Five states (plus two yet to vote) will keep their perfect records intact for backing the eventual Republican nominee in the modern primary era; two states lost their bellwether status this cycle
With Ted Cruz and John Kasich ending their presidential bids this week, the remaining Republican caucuses and primaries will be simply a formality, sending Donald Trump on his way to the GOP nomination in Cleveland.
While other candidate names will still appear on the remaining primary ballots, Trump will assuredly take first place in each of the handful of states yet to vote.
Entering the 2016 cycle, there were nine states that had voted for the eventual Republican nominee since the start of the modern primary era in 1976 (whether those states held primaries, caucuses, or conventions along the way).
In the end, most of those states remained true to form as Republican bellwethers in 2016 with just two losing a little shine off their predictive luster.
From 1976 through 2012 (actually, since 1972 as Richard Nixon only faced minor opposition in his quest for renomination) the nine states that had thrown their support behind the eventual Republican nominee in every cycle were Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
Ohio took itself out of the running on March 15th when it backed favorite son Governor John Kasich by 11.2 points over Trump. It proved to be Kasich’s only victory, following narrow losses in Vermont to Trump and Washington, D.C. to Marco Rubio.
The Buckeye State had previously had only one close call during this 40-year span: in 2012, Mitt Romney nipped Rick Santorum by just one point in its March 6th primary. No other race was decided by single digits.
Wisconsin fell next on April 5th in what was possibly an even more high profile primary, with only the Badger State conducting a contest on that day. Cruz recorded a 13.2-point win over Trump.
The closest a previous GOP nominee came to losing Wisconsin since 1976 was Romney just four years prior when he defeated Santorum by 7.2 points – the most competitive Republican primary in the state since 1952 when Robert Taft beat Earl Warren by 6.8 points.
Among those states which kept their bellwether streaks alive, Trump’s victory in Florida was perhaps the most impressive.
Trump destroyed Rubio – the lone, true Sunshine State favorite son left in the race – with a crushing 18.7-point win that sent the state’s junior U.S. Senator to the showers, withdrawing from the race that evening.
The only cycles in which the eventual GOP nominee came close to losing Florida were in 1976 (Gerald Ford beat Ronald Reagan by 5.6 points) and 2008 (John McCain beat Romney by 5.0 points).
Trump’s win in Illinois was also noteworthy – considering the spotty record the New York businessman had developed during the primary season in the Midwest at that time (losing caucuses in Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas with a lone win in Michigan).
But the state wasn’t a cakewalk. Illinois GOP voters gave Trump only an 8.5-point win – the narrowest victory margin across the last 20 primaries in the state since favorite son Frank Knox’s 7.9-point win over Idaho U.S. Senator William Borah in 1936.
Earlier in March, Trump’s 4.4-point victory over Cruz in Kentucky was a rare caucus win for the businessman – just his second out of seven caucuses to have held a preference vote at that stage in the cycle.
From 1976 through 2012, Kentucky held primaries, with most conducted in May when there was little drama in the GOP contest. The only close race came in 1976 when Ford defeated Reagan by four points.
All told, Kentucky, Illinois, and Florida remain the only three states that have backed the eventual Republican nominee in every presidential election cycle dating since 1956.
Trump’s recent victories in home state New York and Maryland were expected and overwhelming – easily keeping bellwether streaks alive in those Northeastern states.
Oregon (May 17th) and New Jersey (June 7th) have not yet held their primaries, but Trump’s opponents will only receive nominal support in those races.
Of the seven remaining states with unblemished marks backing the eventual GOP nominee during the modern primary era, Oregon and New Jersey’s perfect records are the least telling, or deserving of bellwether status, as contests in those states have generally been held at the tail end of the primary season.
Aside from the 2008 cycle (February 5th), New Jersey’s primary has been held in early June during this period under analysis while Oregon’s has been conducted in mid- to late May.
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