Donald Trump Already Beating Ted Cruz in Arizona Election, but Nomination Still Uncertain

Donald Trump is well on his way to beating Ted Cruz and the three other remaining presidential candidates for Arizona's Republican preference election, a new poll shows.

The survey of 751 "high-efficacy primary Republican voters" in Arizona conducted this week by MBQF, a public affairs firm, showed that nearly half have already voted, and 41 percent of those polled said they voted for Trump. Thirty-three percent of the Republicans who plan to vote would go for Trump, giving him as much as a 14-point win over competitor Cruz.

"It's not a done deal until one of the candidates gets a majority of the candidates in Cleveland." — Tim Sifert, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party

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Polls have shown for weeks that Trump would dominate in Arizona, and his recent wins in states including Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Nevada prompted a "worried" Senator Jeff Flake to talk of "dread right now on Capitol Hill."

Cruz performed much better in the poll than a similar one conducted by MBQF two months ago, which showed only about 16 percent of GOP voters wanted him to be president.

Back in November, Ben Carson showed in polls to be slightly more popular than Trump. But Carson's gone now and competitors Marco Rubio and John Kasich, while scoring higher in the poll among the state's GOP voters than in the past, would have to pull off a miracle among the 53 percent who haven't voted yet.

Rubio "getting in the mud took away from what made him good," says MBQF pollster Mike Noble. But polling across the country shows that Rubio would be the best match-up against Hillary Clinton, he says, with the second-best being Kasich.

Trump as the nominee, as Cruz said this week, means a win for Hillary.

But Trump could still be stopped by establishment Republicans at this summer's convention in Cleveland, where delegates will gather to vote for the GOP presidential nominee.

Arizona's Presidential Preference Election is March 22. It's a winner-take-all state, meaning all 58 delegates go to Trump if he wins. As of this this week, Trump has 458 out of the 1,237 he needs to win the GOP nomination.

However, state law frees delegates to vote how they choose this summer if no candidate is nominated in the delegates first round of voting at the Republican Convention in Cleveland.

“Yeah, they might have to vote for the other guy in the first round — but in the second round we want the delegates to be [our] people,” Tim Sifert, spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party, told USA Today for a Sunday article.

Sifert backed off the quote somewhat when New Times called him this morning, saying he'd been talking to political consultants for various candidates and was speaking "from their perspective." The Republican Party takes no position on which candidate should be chosen, he says.

Yet Sifert goes on that the process does allow someone other than Trump to potentially claim the nomination at the convention, because other winner-take-all states have laws similar to Arizona's allowing delegates to vote how they choose at conventions after a first or second round of voting.

"It's not a done deal until one of the candidates gets a majority of the candidates in Cleveland," Sifert says.

If Trump wraps up the nomination, the next questions are how having Trump on the ballot will affect the U.S. Senate and House races, and who the "big donors" will get behind, Noble says.

"The two people with the highest negatives [in the polls] are Trump and Hillary," he says. "It's been great grabbing popcorn and watching this... It's just fascinating."

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.