The primary race has not been kind to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio or Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The two Republican presidential hopefuls are in third and fourth place respectively, lagging way behind their opponents, Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Rubio’s only won two primaries, in Minnesota and Puerto Rico. Kasich hasn’t won any. Both have taken some close seconds in states they ultimately lost, like Virginia for Rubio, where he secured 16 delegates to Trump’s 17. In Vermont, Kasich and Trump were so close they actually won the same number of delegates. But with nearly half of the state primaries completed, time is running out. “They're not quite flatlining, but it’s time for the defibrillator,” Jessica Levinson, an expert on election law and professor at Loyola Law School, said. So why are they holding on?
The delegate system means it ain't over 'til it's over. There's a possibility that the nominating battle will end with a brokered convention in Ohio this July. That scenario, a convention where no one candidate has the numbers to automatically win the nomination, could give an underdog candidate a second chance to persuade delegates to rally to his cause. “Kasich, I have this feeling, is staying in the race in case there’s a brokered convention, and then he’s seen as a voice of sanity," Levinson said. “Rubio, I think, is staying in the race because he was seen as the ‘establishment’ candidate who could garner enough delegates to make this happen.” For these two underdogs, the delegate count is the biggest hurdle to the nomination right now. Rubio has 151 delegates, less than half of second-place candidate Cruz, and a little more than one-tenth of the 1,237 he'd ultimately need to win the nomination. Kasich has only 54 delegates. Cruz and Trump lead them with 347 and 446 delegates respectively, according to a tally published by The New York Times.
“People will very clearly remember something like losing Florida as your home state.”
Their home states are where they could win — or lose — big. The best remaining shot at a decisive victory for both candidates is coming up next week, on March 15. That's when their respective home states — Florida for Rubio, and Ohio for Kasich — are holding Republican primaries. The states have a hefty total of delegates to award, plus a winner-take-all system that means that a victory there would make a candidate instantly more formidable. But a loss could put them way behind.
And it's not clear if the home-field advantage will be enough to swing the outcome in either's favor. Polling as of Wednesday morning shows Trump leading both Rubio and Kasich on their turf, Politico reported. Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, sees next week's primaries as a moment of truth. "Next Tuesday night is a very binary moment for both of them," he told Refinery29. "Either they win their home states and go on, or they lose their homes states and stay there. It’s difficult to see either one of them continuing if they don’t win their home states." For their part, neither of the campaigns seem to be planning a withdrawal. Rubio's communication director, Alex Conant, recently tweeted a denial of rumors that Rubio would get out of the race before the possibility of an embarrassing Florida defeat, saying it was "not happening." And though Kasich said in a late-February speech that he would leave the race if he lost Ohio, he also said that wasn't going to happen to him. "I'm going to win Ohio," he was quoted by The Hill. Levinson doesn't think the two will necessarily be forced out of the race should they lose, but a loss would have clear consequences. “It will certainly harm their ability to look viable,” she said. “People will very clearly remember something like losing Florida as your home state.” So what happens to their delegates if they do drop out? The question of what happens to delegates after a candidate calls it quits has yet to become a big issue in the campaign. Ben Carson, who dropped out in early March after a disappointing turn on Super Tuesday, had won only eight delegates at that point in his bid. A decision by Rubio or Kasich to end their run before the Republican Convention, would throw many more political fish back into the ponds. So what happens to the delegates won by candidates whose campaigns are no more? The GOP leaves that up to the states to decide. Depending on the state they represent, the delegates will either be bound to vote for the dropped-out candidate anyway, allocated to another candidate, or will be set free to cast their vote for the remaining candidate of their choice. A dropped-out candidate’s endorsement can have an effect, too. If a candidate who’s left the race chooses to endorse another, their delegates may follow where the finger’s pointing. The two underdogs will have another chance to make their cases to voters during tonight's Republican debate in Florida. Only time will tell what will happen to their campaigns, but in an unusual election cycle, anything's possible. "This is the election cycle where you really cannot rely on conventional wisdom," Levinson said.