Marco Rubio’s last stand? Will John Kasich live to fight another day? Will Donald Trump’s rallies help or hurt? And can Bernie Sanders pull off another Michigan surprise somewhere in the industrial Midwest?
As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump lead in all or most of the five big states voting Tuesday, those are some of the themes that will determine the way the campaign looks by Wednesday morning.
Subplots inject some uncertainty. Trump’s rallies have been interrupted repeatedly by protesters, including at least a dozen removed Monday from a rally in North Carolina.
Another heckler was punched in the face last week. Trump supporters also clashed with anti-Trump demonstrators in Chicago on Friday. And an anti-Trump protester stormed Trump’s stage Saturday before for being stopped by authorities. Will undecided Republicans hold Trump accountable, or rally to his side?
Rubio appears ill-positioned. The anyone-but-Trump voters don’t appear ready to turn to Rubio. The senator from Florida, viewed only weeks ago as the Republican establishment’s best hope, has poured virtually all his time and money this week into winning his home state. Polls suggest Trump will crush him and his presidential hopes.
Kasich, the governor of Ohio, has inched ahead of Trump in that state. A win in Ohio would mean lots of boasting by Kasich that he’s now the center-right alternative, but the math makes his task very difficult.
Trump has 460 delegates toward the 1,237 needed to win the Republican nomination. Next is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, with 370. Rubio has 163 and Kasich 63. A total of 358 are at stake Tuesday, and Florida, with 99 delegates, and Ohio, with 66, are winner-take-all states. Trump is ahead in four of Tuesday’s states, positioning him to end the day with at least 640 delegates, according to NBC News estimates.
Among Democrats, Clinton’s leading everywhere, though her leads are fragile in the Midwest. The economy remains a grim flashpoint as the former secretary of state argues she’s President Barack Obama’s logical heir. Workers feeling stung by trade deals and a slow recovery are warming to Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.
Clinton has 1,234 delegates, including 467 superdelegates, or party officials unelected in primaries and unbound by the popular vote. Sanders has 579 total delegates. A full 2,383 is needed to win the Democratic nomination, and the five states voting Tuesday have 793.
FLORIDA. GOP: Trump up 18.7 percentage points, according to average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com. Clinton up 29.6.
“We have to win here in Florida,” Rubio said recently at a rally in the South Florida city of Hialeah.
Rubio has been barnstorming the state relentlessly, but Trump, who campaigned Monday in Tampa, leads by an almost 2-1 ratio.
More than 2 million voters have already cast absentee ballots or voted early. More than 1.1 million of those voters were Republican; the Democratic vote tally was just under 850,000.
The GOP tally included 484,000 voters who didn’t participate in the 2012 presidential primary, according to Daniel Smith, a professor at the University of Florida. He saw the Republican enthusiasm as likely to boost Trump.
But Iciar Maiz, 54, of Miami, said she was actually inspired by supporters holding Trump signs outside an early voting spot – inspired to vote against Trump. She saw the Trump signs and thought, “I need to vote early and send a sign. We need to get him out.” She voted for Sanders.
ILLINOIS. GOP: Trump up 8.7 percentage points. Dems: Clinton up 2.3.
Clinton could face a backlash from Democrats angry at Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The two have long been close.
Emanuel has fought off calls to quit, but remains under fire in the black community. They see him as doing little to ease widespread poverty, and remain angry about the police shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Downstate, the economy is the big issue. Some seek a learned hand at the helm. Sanders is “a one-issue candidate, and Clinton has so much more experience,” said Mary Lynam-Miller, a homemaker from O’Fallon.
MISSOURI. GOP: Trump up 7 percentage points. Dems: Clinton up 7.
The smallest of the states voting Tuesday unexpectedly found itself in the spotlight in the closing hours of the primary campaign.
After a raucous St. Louis rally Friday, Trump came to Kansas City Saturday, his speech marred by protests inside and outside the downtown theater where he spoke. At one point, Kansas City police blasted pepper spray in an effort to disperse the crowd. Similar protests affected a Trump rally in St. Louis a day earlier.
Cruz campaigned across the state as well, insisting he remains the only realistic alternative to the businessman. His appeal to social and religious conservatives could make a difference in the state. Latest polls show the race too close to call, and Missouri is Tuesday’s only primary state without an early voting option. That means the vast majority of the state’s voters were still up for grabs over the weekend.
NORTH CAROLINA. GOP: Trump up 12.8 percentage points. Dems: Clinton up 23.7.
Clinton and Sanders campaigned in vote-rich Charlotte and last week stumped in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Trump held a morning rally Monday at Hickory’s Lenoir-Rhyne University, where he was joined by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Security officials removed at least a dozen protesters.
Trump cited the “love” all around him, and then lamented, “There’s anger where you look at the United States, and it can’t win anymore.”
Heidi Cruz also campaigned in the Hickory area Monday morning, a day after her husband stumped with Glenn Beck at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
OHIO. GOP: Kasich up 3.2 percentage points. Dems: Clinton up 8.3.
Kasich is overwhelmingly popular as governor, and is gaining from voters eager to stop Trump. Rubio this weekend urged his Ohio supporters to get behind Kasich.
“The Ohio race is tight, but with Rubio floundering in Florida, Kasich could potentially bolster his standing as the establishment’s alternative to Trump and Cruz with a win here,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Clinton’s campaign is concerned that a last-minute surge of voters frustrated by foreign competition and an eroding manufacturing base could cost her the state. She was up by similar numbers in Michigan last week and wound up losing to Sanders.
Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer, Dave Helling of the Kansas City Star and Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald contributed.