Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are waiting to see whether voters in five US states on Tuesday will cement their positions as the Democratic and Republican frontrunners or deliver results that will herald long, drawn-out races.
The New York tycoon remains the clear frontrunner in the GOP race having won 15 out of 25 contests. Mr Trump hopes to wrap up the Republican nomination with victories in Florida and Ohio, which hold winner-takes-all primaries on Tuesday. But while he remains far ahead of Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American senator, in Florida, four of the last six polls in Ohio show him trailing John Kasich, the state’s moderate governor.
Super Tuesday 2 — which includes primaries in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina — will help draw the contours of the primary races, which have been upset by the populist movement of Mr Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist senator, on the Democratic side of the political aisle.
Ted Cruz, the Cuban-American Texas senator who is the closest rival to Mr Trump, has won enough delegates to remain in the Republican field no matter what happens in the primaries on Tuesday. But Florida and Ohio are make-or-break races for Mr Rubio and Mr Kasich. After the departure of Jeb Bush, Mr Rubio appeared to inherit the mantle of the establishment, but he has failed to convert that popularity into victories across the country.
Speaking in English and Spanish to his home district of West Miami, Mr Rubio urged hundred of his supporters to push their friends to vote for him on Tuesday, saying that he was unsure whether he could win without a high turnout. Many of his supporters, recalling the energy that surrounded his launch last year, were hoping that polls showing Mr Trump with a double-digit lead would be wrong.
“I know him very well. There is going to be a big, big surprise tomorrow,” said Carlos Zambrano, a Rubio supporter who remained optimistic despite the gloomy signs surrounding the campaign.
Mr Trump’s rivals were hoping that the recent violence at this rallies — which critics say has been sparked by his incendiary rhetoric — would halt some of his momentum. While Mr Trump has comfortable leads in Florida and North Carolina, he is behind in Ohio and leads Mr Cruz by slim margins in Illinois and Missouri.
If Mr Trump wins both Florida and Ohio, he will be well on his way to amassing the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination before the party holds its convention in June. But a loss in either state would make it harder for Mr Trump to win enough delegates to ward off a possible contested convention in Cleveland.
In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton and Mr Sanders are neck-and-neck in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri as the Vermont senator continues to make inroads among voters in the Rust Belt. According to a new Quinnipiac University poll, Mrs Clinton has a strong 60-34 per cent lead over Mr Sanders in Florida. However, in Ohio, she has just a five percentage point lead, while polls by PPP put her three percentage points ahead of him in Illinois and one point behind him in Missouri.
The Clinton campaign has argued that the former secretary of state could lose all three Midwestern states and still walk away with more delegates than Mr Sanders. But a poor showing in Ohio — a key swing state in the general election — would raise questions about her support among white, blue-collar voters who have traditionally been a core demographic of the Democratic base.
Over the past few days, Mrs Clinton has sought to appeal to this group by portraying herself as a fierce advocate of US manufacturing workers and a critic of the 12-nation Transpacific trade partnership. Yet Mr Sanders has repeatedly pointed out that she once backed TPP as the “gold standard” for trade agreements. He has suggested that she switched her position purely for political interests which, if true, would not endear her to the country’s unions.
“Hillary Clinton has vigorously supported almost every piece of disastrous trade legislation this country has seen, which has cost us millions of decent paying jobs and led to a race to the bottom,” said Mr Sanders.
After she emphatically beat Mr Sanders in South Carolina last month thanks to strong African-American support, Mrs Clinton was ready to aim her sights at Mr Trump. But a shock loss in Michigan — where she had been 20 points ahead — raised questions about her campaign and forced her to focus on fending off the resilient challenge from Mr Sanders.
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