Tuesday’s primaries in five states may mark a turning point in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as he tries to amass a majority of delegates before this summer’s Republican National Convention.
The vote also will be a test of Trump’s ability to withstand a wave of negative coverage and rivals’ attacks over violence that has broken out at some of his rallies, with critics charging that he has fomented confrontations with his rhetoric.
Voters are casting ballots in Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina. News networks started coverage Tuesday morning, with the first results expected from Florida at around 7 p.m. ET, when polls close. Polls close in Ohio and North Carolina at 7:30 p.m. ET, and in Illinois and Missouri at 8 p.m.
A Trump loss in either Ohio or Florida, both “winner-take-all” delegate-rich states, would mean “the GOP is likely to find itself in Cleveland with no candidate above the 1,237-delegate majority needed to claim the nomination,” Benjamin Ginsberg, former general counsel for the GOP, wrote in a recent piece for Politico. “If that happens, the Republican Party’s own rules lock in a quagmire in Cleveland — and likely a multi-ballot, no-holds-barred convention.”
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton holds a wide delegate lead over Bernie Sanders. But her surprise loss in Michigan last week has raised concerns among her supporters that Sanders could do well in other midwestern states like Ohio and Illinois. In recent days, Clinton has been focusing more on Trump, a potential GOP rival, accusing Trump of “encouraging violence and chaos” and of “running a cynical campaign of hate and fear.”
Trump has blamed protesters and Sanders’ supporters, and even said that he was considering paying the legal fees of a North Carolina man who punched one demonstrator as he was being escorted out of a rally in Fayetteville. Trump has said that the disturbances at his rally are the fault of organized opposition from the left.
While he still holds a big lead in polling in Florida over Marco Rubio, Trump has fallen behind John Kasich in Ohio. Trump stepped up his attacks on Kasich, the state’s governor, accusing him of being weak on illegal immigration and of holding responsibility for the loss of manufacturing jobs to Mexico. Kasich, however, has pointed to Ford’s decision to move jobs back to Ohio from Mexico, lured by a package of state incentives.
Trump is facing millions of dollars in attack ads, including a spot unveiled on Monday from the Our Principles PAC. Called “Quotes,” it features women reading off quotes from Trump about women. Although some of the quotes come from comments he made in the 1990s on “The Howard Stern Show,” others are more recent, like those he said about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly after the first GOP debate in August.
President Obama addressed Trump’s campaign rhetoric in an appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Without naming Trump, Obama condemned “vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities, and Americans who don’t look like us or pray like us or vote like we do.”
He also referred to “misguided attempts to shut down that speech.”
“In response to those attempts, we have seen actual violence and we have heard silence from too many of our leaders,” Obama said.
“While some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it,” he said. “It is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America and it has to stop.”