It is very likely -- very likely -- that neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz will secure half of the delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination until the very last day of the election. And this is the part that I'm reticent to share: That last day is in June.
June 7, specifically -- just less than a year after Trump (then averaging about 4 percent in the polls) rode down the goldish escalator at Trump Tower and started complaining about Mexico. On June 7, more than 350 days after that announcement, voters will go to the polls in Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota -- but people will only be paying attention to the fifth state that's voting, California. In California, 172 delegates will be at stake, nearly 14 percent of what a candidate needs in order to gain a majority. And just to make things dramatic, nearly all of those 172 delegates will be distributed to the winners of each of the state's 53 congressional districts.
Meaning that when polls close at 11 p.m. Eastern on June 7, we will likely be tracking 53 individual elections in order to figure out if Trump or Cruz hit the 1,237 mark. So that's something to look forward to.
Understandably, this is hard to game out. There hasn't been much polling in California, and it's extremely expensive to take the temperature of voters in each of those areas. But, thanks to recent polling from SmithJohnson Research in Sacramento, we can at least get a feel for the lay of the land.
SmithJohnson surveyed Californians twice earlier this month, curious about how Trump was perceived in the state. The answer is: Not well, with Trump's net favorability at -42. Among Republicans he did a bit better, at +10. Among Hispanics? Negative-63. Which is low.
The firm also looked at who Republicans planned to support in the primary. A lot of respondents hadn't made up their minds, but Trump held a slight lead.
Among Hispanics, the field was led by Marco Rubio, followed by Ted Cruz -- suggesting that Cruz could gain in the state from Rubio's departure.
If the election had been held last week, then, the winner of the 13 non-congressional-district delegates would have been Trump. But again: That's not the real prize. Congressional districts are.
SmithJohnson didn't have breakdowns by congressional district, but it did provide The Washington Post with breakdowns by region. They're below, with names we gave them, showing the top two candidates and the number of congressional districts that overlap in part or in full with the region. (Since districts often cross over into adjacent districts, the total number displayed on the map is larger than 53.)
Let's pay particular attention to the Bay Area, the Central Valley and Orange County (and environs).
In the Bay Area, the second-most-popular Republican is John Kasich. This area includes Silicon Valley, of course, suggesting that perhaps his more moderate politics can find a home there. But also: Trump is still winning. There's a lot of open space above and below the bay itself (the visible inlet on the map), but not a lot of people living in those areas.
In Orange County, Trump is crushing it. This is probably to be expected in one of the most conservative parts of the state. We'll note here, though, that a lot of people in each area are still undecided -- also not a big surprise.
In the Central Valley, it's Cruz who's winning, defeating Rubio. The agricultural heart of the state, the Central Valley, is both conservative and heavily Hispanic. This region also includes Sacramento, for what it's worth, making the picture a bit cloudier.
What this map suggests, though, is that Trump would be expected to do pretty well in the state if the voting had been last week.
But it isn't. It's in June, as we mentioned -- nearly three months from now. This poll offers some insight but isn't definitive. In fact, it's worth wondering how accurate polling in the state will be. It may be tricky for pollsters to predict the outcome even closer to the day, simply because turnout, if it all comes down to California, may be much, much higher than normal for a primary that generally happens after the GOP nomination is settled.
Meaning that about one year after we watched Trump glide down that escalator, astonished, we may spend half the night watching returns trickle in from Yolo County, Calif., to see if Trump has clinched the nomination.
You can't say we didn't warn you.