Rice U. experts available to discuss March 15 primaries

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David Ruth
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Rice U. experts available to discuss March 15 primaries

HOUSTON — (March 14, 2016) – March 15 is shaping up to be a truly decisive date for all four of the Republican candidates still standing, according to two Rice University political scientists who are available to comment on the primary scheduled for that date.

Five states (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio) will hold primaries and the Northern Marianas Islands territory will conduct a caucus, but the spotlight will be on the Sunshine State and the Buckeye State, according to Mark Jones, a professor of political science and a fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Mark Jones photo courtesy Rice University

Mark Jones photo courtesy Rice University

“Florida and Ohio are statewide winner-take-all races, meaning the plurality winner, even if by one vote, wins all of the state’s delegates, 99 and 66, respectively,” Jones said. “Combined, the delegates from these two states represent 13 percent of the delegates a candidate needs to cross the crucial threshold of 1,237 to win on a first ballot at the GOP convention in July.”

Jones said the Florida and Ohio contests are effectively “win or go home” elections for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“If either can’t win his home state, the only realistic option will be to end his campaign,” Jones said. “However, the Florida and Ohio elections are not just of fundamental importance for Rubio and Kasich. Victories by Donald Trump in both states would at the very least push his total number of delegates to more than 619, which is more than half of the delegates he needs to secure the GOP nomination on the first ballot.”

As for Sen. Ted Cruz, Jones said losses by Rubio and Kasich would clear the field, turning the contest into a two-horse race for the remainder of the primary process, albeit with the short-term cost of Trump likely winning the 165 delegates up for grabs in these two states.

“A Rubio loss would be especially beneficial to Cruz’s efforts to win more delegates than Trump during the remaining 12 weeks of the primary season, which ends June 7 with contests in California and four other states,” Jones said.

Paul BracePaul Brace, the Clarence L. Carter Professor of Political Science at Rice, said March 15 may be one of the most consequential primary nights in the modern presidential nomination era. He said that given impressive victories in a “large but shrinking field” of candidates in all regions of the U.S., he believes the GOP is mathematically, if not psychologically, coming to the realization that Trump will be the presidential nominee in 2016.

“Trump’s growing and increasingly insurmountable lead in delegates parallels the growing angst in many quarters of the Republican Party fearing Trump’s bombast and inexperience will lead the party to ruin in the fall election,” he said.

On the Democratic side, the same five states hold primaries. Jones said that given the large number of delegates at stake, it could signal the nearing end of the competitive phase of the Democratic nomination process if Hillary Clinton does very well and expands her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders dramatically. However, he said, it could also signal that Clinton will have to continue to slog it out with Sanders in a competitive contest through at least the end of April if not through the end of May or early June.

Jones is a leading expert on Texas politics. He has been quoted nationally about Cruz’s political career, which he has followed extensively since Cruz’s days as solicitor general of Texas to the launching of a long-shot U.S. Senate bid to today.

Brace is an expert on American politics. He has published widely, primarily in the areas of state politics and judicial decision-making. He is the author of “State Government and Economic Performance,” co-author of “Follow the Leader: Opinion Polls and the Modern Presidents” and co-editor of “Change and Continuity in American State and Local Government” and “The Presidency in American Politics.” His recent articles have appeared in the Journal of Politics, the American Journal of Political Science and Political Research Quarterly. The National Science Foundation funds his current research on strategic behavior in state supreme courts. Brace also serves on the Council of the Midwest Political Science Association.

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This news release can be found online at http://news.rice.edu.

Follow Rice News and Media Relations via Twitter @RiceUNews.

Jones in the news:

Houston Chronicle: Ted Cruz celebrates primary wins in Houston area.

Univision: Texas le da oxígeno a la campaña de Ted Cruz

Voice of America: Republican Party faces sharp divisions 

Brace in the news:

Bloomberg Politics: Paul Ryan’s House agenda upended by Trump, Cruz dominance

Related materials:

Mark Jones photo: http://news.rice.edu/files/2014/09/mark-jones.jpg

Mark Jones biography: http://bakerinstitute.org/experts/mark-p-jones/

Mark Jones Twitter handle: @MarkPJonesTX

Paul Brace photo: http://news.rice.edu/files/2016/01/Paul-Brace-1i4pyra.jpg

Paul Brace biography: http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~pbrace.

Photo credits: Rice University

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,910 undergraduates and 2,809 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for best quality of life and for lots of race/class interaction by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to http://tinyurl.com/AboutRiceUniversity.

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.