Happy Pi Day.
Every election night is special. A few are "super." Then there's tomorrow -- Super Tuesday II: Electric Boogaloo -- which may deliver the most important Republican results until the party gets to the convention in Cleveland, as voters head to the polls in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri and Ohio. (We know some of you may have heard tomorrow referred to as Super Tuesday III, perhaps in a reflection of the growing societal tendency to define "Super" down. We respect that opinion. Yet we stand by our assessment.)
A reminder of the GOP stakes: Cruz may be the most likely Trump alternative right now, but the spotlight tomorrow is on Marco Rubio and John Kasich. If both lose their winner-take-all home states, then Trump is very likely to capture a delegate majority before the convention. If even one of them were to win at home, then the race will be veering toward a convention showdown. (Either way, their options right now are 1) bad or 2) worse.)
On the Democratic side: If Bernie Sanders can pull off another Michigan-like result in one of tomorrow's Midwestern contests -- say, Hillary Clinton's original home state of Illinois, where he's been gaining -- then Clinton's in for a rockier few months than she'd expected.
After a weekend of turbulent protests (and one canceled Chicago rally), Trump dismissed talk of chaos at his campaign events.
“The press is now going, they're saying, 'Oh but there's such violence.' No violence. You know how many people have been hurt at our rallies? I think, like, basically none except maybe somebody got hit once," Trump said in North Carolina, after several protesters were escorted out during the first of three interruptions.
“It’s a love fest. These are love fests,” Trump added later. “And every once in a while … somebody will stand up and they’ll say something.… It’s a little disruption, but there’s no violence. There’s none whatsoever.”
At an earlier Trump campaign event in Florida, Sarah Palin was blunter. "What we don't have time for is all that petty punk-ass thuggery that has been going on with those protesters," she said.
The campaign can apparently afford to brush off the criticism: The earliest poll evidence suggests voters don’t seem to hold violence at Trump rallies against him. In fact, it may even help.
Trump: "You know how many people have been hurt at our rallies? I think basically none."
Here's how it all played in Florida, according to the Monmouth University poll released today (the topline: a 17-point Trump lead over Rubio, 44 to 27, with Cruz at 17 and Kasich at 9): Two-thirds of the state's GOP voters said what happened in Chicago, which involved clashes between protesters and Trump supporters, and multiple arrests, didn't have any impact on their vote. And for every voter who said it made them less likely to support Trump, twice as many said the incident made them more likely to back him.
KASICH: TOMORROW IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF MY CAMPAIGN
This is the lit Kasich is passing out as he makes closing argument to Ohio. pic.twitter.com/rXr5bYx9b2— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) March 14, 2016
The winning starts this week, Kasich told reporters today, with an Ohio victory: He'll start coming out ahead, he said -- maybe even enough to claim a delegate lead by the time the race circles back to his home state this summer.
"You will see me pick up steam and have momentum," Kasich said. "I may go to the convention with more delegates than any of ‘em, but probably not enough to win."
Kasich spent Monday campaigning in his home state with Mitt Romney (just don't call it an endorsement.) The Trump campaign can't claim big names in Ohio. What it does have are volunteers like Ralph Case. “'He’s got to win,' Ralph said as they piled into the red Pontiac, which had a license plate that read 'Gavin1,' a Speedway coffee cup and a prescription bottle in the console," reports Stephanie McCrummen, who accompanied the contractor on a day of campaigning last week. (If you want to see what the Trump campaign's support like at the grass-roots level: Read the whole thing.) "As they sped along, Ralph found himself ranting about things he had never ranted about before....'I feel strongly he’s our final hope,' he said."
Campaigning in Ohio himself, Trump unloaded on Kasich -- on his debate performance, his Wall Street ties, his state's economic health. The attack made sense: in a Monmouth poll released today, Kasich had a 5-point edge on Trump in Ohio, 40 to 35 percent. (For the record, that matchup in a two-man race broke down as Kasich 52 percent, Trump 40.)
