For the last month or so, Donald Trump’s path to 1,237 delegates has been clear: Win Indiana and California.
Sure, winning the state would be very helpful toward gaining a majority of delegates. Without Indiana, he would struggle to get the 1,237 bound delegates needed to wrap up the nomination heading into the convention. But there’s now a credible path to winning on the first ballot without it.
The main reason is Mr. Trump’s success on Tuesday among Pennsylvania’s 54 unpledged delegates. Even though none of them are officially bound to a candidate, 31 of the 54 spots went to delegates preferred by Mr. Trump. And before the election, others had said they would vote for the winner of their district (Mr. Trump won all of the state’s districts). My colleague Jeremy W. Peters reported that Mr. Trump “appeared to have won about 40 of Pennsylvania’s 54 unbound delegates.”
If this holds, the delegate math is a little different than what you might have read last week here or elsewhere. That’s because my analysis and that of others included only pledged delegates; the 54 unpledged delegates were held out of Mr. Trump’s path to 1,237.
If he has indeed moved many of those delegates off the sideline and into his territory, it obviates the necessity for him to win Indiana, which is worth 57 delegates (30 delegates to the statewide winner and three delegates to the winner of each of nine congressional districts). He would still need a comfortable victory in California — enough to win about 130 of the state’s 172 delegates in the event of a loss in Indiana. He could bring that figure as low as 115 with good outcomes in West Virginia, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico, or with a few additional districts in Indiana.
The 130-delegate target in California is achievable. The state awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis statewide and by congressional district, so Mr. Trump would need an overall victory (13 delegates) and wins in about 40 of the state’s 53 congressional districts to pull it off. Even a modest popular vote victory could do the trick. In 2008, John McCain won 48 of California’s 53 congressional districts with a 7.5-point margin of victory in the popular vote. And Mr. Trump won every congressional district Tuesday night in the Northeast.
Mr. Trump leads in all of the most recent California polls; he had an eye-popping 49 percent of the vote in the most recent Fox News and CBS News/YouGov surveys.
Of course, he would prefer to win most of Indiana’s delegates. Without them, he would probably face some drama on the first ballot at the Republican convention. The Pennsylvania unbound delegates remain free agents, allowed to vote for whomever they want, and the same is true for other unbound delegates that Mr. Trump would try to woo.
A win in Indiana would allow him to win with even a narrow victory in California.
But the old analysis, based solely on pledged delegates, no longer holds: Winning in Indiana doesn’t seem necessary for him to win the nomination.