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Trump Made A Mistake By Overlooking Colorado

You’re hearing a lot about New York, where Donald Trump is reportedly trying to make up for his poor performance in Wisconsin. On Friday, for example, CNN reported:

The Trump campaign is overhauling its schedule to go all in in the Empire State. Trump abandoned plans to travel west this week for a news conference in California, a rally in Colorado and an appearance at Colorado’s state convention …

On the surface, this strategy makes sense: New York, which votes April 19, is worth 95 delegates, while Wisconsin, which voted last Tuesday, awarded only 42 pledged delegates and Colorado just 34.1 In reality, however, the Colorado conventions this weekend were really important; Trump’s path to the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the Republican nomination is so tenuous that he can’t afford slip-ups anywhere. And he slipped up in Colorado. Now, no matter how well Trump does in New York, he will have fallen further off pace to reach 1,237 delegates, taking into account Colorado and Wisconsin.

Colorado elects 34 potentially pledged delegates through seven district conventions and a statewide convention. (The state GOP decided not to hold a primary or caucus with a presidential preference vote this year.) But instead of putting together a top-notch convention team, Trump’s campaign was a mess: In one case, Trump delegates weren’t even on the ballot to be voted on by a district convention; in two others, Trump’s campaign didn’t provide his potential supporters with a list of pro-Trump delegates, so they didn’t know who to vote for.

The end result: Trump won zero delegates from Colorado; Ted Cruz won 34.

So where does that leave Trump?

A few weeks ago, FiveThirtyEight asked a panel of delegate “experts” how many delegates they expected Trump to win in the remaining contests. Our panel, on average, had Trump garnering 513 pledged delegates after the March 15 primaries, to add to the 694 he had already won.2 In that scenario, Trump would fall just short of 1,237, but he’d be close enough that he could still win the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention by securing the support of some of the 100+ unpledged delegates.

But the point of the panel wasn’t to predict the exact number of delegates Trump would win overall, or in each state. The idea was to get a sense of the pace Trump would have to set to reach 1,237. The panel, for example, had Trump winning 25 delegates in Wisconsin, on average. Trump won only six delegates there, putting him behind the pace he needs to hit to clinch the nomination. The panel, on average, projected Trump to win seven delegates from Colorado. That he came up empty-handed means he’s even further off pace.

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Which brings us back to New York. The panel projected Trump to win 71 delegates there, but let’s say he wins all 95. That seems unlikely — Trump would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote in all 27 of New York’s congressional districts. But let’s say he manages to do it. Even in that scenario, Trump would still be underperforming the panel’s overall delegate target, because of Wisconsin and Colorado. (Trump also ended up with two fewer pledged delegates in American Samoa3 than the panel projected and four fewer delegates in Utah.)

And remember, the panel had Trump falling just short of 1,237. That means that after five additional contests, Trump is now on pace to fall just short of just short even if he sweeps New York.

This isn’t to say Trump’s quest for 1,237 is lost. There will be opportunities down the line in states like California for him to earn more delegates than our panel projected. But the math is close enough that disregarding Colorado was probably a big mistake. Trump and those watching this delegate fight shouldn’t kid themselves: Every delegate matters.


  1. Three delegates from Colorado are unpledged.

  2. At the time of our projections, we calculated that Trump had 695 delegates in the bank. He seems to have, in fact, earned only 694 delegates through March 15 because of changes to his delegate total in Alaska and the Virgin Islands.

  3. All delegates in American Samoa are unbound, but one of them seems to already be backing Trump, which is one short of our panel’s projection. I haven’t counted this delegate in Trump’s column in this exercise.

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.