Now that the primaries are underway, votes and delegates matter more than polls. On the Republican side, one candidate would need to capture 1,237 of 2,472 delegates to the Cleveland convention to clinch the nomination. To help you keep track of who's ahead, the Cook Political Report has devised a delegate scorecard estimating how many delegates each of the five leading GOP contenders would need to win in each state and territory to attain 1,237 delegates by June.
For the first time, Donald Trump is now "on pace" to win 1,237 delegates after he claimed all 50 delegates in South Carolina on Saturday, pushing him up to 115 percent of his delegate target. The next closest contender, Marco Rubio, is at only 39 percent of his delegate target. Rubio and others don't have a lot of time to stop Trump: although only four percent of GOP delegates have been allocated so far, 65 percent of GOP delegates will be allocated by the end of March.
The biggest loser out of South Carolina is Ted Cruz, who needed 47 delegates from the Palmetto State according to our estimates. Instead, he won zero, calling into question where he can rack up delegate leads if he couldn't win a very conservative, heavily evangelical state. Arguably, his best states on Super Tuesday (March 1) are his home state of Texas as well as Oklahoma, but both award their delegates on a proportional basis. For now, he's even fallen below John Kasich on our leaderboard.
Who's Ahead? GOP Delegates Won vs. Cook Targets
Heading into Nevada, it's increasingly apparent Rubio is the only Republican left who can stop Trump. But that's not to say Cruz, Kasich, and Ben Carson don't matter. The more delegates Cruz or any of the others win in the SEC primaries on Super Tuesday, the greater the odds that neither Rubio nor Trump will win 1,237 delegates by June, raising the prospect of a contested convention in Cleveland.
By our math, Trump would need to win 13 of Nevada's 30 delegates to be "on pace" for 1,237, while Rubio would need 10. But Rubio's first huge test will be on Super Tuesday, when he will have to prove he can meet tough viability thresholds in southern states like Texas and Georgia (where he will need 20 percent of the vote to be eligible to win statewide delegates), as well as show strength among more moderate Republican voters in places like Massachusetts and Vermont.
The single most critical day of the Republican race will be March 15. That's when four large states - Florida, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri - will award a total of 292 delegates on a winner-take-all basis, either statewide or by congressional district. If Trump beats Rubio in his home state of Florida, it could amount to a knock out blow to Rubio. However, if Rubio wins Florida and its jackpot of 99 delegates, he could make up a lot of lost ground. If he wins Ohio and Illinois too, he could possibly take the drivers' seat.
2016 Republican Delegate Scorecard: Updated for Feb. 12, 2016
How this works: The scorecard below is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it's a tool to gauge each major GOP candidate's true progress towards the nomination. At any given point in the primaries, any candidate who exceeds his cumulative delegate target should be regarded as the frontrunner. But, the longer the Republican primaries go on without any candidate coming close to or exceeding 100 percent, the higher the odds of a contested convention. Click here for a larger version of the table.
A Note on Methodology
To arrive at state-by-state delegate targets, we first analyzed demographic patterns of support in national as well as entrance/exit polls in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Based on the data, we assume Trump will fare best in states and districts with small shares of college graduates, while Cruz will do best in places with large shares of evangelical protestants. We also assume that Rubio and Kasich, like previous years' contenders in the "establishment" lane, will perform well in bluer and more highly educated states and districts, but will underperform somewhat in caucus states.
Then, we applied those patterns of support to each state's demographic profile, keeping in mind each state party's unique delegate allocation rules (for example, winner-take-all versus proportional). All states voting prior to March 15, with the exception of South Carolina, award their delegates on a proportional basis, making it less likely one candidate will build an insurmountable early lead. However, on March 15th, both Florida and Ohio will award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis, meaning a candidate who wins a bare plurality in both states could begin to pull away.