Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton seek inevitability. Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders want momentum. And Marco Rubio and John Kasich just want to survive.
Tuesday’s primaries in five states will reshape, and effectively could end, the 2016 presidential nominating races. But the 2016 campaign has been too volatile to predict who will soar or stumble as Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio and Illinois go to the polls.
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Republicans long ago set up their calendar so a virtual winner would emerge Tuesday. The rules change this week: Florida and Ohio winners get all of those states’ convention delegates, a total of 165.
Real estate mogul Trump starts the day with 459, with Cruz, a senator from Texas, trailing with 360. Rubio has 152 and Kasich 54, with 1,237 needed for the nomination.
Tuesday could be the final day for Kasich, the governor of Ohio, and Rubio, a senator from Florida. If they fail to win their home states’ Republican primaries, they’re finished. Polls suggest Kasich is a decent bet to survive, but Rubio’s prospects are shaky.
Trump has the edge in all five states. “People connect with him in ways they don’t connect with Cruz,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Among Democrats, estimates show Clinton has twice as many delegates as Sanders, largely because of an advantage with superdelegates, party officials unbound by any state’s results. Polls show her ahead in all five states, but Sanders, a senator from Vermont, is close in Midwestern states.
Here’s the outlook:
Polls would suggest there’s not much suspense – Clinton and Trump have strong leads.
Jorgelina Mesa, 62, of West Miami, said she’s ready for the race to end. “Crazy,” she said of the campaign that has brought a flood of television ads, many bashing Trump for his business practices. She voted early Friday for Cruz at the West Dade Regional Library because she “likes the way he thinks.”
Trump, however, might be behind a trend in Florida’s early voting numbers. “We’re seeing a lot of voters on the Republican side who skipped the 2014 and 2012 elections,” said Daniel Smith, a professor at the University of Florida who has studied the data. “It’s hard to square that they are party establishment figures.”
Of the 850,000 Republican voters who have voted, 42 percent didn’t vote in the last presidential primary, Smith said.
Kasich makes Ohio a state to watch. He has one of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the nation. His campaign is counting on an overwhelming victory, one that tells the nation he’s the center-right candidate who can stop Trump and beat the Democrats.
A Fox News poll, conducted March 5-8, gave Kasich a 34 to 29 percent lead over Trump. Trump does well among the same constituencies that have embraced him elsewhere – voters with no college degrees or with lower incomes. One warning sign for Trump: One-fourth of voters said they haven’t decided, and, in other states, they often don’t go for Trump.
There’s another big reason to watch Ohio: Clinton. Her support for controversial trade deals hurt her in blue-collar Michigan, and Ohio is economically and demographically similar. Her lead has been shrinking in recent polls.
Clinton, who grew up in suburban Chicago, and Trump are favorites. But the undercurrents of frustration with all things establishment are evident in this state, where manufacturing keeps eroding and urban racial tension simmers.
“Deep down most think Hillary Clinton is going to be the nominee,” said Alan Dunstan, Madison County board chairman and a Democrat. But Sanders has been attracting big, animated crowds, and “we hope he can bring that enthusiasm to her campaign.”
Republicans have a history of electing center-right candidates, and Kasich would seem a natural fit. So far, though, he hasn’t drawn support in Illinois, as he has devoted most of his campaign time lately to securing Ohio.
The sluggish economy as well as the fractured field keeps Trump the favorite, though he had to postpone his planned rally Friday in Chicago because protests raised safety concerns. That triggered even more criticism from rivals. “The seeds of division that Donald Trump has been sowing this whole campaign finally bore fruit, and it was ugly,” Kasich said.
Clinton and Trump have significant leads, according to the latest polls. Sanders hopes to pick up some delegates in the Democratic primary in the liberal mountain town of Asheville and in the state’s college towns. Friday, he spoke in downtown Raleigh, a short drive for students at Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University. On Monday, he’ll stop in Charlotte.
Clinton, who began running TV and radio ads in North Carolina last week, spoke at a rally Thursday in Durham, historically a center for black-owned businesses and African-American political clout. African-Americans usually account for about 45 percent of the Democratic primary vote. Clinton has parlayed her popularity with black voters into landslide wins in Southern primaries. She’ll also hold a rally Monday in Charlotte.
Rubio and Kasich didn’t campaign in North Carolina, so it appears Cruz will be Trump’s only threat in the state. The Texas senator spoke at two packed Baptist churches Tuesday, and will return Sunday for a rally with TV conservative host Glenn Beck at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.
Trump was in North Carolina twice last week, drawing more than 10,000 supporters “and a swell of anti-Trump protesters” at a Wednesday rally in Fayetteville. He will return Sunday to Hickory.
Trump drew a raucous rally Friday in St. Louis, and Cruz stirred audiences with his own campaign stop Saturday. It’s a classic conservative versus the outsider in this state, and while Trump is ahead in polls, that’s no promise of a win.
This much is clear: Republicans are eager for change. Kristie Sikora, a St. Louis procurement officer, voted for Obama eight years ago. “He promised hope and change,” she recalled, but he didn’t deliver. Now, she says, Trump is making the same pledge.
Trump was ahead by 7 percentage points over Cruz in a poll taken for Missouri newspapers March 3-10 by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs Poll.
The Democratic race also appears to be tightening. The Docking Institute poll showed Clinton ahead by 7 percentage points over Sanders, with 13 percent undecided. One factor that might affect the vote is Obama’s unpopularity in this state; the poll found 58 percent dissatisfied with him.