Cruz’s cal­cu­la­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - GE­ORGE F. WILL georgewill@wash­post.com

Idal­las f Amer­ica’s 58th pres­i­den­tial elec­tion val­i­dates Ted Cruz’s au­da­cious “base plus” strat­egy, he will have re­futed as­sump­tions about the im­por­tance of in­de­pen­dent “swing” vot­ers and the in­er­tia of many miss­ing vot­ers. Crit­ics say his plan for pur­su­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion pre­cludes win­ning the pres­i­dency. Jason John­son, Cruz’s chief strate­gist, re­sponds: “I’m work­ing back­ward from Elec­tion Day,” be­cause Cruz’s plan for win­ning the nec­es­sary 1,236 con­ven­tion del­e­gates is an ex­trap­o­la­tion from his strat­egy for win­ning 270 elec­toral votes.

All pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns as­pire to fa­vor­ably change the com­po­si­tion of the elec­torate. Cruz aims to sub­stan­tially re­con­fig­ure the elec­torate as it has re­cently been.

Be­tween Ge­orge W. Bush’s 2000 elec­tion and his 2004 re­elec­tion, the turnout of non-His­panic whites in­creased by an as­ton­ish­ing 10 mil­lion. Barack Obama pro­duced a surge of what John­son calls “two-elec­tion vot­ers.” In 2008, the African Amer­i­can vot­ing rate in­creased from 2004 while white vot­ing de­clined slightly; in 2012, African Amer­i­cans voted at a higher rate than whites.

In Florida in 2012, turnout of nonHis­panic whites de­clined from 2008 even though the el­i­gi­ble vot­ing-age pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 864,000. Na­tion­ally, the Cen­sus Bureau’s Thom File writes: “The num­ber of non-His­panic white vot­ers de­creased by about 2 mil­lion be­tween 2008 and 2012.” In the past five elec­tions (1996-2012), their share of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers de­clined from 79.2 per­cent to 71.1 per­cent and their share of the turnout de­clined from 82.5 per­cent to 73.7 per­cent, while the His­panic and black shares of votes cast in­creased about four and three per­cent­age points, re­spec­tively.

Non­vot­ing whites, es­pe­cially those with­out col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence, are among Cruz’s prin­ci­pal tar­gets. His ge­nial­ity to­ward Don­ald Trump re­flects the Cruz cam­paign’s es­ti­mate that per­haps onethird of the Trump­kins have not voted in re­cent elec­tions. If so, Trump is do­ing down­field block­ing for Cruz, be­gin­ning the ex­pan­sion of the 2016 elec­torate by en­er­giz­ing peo­ple whose alien­ation from pol­i­tics has made them non­vot­ers.

Cy­cle af­ter cy­cle, says John­son, the per­cent­age of true swing vot­ers shrinks. There­fore, so does the per­suad­able por­tion of the elec­torate. Cruz aims to leaven the elec­torate with peo­ple who, dis­ap­pointed by eco­nomic stag­na­tion and dis­cour­ag­ing cul­tural trends for which Repub­li­can nom­i­nees seemed to have no an­swers, have been dor­mant dur­ing re­cent cy­cles.

Con­sider Penn­syl­va­nia, which has voted Demo­cratic in six con­sec­u­tive elec­tions and which James Carville de­scribed as Pittsburgh in the west, Philadelphia in the east and Alabama in be­tween. Cruz’s aim, says John­son, will be “to im­prove on Rom­ney at the mar­gins in the Philadelphia sub­urbs,” do three points bet­ter than Rom­ney (5.5 per­cent) among African Amer­i­cans (with many “two elec­tion” vot­ers stay­ing home with Obama gone) and to lo­cate and mo­ti­vate many pre­vi­ous non­vot­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia’s “Alabama.” In 2012, Obama be­came the first Demo­crat since Ge­orge McGovern in 1972 to lose the Pittsburgh metropoli­tan area.

Whites with­out col­lege ex­pe­ri­ence in­clude dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers of non­vot­ers whose ab­sten­tion in 2012, ac­cord­ing to the Mar­ket Re­search Foun­da­tion, pro­duced Obama’s Elec­toral Col­lege vic­tory. The Cruz cam­paign’s sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment in data sci­en­tists serves what John­son calls “be­hav­ioral mi­cro­tar­get­ing,” chang­ing be­hav­ior as well as gath­er­ing opin­ions. If a per­son drives a Ford F-150 and sub­scribes to Guns & Ammo, he prob­a­bly is con­ser­va­tive. The chal­lenge is to make him a voter by di­rect­ing to him a pack­age of three- or four-is­sue ap­peals tai­lored to him.

Cruz has county chairs or­ga­niz­ing in all 172 coun­ties in Iowa, New Hamp­shire, South Carolina and Ne­vada. Na­tional Re­view’s Eliana John­son re­ports that through the sec­ond quar­ter, Cruz had raised more “hard” dol­lars than any of his ri­vals, and su­per PACs sup­port­ing him have raised more than all but those sup­port­ing Jeb Bush. Jason John­son de­scribes the del­e­gate se­lec­tion process as fol­lows:

Of the 624 del­e­gates at stake on March 1, 231 are from Cruz’s Texas and Ge­or­gia, where Cruz in­her­ited Scott Walker’s en­tire op­er­a­tion. With Ok­la­homa, whose closed pri­mary will be es­pe­cially con­ser­va­tive, these three states have 274 del­e­gates, al­most a quar­ter of the num­ber needed to nom­i­nate. Eighty-seven of the 155 del­e­gates al­lo­cated on March 5 will be from Louisiana and Kansas. On March 15, when win­ner-take-all pri­maries be­gin and 367 del­e­gates will be al­lo­cated, Bush and Marco Ru­bio will com­pete for Florida’s 99 del­e­gates, while Cruz is well­po­si­tioned for North Carolina’s 72 and Mis­souri’s 52 (Cruz’s cam­paign man­ager, Mis­sourian Jeff Roe, has run many cam­paigns there).

When­ever this cy­cle’s win­now­ing process pro­duces two sur­vivors, they might be two young, South­ern, first-term Cuban Amer­i­can sen­a­tors. Ru­bio would be the es­tab­lish­ment choice. Cruz, with his the­ory of the elec­tion, would not have it oth­er­wise.

CH­ERYL SENTER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks in­Hook­sett, N.H.

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