NJ presidential primary: Why GOP candidates won’t be ‘wasting their time’ here
New Jersey’s 51 delegates to the Republican National Convention are the third-biggest prize still remaining in the presidential nomination race — a crucial block for either Donald Trump to clinch the nomination or for his mortified opponents to block his path.
Yet New Jerseyans can expect to see little of Trump, and even less of Ted Cruz and John Kasich, in the next 40 days.
Blame it on the state’s winner-take-all approach to awarding delegates, paired with Trump’s strength among voters in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Without a path to win even a small share of delegates, Trump’s rivals are expected to focus their efforts elsewhere, culminating in California.
Not coincidentally, California awards most of its 172 GOP delegates to the winner of each of its 53 congressional districts, so there are rewards for poaching support in the state’s most liberal and most conservative areas even if Trump leads statewide.
“It’s not just being head-to-head with California. It really is our delegate allocation rules that hamper us,” said Patrick Murray, a Monmouth University political scientist and director of its poll.
“The big problem is not just being on the same date but giving out all your delegates to the statewide winner,” Murray said. “So there’s no reason for Kasich and Cruz to campaign here, because it’s not like they can peel off delegates.”
Just eight states award their Republican convention delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Some do it strictly proportionately, and others use an approach in which some go to the statewide winner and others to the winners in each congressional district.
Democrats award their pledged delegates proportionately, and also allow party leaders and elected officials to vote as they wish as superdelegates. Murray expects Hillary Clinton will win the nomination in mid-May and that while she’ll likely win New Jersey over Sen. Bernie Sanders, “that will simply be icing on the cake for her.”
Trump isn’t going to have the nomination sewn up by the time New Jersey votes.
If New Jersey awarded its delegates by district, Republicans in areas like Hudson County would find themselves with influence they rarely get to exert in local, county or legislative races. If not for being winner-take-all, New Jersey would be of great consequence this year.
“Otherwise I think we would see a campaign here, even with California being on the same day, because New Jersey’s 51 delegates are a significant number overall,” Murray said. “It’s just that if you win by one vote on primary day, you get all 51 of them. And obviously Donald Trump’s going to win by a lot more than that.”
A big clue as to how New Jersey will vote came in the recent races held by its demographically similar neighbors.
Trump averaged 57 percent of the vote Tuesday in sweeping Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. A week earlier, he got 60 percent in New York. The limited polling in New Jersey to date shows him far ahead here, as well.
“There’s no reason for Kasich or Cruz to campaign in New Jersey because there’s no way that they can beat Trump here,” Murray said. He said they might do a public event in the state if they come to hold a fundraiser but adds: “Otherwise, it really would be wasting their time, if they did.”
Gov. Chris Christie, who endorsed Trump after ending his campaign for president, said last week that Trump would hold a campaign rally in New Jersey.
But Murray said Trump knows the campaign will be decided in California and like the other candidates will spend most of his time there, after the crucial Indiana primary next week. Cruz is hoping to knock off Trump in Indiana.