Another data point from the poll: If Donald Trump is the GOP nominee, 1 in 10 Ohio Republicans say they will vote for Hillary Clinton. (And yes -- Democrats can also vote in the state's GOP primary, and vice versa.)
(Trail #protip: usually the only way to win this guessing game is...not to play.)
Kasich to girl in audience: "Are you 16? How old are you young lady? ... Oh you're 22."— Alexis Levinson (@alexis_levinson) March 14, 2016
Kasich rally and Bernie rally in Youngstown, five minutes apart pic.twitter.com/JvWCrgmUtr— daveweigel (@daveweigel) March 14, 2016
MEANWHILE: RUBIO IS FINDING FLORIDA A BIT CHILLIER THAN HE'D EXPECTED THIS TIME OF YEAR
Rubio's most frequent reference tonight: the fact that he began his bid 11 months ago pic.twitter.com/arzPsA5NhM— Robert Costa (@costareports) March 14, 2016
Tonight, Marco Rubio's home turf outlook is looking much dimmer than Kasich's.
"Across Florida, longtime supporters of Rubio are coming to grips with the possibility that the senator is probably on the verge of a humiliating defeat in the state’s GOP primary," reports Ed O'Keefe. "Their young, telegenic favorite son who began as a city commissioner and was touted as 'The Republican Savior,' continues to trail Trump in polls as the businessman has taunted him for weeks.
"Campaigning statewide over the weekend, Rubio looked exhausted. He nearly lost his composure talking to reporters about violence at recent Trump rallies. He rushed through crowds at restaurants and retail shops, shaking hands, kissing elderly women, tilting his head and furrowing his brow to convey his appreciation. A funereal mood set in, similar to what cloaked the campaign of former Florida governor Jeb Bush in its waning days..."
(One volunteer, fighting back tears: “My mom is dying right now. But we have to help Marco.")
Today, we learned that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is endorsing Donald Trump. We didn't learn the post-Super Tuesday ad plans of Rubio's super PAC; ad trackers say they haven't seen any spending from them on the airwaves in two weeks, since the first Super Tuesday.
An hour before Rubio scheduled to hold his final rally in West Miami, where he launched his career. Very quiet. pic.twitter.com/ogTnzgsQLq— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) March 15, 2016
Rubio may not be hitting Trump hard on the air, but Our Principles PAC went nuclear today with a new digital/cable spot that could easily be repurposed wholesale by Democrats if Trump tops the GOP ticket this fall: an ad that features female voices repeating some of his more eyebrow-raising comments about women. (Sample Trump line from the spot: "Women — you have to treat them like s---")
TRAIL MIX: Donald Trump has a favorite warning: "Be careful." (Here are 15 times he's used it.) Here's one thing the front-runner is probably going to be very careful about: how he deflects outsourcing attacks, given new questions about his company's hiring decisions. "Today, Donald J. Trump Collection shirts — as well as eyeglasses, perfume, cuff links and suits — are made in Bangladesh, China, Honduras and other low-wage countries," report Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger.
--If a network holds a debate, and no one comes, does it still make a sound? Fox News is slated to host a Republican face-off next week, but it's not clear the candidates are all on board: "We had enough debates," Trump said last week.
--The legal headaches facing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski over his encounter with Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields may still be unresolved, but Trump may be able to relax on another legal front: Riot incitement charges in North Carolina now appear unlikely.
--Sarah Palin canceled a Trump campaign appearance in Florida at the last minute after her husband Todd Palin was in a snow machine accident back in Alaska (which, she said, reminded her how important it is to elect Donald Trump president. Trump himself later said he'd prefer to have Sarah Palin firing a weapon, rather than her husband: "Forget about Todd Palin -- especially now!")
--The Breitbart drama over Trump continued today, with more resignations.
