadonor
Feb24 Judge Orders Discovery on Clinton's Email Server
Feb23 Republicans Caucus in Nevada Today
Feb23 Rubio Is Now the Establishment Candidate
Feb23 Univision Will Try to Register 3 Million New Latino Voters
Feb23 Clinton Already Has a Large Lead in Delegates
Feb23 Another Day, Another Dirty Trick for Cruz
Feb23 Democratic Turnout Was Down in Nevada As Well as Iowa and New Hampshire
Feb23 Conservatives to McConnell: Supreme Court is More Important Than Your Majority
Feb23 Scalia Replacement Drama Continues to Occupy Center Stage
Feb23 When Is a Trump Not a Trump?
Feb22 Eight Takeaways about South Carolina and Nevada from CNN
Feb22 Five Takeaways from Politico
Feb22 Five Takeaways from USA Today
Feb22 Five Takeaways from the Washington Examiner
Feb22 Three Takeways on Nevada from Michael Tomasky
Feb22 Candidates Go after Super Tuesday a la Carte
Feb22 So Much for Kasich the Moderate
Feb22 Why Couldn't Jeb Fix It?
Feb22 Could an Old Photo Help Sanders in South Carolina?
Feb22 Did Sanders Really Win the Latino Vote?
Feb22 Is Hillary Clinton Inevitable?
Feb22 Is Donald Trump Inevitable?
Feb22 Scalia's Death Could Cost the Republicans the Senate
Feb21 South Carolina Votes: Trump Succeeds, Bush Secedes
Feb21 Nevada Democrats Back Clinton
Feb21 Supreme Court Makes North Carolina Redraw Its Districts
Feb21 Obama Will Review Supreme Court Candidates this Weekend
Feb21 Voters in Sanders' Old Neighborhood Prefer Trump
Feb20 Today Is the Big Day for the Republicans
Feb20 Today Is the Big Day for the Democrats
Feb20 Pro-Cruz Robocalls Attack Trump on Confederate Flag, Gay Rights
Feb20 Rubio Would Deport DREAMers
Feb20 Court Agrees to Hear Case about Cruz's Citizenship
Feb20 Maybe Trump Actually Can Go Too Far
Feb20 Trump Calls for a Boycott of Apple--from his iPhone
Feb19 Now Trump Leading Nationally
Feb19 Cruz Has to Come in Second in South Carolina or His Whole Case Falls Apart
Feb19 Cruz Campaign Shoots Itself in the Foot