Donald Trump's lead in the Republican race is real, but far from secure. At the moment, the billionaire has 458 delegates and Ted Cruz has 359. That's a 99 delegate lead with more than 1,400 delegates still to be selected. Cruz has plenty of room to come from behind if he's able to defeat Trump in a head-to-head match-up.
While the headlines have been great for Trump over the past week, Cruz has actually held his own in the delegate race. Last Saturday, the two men each won a pair of states. But Cruz won his states big and ended up with more delegates. On Tuesday, Trump won three states out of four and grabbed more delegates than Cruz. But when you put the two days together, it's a toss-up. Cruz won 125 delegates, and Trump 124.
Rather than being unbeatable, Trump's candidacy is like a baseball team holding a decent lead at the All-Star break. He's favored, but needs to keep on winning. As long as Cruz remains competitive, it will be a big challenge for the frontrunner to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to formally clinch the nomination (Trump would need to win just about 60 percent of the remaining delegates to achieve that goal).
But the goal for Trump is not the 1,237 delegates needed to formally control the convention. It's whatever it takes to enter the convention with more delegates than Cruz. If Trump can do that, he will very likely get the nomination.
When a baseball team is getting close to wrapping things up, the sportswriters begin talking about the team's magic number. That's the number of wins by the frontrunner or losses by the second place team needed to clinch the division. Doing the math for the Trump campaign's magic number today shows that the frontrunner still has a lot of work to do.
To determine the magic number, you calculate the maximum number of delegates Cruz could get if he won every remaining delegate. At the moment, that total is 1,794 delegates -- 1,336 delegates more than Trump currently has. So, Trump's magic number is 1,336. Every delegate that he wins reduces that number and so does every delegate lost by Cruz.
Because his magic number is so big, Trump still needs to win about half of all the remaining delegates to finish in first place.
The frontrunner is expected to have a good day next Tuesday, but even that won't wrap up the nomination. If, as many expect, Trump picks up 99 delegates from Florida's winner-take-all primary, he would still need to win 47 percent of all the remaining delegates to be selected in the coming months to ensure a victory over Cruz. That makes what happens in the other races on Tuesday particularly important.
I'll be updating Trump's magic number after Tuesday's primaries at Styrk.com.
But the real story here is that the campaign is entering a new phase. It's Trump vs. Cruz. They are the finalists for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination. Everything up until now has been a warm-up for the real action.
Trump and Cruz will face each other in roughly two dozen primaries and caucuses between March 15 and June 7. That competition will select the Republican nominee.
To find out more about Scott Rasmussen and to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.