Nikki Haley’s Super Tuesday delegate math problem

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley‘s pathway to the presidency will meet a steep speed bump on Super Tuesday.

Haley, the last candidate standing between former President Donald Trump and the GOP nomination, has refused to drop out before Super Tuesday, arguing that a significant portion of voters are demanding an alternative option to the criminally indicted front-runner.

In the early primary contests, Trump won 51% of the vote in Iowa, 54% in New Hampshire, 60% in South Carolina, and 68% in Michigan. In Haley’s eyes, the numbers are a sign of weakness for a former president and a warning that Trump can’t win in November.

However, Haley’s trouble is on Super Tuesday, when 15 states will have GOP contests, as several states won’t award delegates proportionally to the result. If Trump keeps winning the majority of the vote, Haley could walk away with zero delegates in winner-take-all states.

The math is the reason Haley has vowed to fight until Super Tuesday but made no promises beyond that.

“We have a country to save,” Haley told a crowd of supporters at a northern Virginia rally on Thursday evening. “I defeated a dozen other fellas. I just have one more fella I gotta catch up to.”

At stake on March 5 for the Republican field are 874 of 2,429 delegates. A candidate needs to win 1,215 delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee.

Trump leads Haley with 122 delegates after winning Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, South Carolina, and Michigan, while the former South Carolina governor has 24 delegates.

Trump’s campaign said he could win 773 delegates on Super Tuesday, according to a memo sent by senior advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles earlier this month.

“President Trump would win an additional 162 Delegates the following two weeks, after Super Tuesday. And, on March 19, under this most-generous model for Nikki, President Trump would win the Republican nomination for President,” the pair wrote. “Now, if we ignore this model and follow what the current data — both public and private — suggests, President Trump will win the Republican nomination one week earlier, on March 12, with 1,223 Delegates. Which is all to say, before March Madness tips off next month, President Trump will be the Republican nominee for President.”

Haley’s campaign said it is running to win as many Super Tuesday delegates as possible and pointed to a January memo from campaign manager Betsy Ankney that detailed the campaign’s thinking on winning delegates.

“Eleven of the 16 Super Tuesday states have open or semi-open primaries. Of the 874 delegates
available on Super Tuesday, roughly two-thirds are in states with open or semi-open primaries,” Ankney wrote. “Those include Virginia, Texas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Vermont, all with favorable demographics.”

Nikki Haley poses for a photo with supporters after speaking at a campaign event on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Richmond, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In recent days, Haley has traveled to these states as she barnstorms the nation ahead of Super Tuesday.

Delegate-rich California changed its delegate allocation last summer to one in which a candidate who gains 50% of the vote will win all 169 delegates, the most of any Super Tuesday state. It’s a move that will likely help Trump. If no candidate reaches 50%, the delegates will be awarded proportionally.

If Trump wins a majority in Texas, the second-most delegate-rich Super Tuesday state, he’ll gain most of the state’s 161 delegates. The Lone Star State’s 38 congressional districts also award delegates, of which Haley could win some if she hits 50% of the vote in districts.

Haley could win Washington, D.C.’s 19 delegates over the weekend and Virginia’s 48 delegates on Super Tuesday if she receives more than 50% of the votes. However, that pickup pales in comparison to California and Texas’s delegates, and Trump could block Haley from a majority in Virginia, as he’s done in every state before.

“We’re very normal in Virginia. We don’t elect crackpots, and we tend to be pretty on point with people,” said Kevin Kravitz, 62, a comedian and performer from Richmond, Virginia. Kravitz predicted Haley would win in Virginia and Washington.

“Do I think she could win either one? Absolutely,” said Caroline Matthews, 57, a retired teacher from Richmond, Virginia, about Haley’s prospects in Virginia and Washington. “Because, thank God, we are not solely a red state. We don’t have the anger issues that people who tend to go with it do have. We are not so stuck in our ways.”

Other states where Trump is likely to hit the majority of the vote share and, therefore, all of the delegates include Alabama, with 50 delegates; Arkansas, with 40 delegates; Maine, with 20 delegates; Massachusetts, with 40 delegates; Oklahoma, with 43 delegates; and Vermont, with 17 delegates.

Haley will likely win delegates in Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, and North Carolina, which award delegates proportionally, though Trump is prone to win more of each state’s share of delegates.  

Voters in Georgia, where 59 delegates are at stake, will cast ballots on March 12. Haley could theoretically win delegates if she hits more than 20% of the statewide vote. In North Carolina, a possible battleground state, 74 delegates are at stake on Super Tuesday.

“Our main focus is going to be on North Carolina. And we also have hired teams, in addition to North Carolina, in Virginia, where we are today, and Massachusetts and Colorado,” Robert Schwartz, co-founder of Primary Pivot, an anti-Trump group, told the Washington Examiner at a Haley rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday afternoon. “And we’re also active in Minnesota and Maine and Vermont. All of these are open or semi-open primary states, where we think, with a large number of independents and Democrats, Nikki Haley can do quite well in those states and keep her campaign alive.”

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Georgia’s primary is of extreme importance to Primary Pivot as a display of voter apathy to Trumpism, Schwartz said. “We want her to last until Georgia, which is a very favorable state for her. A lot of reasonable Republicans and suburban independents,” he added.

The former ambassador’s path to the White House is likely to end by mid-March once Trump hits the delegate threshold to become the presumptive nominee.

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