Larry Sabato is Virginia's - and one of the nation's - best-known political pundits. He told an audience at the 4th annual Investor Conference at Kingsmill Resort Wednesday evening that there are at least two things he's sure of in this raucous presidential election year.
He said Trump might win the Republican nomination, although "Republican leaders will be trying to take it away from him."
Looking at the upcoming primary schedule on the Republican side, Sabato said he expected Trump to take the next two big states, New York and Pennsylvania. He expects Texas Senator Ted Cruz to wins several western states, including Colorado.
"Then it comes down to California where delegates are awarded by congressional district, so there are probably delegates there for everybody. California has 55 congressional districts and many of them are heavily Democratic. If you can turn out 500 Republican voters, you might be able to pick up three delegates," he said.
He think that will leave Trump "either just under or just over" the 1,247 it takes to win the nomination.
"Even if he's over he'll have to spend the next five weeks fighting to hold those delegates," Sabato said. "If he doesn't win on the first ballot, he won't win."
He said at the convention in Cleveland, some delegates will pledged for only the first ballot and a few for the first two ballots.
"The delegates that the party leaders are choosing to go to the convention aren't necessarily Trump supporters. They will look for the first chance to bolt," Sabato said.
Which will make the Cleveland convention "the most interesting we've ever seen."
What about Ohio Gov. John Kasich?
"They can't choose him," Sabato joked. "He could actually win."
He said the Kasich strategy was to go to the convention and "hope for an outbreak of rationality."
On the Democratic side, Sabato said the nominating contest is over and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has won, despite the fact that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has won seven of the last eight nominating contests.
He said Clinton's lead among the super delegates, party leaders who are guaranteed delegate seats at the convention, makes it impossible for Sanders to win enough pledged delegates to win the nomination and she'll probably beat him in pledged delegates as well.
"The only question is will she limp to the nomination or will she sweep in like a winner," Sabato said. "At this point, it looks to me like the limp."
However, Sabato said Clinton could do well enough in California to regain momentum.
"Remember she won California against Barrack Obama [in 2008], largely on the strength of Latino voters," he said.
In the general election, Sabato's website Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball shows Democrats starting off with an electoral advantage of 247 electoral votes either safely or leaning Democratic to 206 for the Republicans. It takes 270 electoral votes to win. The balance are in several swing states, including Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia.
"Who would have ever thought we'd be a swing state?" Sabato said. "We were a solid Old South Democratic state and then we were a solid New South Republican state, but now we're a swing state and a better predictor of the national vote than Ohio."
In the Crystal Ball's analysis, Clinton would beat Trump 347 electoral votes to 191.
"He would cost them the Senate and possibly the House, but I think it's more likely that he would cut the Republican margin in the House in half, but the Republicans would maintain control," Sabato said.
He said he doesn't think Cruz could beat Clinton either.
"I can't see where he would move enough of the swing states," Sabato said.
In answer to a question from the audience, Sabato said he wouldn't be surprised to see a Virginian's name on the ballot.
"Tim Kaine was this close [holds fingers less than an inch apart] to being the Democratic nominee for president this year," Sabato said. "Obama's choices for vice president came down to Biden and Kaine. I think he made a mistake by going with Biden who was too old to be a successor and came from a reliably Democratic state and didn't add much there. But if Kaine was being looked on as vice presidential material then, he'll be on the list."
Sabato said Kaine, Virginia's junior U.S. Senator, has another qualification to be vice president. He served as lieutenant governor when Mark Warner, Virginia's senior U.S. Senator was governor.
"He's got experience at being the number two man and taking orders," Sabato said.
Although he thinks the Republicans are headed for a resounding electoral defeat this year, Sabato says they'll probably bounce back from it.
"After Barry Goldwater's landslide defeat in 1964, the Republicans captured the White House four years later. After George McGovern lost 49 states in 1972, the Democrats won the presidency four years later," he said. "That's because people do learn hard lessons from defeat."
Sabato said that it's unusual that the Democrats' prospects are so good this fall, coming off a two-term Democratic president.
"We like to change the parties," he said. "Because we don't really trust either one of them."
Vaughan can be reached at (757)345-2343.