Why AP called Vermont GOP primary for Haley and how Trump swept other contests: Race calls explained

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press was able to declare former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley the winner of the Vermont Republican presidential primary based on vote returns that indicated she had opened a lead that former President Donald Trump would be unable to overcome. But AP called a string of Super Tuesday contests for the former president after initial results in a dozen states revealed no path for Haley to overtake him.

The AP called most races across several states shortly after polls closed, with Trump leading Haley in some places by margins of three− or four−to−one. That includes the contests in California and Texas, where the largest number of delegates are up for grabs in the GOP primary.

But in Vermont, the AP declared Haley the winner of a competitive contest at 10:38 p.m. ET, nearly four hours after polls closed. At the time AP called the race, Haley had a small lead over Trump with an estimated 83% of the total vote counted. The largest share of the vote still be counted was from the Burlington area, home to the state’s most populous city and a Democratic stronghold. Haley was leading Trump there by nearly two−to−one. There were not enough votes elsewhere in the state for Trump to retake the lead for a victory.

In previous races this year, Haley performed best in the most heavily Democratic areas, especially in states like Vermont where Democrats and independents were allowed to vote in the Republican primary.

Haley followed a similar gameplan as former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who came within three percentage points of beating Trump in the 2016 Vermont primary. Like Kasich, Haley posted strong numbers in the Burlington and Montpelier areas, while also holding down Trump’s lead in the Rutland area and points south.

The candidates’ roles were reversed in other Super Tuesday races AP has called so far.

In California, the AP declared Trump the winner at 11:13 p.m. ET based on the strength of his performance in initial vote results. Trump led Haley statewide by more than three−to−one, with an estimated 2% of the vote counted from six of the state’s 58 counties. The results confirmed Trump’s past primary vote performances in the state. In 2020, he won the primary as the incumbent with 92% of the vote and more than 2 million votes. In 2016, he received 75% of the vote in the primary after already having clinched the nomination.

In Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts and Texas, votes totals at the time Trump was declared the winner also showed the former president leading by huge statewide margins. Trump also was leading across every geographic region.

In these states, the AP analyzed where the votes had been reported at the time the winner was declared and compared them to places where votes had not yet been reported. The AP concluded that even if Haley significantly improved her performance in areas where the vote had yet to be counted, she would not be able to overtake Trump for the lead.

The AP declared Trump the winner of Minnesota’s GOP primary at 9:26 p.m. EST, less than a half hour after polls closed. At the time, he was leading Haley statewide by more than three−to−one and was winning by roughly the same margin in most of the state’s geographic regions. Votes had not yet been reported from the Twin Cities, the state’s most heavily Democratic area.

Although only an estimated 2% of the statewide vote had been counted from 13 out of the state’s 87 counties, the AP’s analysis of the state’s voting history found that Trump’s sizable lead in the areas with reported votes was highly likely to hold. The analysis also showed that, even if later updates showed massive vote swings in Haley’s favor, Trump would still maintain the lead.

In Alabama and Colorado, the AP called the races for Trump based on the available vote results at the time the calls were made. Trump was declared the winner in Alabama at 8:45 p.m. EST, with initial vote results from 10 of the state’s 67 counties showing him winning about nine out of every 10 votes. Haley’s statewide vote percentage was in the single digits. Trump had huge leads in every region of the state. He was declared the winner in Colorado at 9:09 p.m. EST with an estimated 44% of the statewide vote counted, including a large share of the vote coming from the population centers of Boulder and Denver.

Earlier in the night, the AP declared Trump the winner in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia, where an analysis of available vote totals at the time the races were called also showed no path for Haley to take the lead from Trump.

In the run−up to Super Tuesday, Trump had won by wide margins in eight of the nine contests where he and Haley both appeared on the ballot. His 11−point win in New Hampshire was the narrowest of his victories.

Trump started the day with a big delegate lead over Haley, but despite the 854 GOP delegates at stake on Super Tuesday, the earliest he could win enough delegates to clinch the nomination is March 12. He would need to win about 90% of the nearly 1,100 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday through March 12 to wrap up the nomination by that date.

Super Tuesday is made up of presidential contests in 16 states and American Samoa. More than 70% of the delegates needed to mathematically clinch either the Democratic or Republican presidential nominations will be decided based on Tuesday’s contests.

Robert Yoon, The Associated Press

Photo: AP