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'Super Tuesday 2' offers Trump, Clinton chance to solidify party races

By Eric DuVall   |   March 15, 2016 at 5:48 PM
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It isn't quite Super Tuesday by the number of states voting, but the makeup of the five states casting ballots makes it a pretty terrific Tuesday just the same.

Call it Super Tuesday 2 -- but will the subtitle be "Return of the Front-Runners," or "The Establishment Fights Back"?

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That is the question voters in five states -- Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina -- will answer Tuesday night.

The states of Florida and Ohio have the most at stake in terms of delegates, as well as the composition of the Republican field going forward.

Losses, though, would almost certainly be fatal to the home state candidates. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio's two-term governor, John Kasich, are fending off calls to exit the race amid poor early showings.

If the GOP's front-runner, Donald Trump, can pull off victories over his rivals in the states where they live, those calls will likely become deafening and donors would probably close their pocketbooks, writing off both men's campaigns as efforts in futility.

However, a win for either Rubio or Kasich could scramble the race. Both Florida and Ohio are winner-take-all delegate states, meaning there is no reward for coming in second.

Polls suggest that Kasich stands a better chance at defeating Trump in Ohio than Rubio does in Florida. Every survey of the Florida race conducted recently has shown Trump with a large lead -- the most recent being 20 percentage points over Rubio there. For the Kasich camp, polls have proved a mixed bag, with some surveys suggesting he is leading and others calling the race a virtual tie.

With all the focus on those two contests, the GOP's other candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, has trained his focus largely on the other three states in play. Cruz has proved strong in the Midwest, already notching victories in Iowa and Oklahoma. He will look to build on that momentum in Illinois and particularly in Missouri, the most traditionally conservative state in play Tuesday.

Then there is the race on the Democratic side, which is at its most tenuous for front-runner Hillary Clinton since the first two contests, where she finished Iowa's caucuses in a virtual tie with Sen. Bernie Sanders, then got walloped in New Hampshire.

Though Clinton remains firmly in command of the pledged delegate count, Sanders is hoping to continue his momentum after a stunning upset victory in Michigan last week. Polls there had shown Clinton with a comfortable, double-digit lead but when the votes were tallied, Sanders was the winner by about two percentage points. The victory did not help him narrow Clinton's lead in the delegate count, because it was so close, but it did manage to pierce the aura of inevitability surrounding Clinton's campaign.

She remains firmly in control of the Florida race, polls show. The demographics in the state also favor her. Florida has a large Hispanic population and Tuesday's race is a closed primary, meaning only registered Democrats in Florida are allowed to cast ballots.

Clinton has won that group by 18 points over Sanders, who is much more popular among younger independent voters.

But Ohio, Missouri and Illinois offer Sanders a chance to prove his victory in Michigan was not a fluke. He has campaigned hard in each state and hammered Clinton's position on trade, which he says has helped send manufacturing jobs in the Midwest overseas.

Super Tuesday 2 will offer Sanders the opportunity -- if he can win any of the three Midwest states, particularly Ohio, which looms ever large in the general election -- to prove his campaign has real traction among swing voters.

Tuesday, the Republicans will also hold caucuses in one U.S. territory, the North Marianas Islands, where nine delegates are at stake.

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