The Pennsylvania Primary Is Make Or Break For Donald Trump, But Not For The Usual Reasons

Five states will hold their primaries for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations on Tuesday. Pennsylvania is one of those states, and a lot is at stake for the candidates. On the Republican side, the state could play a significant role in determining who the nominee is (or isn't), and for an unusual reason. Why is Pennsylvania so important for Donald Trump?

First, let's get our bearings on where the Republican race is at. We have three candidates running, two of whom mathematically cannot win enough delegates through the remaining primary contests to earn the nomination. A candidate needs 1,237 delegates in order to get the nomination, and only one candidate has a shot at doing so: Trump.

So why are Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich still running? Because Trump might not get the number of delegates he needs, either. If they stay in the race and pick up delegates here and there, it could keep Trump from securing the nomination. Then we'd have a brokered convention, meaning most delegates would become unbound from primary results and vote for whomever they want.

Pennsylvania fits into all this in an interesting way. The state has 71 Republican delegates; unlike most states, a big chunk of Pennsylvania's delegates will go into the Republican National Convention in July unbound. Fifty-four of the state's delegates will be elected in the Tuesday primary, and they don't have to tell voters which candidate they plan to support in July. Pennsylvania's remaining 17 delegates will go to whichever candidate wins the state's primary.

MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images

Trump goes into Tuesday with 846 delegates, meaning he'll need to rack up at least 391 to secure the nomination and prevent a brokered convention. There's no guarantee that he'll get those. There are 620 pledged delegates remaining to be won in the primaries. If Trump doesn't get enough, then whether or not unbound delegates support him at the convention will determine whether or not he, or someone else, gets the nomination. In a race with tight numbers, Pennsylvania's 54 unbound delegates are a significant bunch.

We don't know where all the unbound delegate candidates' loyalties lie, but we do have some information on how several of them plan to vote at the convention. The Morning Call, a Pennsylvania newspaper, polled several of the 162 delegate candidates. Some of the delegates plan to bind themselves; 50 said they'd vote according to whichever candidate won in their congressional districts, and another four said they'd vote based on who wins statewide. Thirty others expressed support for Trump, and 22 for Cruz.

Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images

We don't know which of these delegates will actually get elected on Tuesday, and we should note that unbound delegates are not required to vote any specific way at the convention, even if they express support for a candidate beforehand; they are free agents all the way, no matter what they say up until July. But if a significant number of them bind themselves to the primary result, that will likely be good news for Trump; he's got a solid lead in Pennsylvania polls.

There are a lot of delegates at stake in Pennsylvania, and we won't know how most of them will vote in July. The answer to that question could be the deciding factor in determining whether or not Trump secures the Republican nomination.