The party's over.

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Republican Race Begins for Carson's Voters

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Ben Carson has finally dropped out of the Republican presidential race. He won eight delegates and peaked at 11 percent of the vote in Alaska, of all places.

Carson’s campaign succeeded in one way, at least: using the publicity of a presidential run to raise millions of dollars in donations from the conservative marketplace. (The candidate himself broke off the campaign trail at the height of his popularity to sell some books.)

It isn’t clear how much of a difference his exit will make. Ted Cruz is presumed most likely to benefit, since he and Carson do best among Christian conservatives. But HuffPollster’s Ariel Edwards-Levy cautions against assuming Carson’s support is a monolithic bloc

Small shifts in votes can make a huge difference. In Tuesday’s Arkansas primary, for example, Carson received 6 percent of the vote, while Trump beat Cruz by 2 percentage points. If Carson hadn’t been in the race, would Cruz have won? We don’t know. 

Sometimes a minor candidate can affect the allocation of presidential delegates from congressional districts. Usually three delegates are at stake in each district. Sometimes it’s winner-take-all; or two delegates might go to the victorious candidate and one to the second-place finisher. Since true proportional allocation is rare on the Republican side, the order in which candidates place is critical. Winning, even by just one vote, is disproportionately rewarded.

The system of winner-take-more, winner-take-most and winner-take-all delegate distribution explains why Cruz and Rubio could still easily gather enough delegates to win the nomination even though both -- Rubio especially -- are off to slow starts. All one of them has to do now is win consistently.

A four-candidate field with Ben Carson out doesn’t hand Cruz or Rubio anything. Rubio in particular would benefit more by the departure of John Kasich, who destroyed him on Super Tuesday. But the Florida senator will take what he can get, and Carson’s leaving gives him and Cruz slightly better fighting chance.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net