Grace notes: Louisiana about to play major role this weekend in presidential race _lowres

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., argues a point during a Republican presidential primary debate at Fox Theatre, Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Day Three of Louisiana’s four days in the presidential spotlight is shaping up as a busy one.

Bill Clinton is stopping in New Orleans this morning to campaign for his wife Hillary after spending the evening in Baton Rouge. Donald Trump will touch down hours later for a New Orleans Lakefront Airport rally, then presumably climb right back on his eponymous plane and jet on out. Ted Cruz has an evening rally scheduled as well, this one in St. Tammany Parish and featuring a couple of big-name Louisiana supporters, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins and Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. (By the way, if you haven’t seen Robertson’s television ad for Cruz, it’s an instant classic). These visits follow last week’s Metairie town hall meeting with John Kasich.

That’s a whole lot of attention, but not as much as Louisiana voters were expecting. Marco Rubio was originally scheduled to speak Friday evening in Baton Rouge, which would have set up an even tougher choice for Republican voters who might have liked to have checked out their three most prominent options in person. But the senator’s campaign quietly canceled the event, saying that the candidate now plans to use his time more efficiently.

So is Rubio punting on Louisiana? Maybe, but if so, he’s actually got a pretty good reason. The contest has now become a race for Trump’s rivals to piece together enough delegates to deny Trump a majority, and some big winner-take-all states are looming — none bigger than Rubio’s home state of Florida, which votes March 15.

And Rubio just isn’t well positioned to pick up more than a few, if any, of Louisiana’s 46 delegates.

This is partly because he trails Trump and Cruz in polls in the registered Republican-only contest. A new University of New Orleans automated poll gave Trump 38 percent, Cruz 26 percent, Rubio 11 and Kasich five. Top GOP officials have said the numbers they’re seeing are similar.

And it’s partly due to the complicated way the state GOP divvies up the spoils. More than half the delegates will be allocated according to Saturday’s statewide vote, but only candidates who receive at least 20 percent of the vote will qualify for any at all. If Rubio falls short of that statewide threshold, his best shot is to do particularly well in a single congressional district, but even then, the potential delegate take is sparse.

One more footnote on the GOP rules: They’ve actually changed since the last time we elected a president. Previously, about half the delegates were chosen in process separate from the primary, a set-up that allowed party insiders to pretty much ignore the popular primary vote. The Republican National Committee has since demanded that states like Louisiana be bound by the electoral results. With Trump’s shocking rise, I’m betting a lot of those insiders would like a do-over on that decision.

‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.