Tuesday is a pivotal day in the chase for the presidency, especially among Republicans, as Donald Trump tries to cement his lead and Ohio Gov. John Kasich looks for the victory that could propel his slow-arcing, yet improving campaign. It could also prove to be the last stand for a candidate who many saw as the potential nominee just a few months ago, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
For Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is hoping to pull off at least one surprise upset of front-runner Hillary Clinton, as he did in Michigan last week.
Voters in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina go the polls to cast ballots. For Republicans, this is the first time where winner-take-all-delegates states — Ohio and Florida — are holding contests. That makes it likely to be a “very decisive” day, said New York Republican State Chairman Ed Cox. (There are no winner-take-all contests for Democrats.)
Here are five things to watch for:
Will Trump’s momentum continue?
Republicans who oppose Trump are frantically trying to stop his momentum in either Ohio (66 delegates at stake) or Florida (99 delegates); Trump victories in both states could create the perception that his march to the nomination is inevitable, even if with many states still to go.
Polls show Trump with a wide lead in Florida and a few points behind Kasich in Ohio, according to Real Clear Politics. He also leads in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina. He’s looking to build on a 91-delegate lead over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is running second right now with 369.
Meanwhile, Trump is taking heat for the violence and protests at some of his recent rallies. It began escalating when a protester was sucker-punched by a Trump supporter at a North Carolina rally last Wednesday. Trump sought to dismiss the incidents, saying altercations have been few and that his rallies have been “love fests.”
Will Kasich get a needed win in Ohio?
A win for Kasich in Ohio and he becomes the GOP alternative to Trump and Cruz. A loss and he could be through.
Kasich has steadily portrayed himself as the adult in the room. While Trump, Cruz, Rubio and others traded lowbrow insults, he has tried to stay positive about his record and present himself as the only one with a track record of political accomplishments. He hasn’t won a state yet — his best showing was second in New Hampshire.
Kasich got a boost when Rubio “released” his voters to vote for Kasich in Ohio in a desperate move to halt Trump. He got another when the Republicans’ 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney — who is part of a “Never Trump” movement within the GOP — campaigned for him in Ohio Monday.
Is this the end of Rubio’s campaign?
After finishing second in South Carolina last month, Rubio declared he had taken one more step toward “becoming the 45th president.” Now, there are signs he’s headed for a campaign-ending defeat in his home state.
After South Carolina, he tried to tar Trump at debates, going after the developer’s record and delivering personal insults. But the tactic didn’t help his stature and may have helped drag him down. Rubio still insists he’s going to win his home state.
Can Sanders surprise again?
Sanders is hoping for another surprise in the Midwest. The polls show him creeping to within single digits of Clinton in Ohio and Illinois, and pulling ahead by one point in Missouri.
In an email Monday, Sanders said Tuesday looms as a “moment of truth.” He has been touting his opposition to “disastrous” trade policies in an effort to woo union members and blue-collar workers.
“I believe America is ready for a new path to the future. And tomorrow night’s results will go a long way toward determining if we’ll get that chance,” Sanders wrote.
Will it be money well spent?
Independent political action committees are spending large sums trying to influence Tuesday’s results. Our Principles, a pro-Kasich group, has plunked down $1 million in anti-Trump ads in Ohio since last week and another $375,000 in Missouri, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Conservative Solutions, a pro-Rubio group, has spent more than $1 million opposing Kasich in Florida. Looking to make it a two-man race between Trump and Cruz, Stand for Truth, a pro-Cruz group, has spent nearly $500,000 on anti-Rubio ads in Florida.