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US Election: Republicans split as Trump maintains momentum

Tonight's Florida debate is a pivotal moment in the GOP race
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Donald Trump remains on course to win the Republican nomination but his rivals and mortal enemies have no intention of giving up, with a contested convention looking likelier by the day. Paul Krishnamurty updates the odds on this intriguing, historic race.

"The last two debates damaged Trump and probably cost him votes, both on Super Tuesday and last Saturday, when Cruz picked up more delegates. Although that latest WSJ/NBC poll may yet prove to be an outlier, it suggested big changes, with Trump well down and Kasich rising fast."

The 2016 US Election remains the most exciting heat in the history of political betting and the fun has barely started. Mid-March is traditionally the time when the primary races become predictable, with both parties broadly settled on their nominees. This time is completely different.

Even the Democrat side, where the market rates Hillary Clinton overwhelming favourite at odds of [1.11] for the nomination, equating to an 90% probability, is throwing up massive shocks. On Tuesday, Clinton traded down to [1.03] before losing the Michigan Primary.

Although Bernie Sanders needs a miracle to overhaul her for the nomination - due to thumping defeats in the South and Clinton's game-changing advantage in super-delegates - the veteran socialist looks set to continue to pick up plenty more wins in primaries.

For all the shock wins and novelty value of a Sanders candidacy, though, the Democrats can't really compete for headline coverage with their Republican opponents, who seem hell-bent on a civil war that could last through the summer and beyond. So long as Donald Trump stays on course for the nomination, hostilities are unlikely to cease.

After three wins from Tuesday's four contests, the front-runner has shortened into [1.44] (70%) for the Republican Nomination, but [6.8] (14%) Ted Cruz continues to rack up wins too and moves are afoot to stop Trump. Should he fail to win over half the delegates - he currently has 42% - Trump may still have to survive what is known as a contested convention.

In this scenario, the prospect of the GOP establishment pulling every trick in the book to stop Trump is perfectly realistic. Party grandees such as Mitt Romney make no bones of their opposition to Trump, and a large number of Republican voters either dislike, distrust, disagree with or just think Trump is unelectable. According to this week's WSJ/NBC poll, Trump would lose a head-to-head against each of his three rivals.

The problem for the #NeverTrump movement is that there is no such head-to-head scenario yet, and time is running out. Next Tuesday sees six pivotal contests, including winner-takes-all votes in Florida, Ohio and Missouri, with Trump red-hot favourite to pick up 99 delegates in the first-named. Moreover, for all the opposition within Republican ranks, Trump continues to attract a different brand of voter and thrive in open primaries where non-aligned types are likelier to vote.

In clear second place, Cruz is the likeliest alternative and his supporters have not been shy in 'encouraging' Marco Rubio to pull out, in the hope his supporters transfer en masse. Such an effect is far from uniform, but Cruz does seem to have benefitted in recent races from his rival's rapid demise.

Rubio, odds-on 58% favourite for the nomination just over a month ago has a big decision to make over the coming days. Defeat in his home state of Florida could prove a career-wrecking blow. In contrast, a withdrawal and strategic endorsement of Cruz could set up a vice presidential pick, and would please many across the party.

Though Kasich remains way back in the delegate race, he has high hopes of winning his home state of Ohio. If so, the most moderate candidate in the race could yet make a successful run during the latter states, particularly in the North-East. If the establishment ends up with a legitimate choice between Trump, Cruz and Kasich in a contested convention, you can bet they would prefer Kasich.

Tonight sees yet another debate, this time in Miami, and the stakes could barely be any higher. The last two debates damaged Trump and probably cost him votes, both on Super Tuesday and last Saturday, when Cruz picked up more delegates. Although that latest WSJ/NBC poll may yet prove to be an outlier, it suggested big changes, with Trump well down and Kasich rising fast. That may well have been the effect of him getting a hearing for a change in a smaller field, and his serious, rational non-abusive approach winning voters sick of the Trump/Rubio/Cruz wars.

It would be the most spectacular comeback in living memory, but punters aren't giving up on Kasich. Even despite making the top-two in Michigan on Tuesday - a state he threw everything at - Kasich is fairly popular at [20.0] and [40.0] for the nomination and Presidency. After everything that has happened in this unique cycle, such an unlikely comeback cannot be written off.


Follow me on Twitter @paulmotty and at my website Political Gambler


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