--Stuff surrogates say: Trump backer Ben Carson told the Today Show there's a "real possibility" Trump rally violence will escalate, as House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared to critique the recent reaction by his party's front-runner.
There is "never an excuse for condoning violence," said Ryan. “I think the candidates have an obligation to do everything they can to prevent this from happening and to tamp down on any temptation to get this out of control,” he said on WRJN-AM in Racine, Wis., according to a transcript provided by the speaker’s office. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy sounded a slightly different note on Trump: the billionaire could help the GOP win seats, he told reporters.
--In other Trump surrogate news, a pastor at a Trump campaign event told the crowd that Jewish Bernie Sanders "needs to meet Jesus."
Trump's opening speaker calls on Sanders to convert to Christianity: pic.twitter.com/EfclxqIpnK— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) March 14, 2016
THE VIEW FROM THE FIELD: "I'm not a Nazi." A Donald Trump supporter offered an explanation of that viral photo of her saluting:
Protesters bashing Trump piñata outside Tampa rally. pic.twitter.com/VOzFieFbxT— Steve Peoples (@sppeoples) March 14, 2016
Protesters interrupt Trump, get carried out by security. Trump insists violence is not an issue at his rallies. pic.twitter.com/ZeUCtZV2zH— Jose A. DelReal (@jdelreal) March 14, 2016
Fifteen minutes into this rally and protesters have interrupted five times. Trump: "Do we prosecute somebody like that?" Crowd cheers.— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 14, 2016
Donald Trump: "I'm not going to say 'Little Marco'... I refuse to say it!"— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 14, 2016
Spotted in Tampa earlier this afternoon: pic.twitter.com/YvtBNgwX6e— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) March 14, 2016
Today the Internet (briefly) went nuts over this photo, of two men described as Trump supporters, taken by a Fox News producer at a Trump campaign rally.
But those guys looked familiar. And not from Trump rally sightings.
Very, very familiar. (They're bipartisan pranksters, who've reportedly also hit Clinton and Sanders rallies.)
These are the same two guys I saw disrupt a Christie event and Jeb event on separate days in Iowa https://t.co/F2GthTmuq8— Andrew Johnson (@AndrewE_Johnson) March 14, 2016
TL;DR summary: Not everything you see on the Internet is real.
CRUZ: STILL CHARTING A NEW CONVENTION-BOUND COURSE
"Cruz is looking to strong performances in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, the lightly polled megastates lost in recent coverage, to cut any delegate lead Trump might build Tuesday. The first two states border the parts of Iowa that gave Cruz his first victory.
"Missouri, home to Cruz's campaign manager Jeff Roe, has 52 delegates at stake but has been polled just once this year. A Fort Hays State University poll released last week put Trump at 36 percent, Cruz at 29 percent, and both Kasich and Rubio in single digits — with twice as many voters undecided as backing either of them. While Trump ran 20 points ahead of Cruz in Arkansas' section of the Ozarks, the rural area shared with Missouri, Roe has won elections before in central Missouri and the conservative suburbs of St. Louis and Kansas City.
"There's also promise for Cruz in Illinois, where the impact of Friday night's canceled Trump rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago has been hard to discern. Trump's leads there have been in the high single digits, and a weekend poll by CBS News/YouGov put Trump just four points ahead of Cruz. But Illinois selects delegates based on whoever wins each of its 18 congressional districts, not on who wins statewide. Cruz is making five stops in that state today, each in a different district, with no downside. A popular vote win would give him a major 'upset' headline, his first in a primary outside of Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas. A narrow loss, but wins in several districts, would eat into Trump's delegate lead."
(Cruz's strategy drew a bit less attention today than his latest qualifier to hypothetical support for Trump as GOP nominee: He would not back the mogul, he said, if Trump "were to go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody." Noted.)
Cruz, recalling Beer Summit, tells Mark Levin he knows Harvard faculty. "If it's conflict between a cop & a Harvard professor," cop is right— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) March 14, 2016
Obligatory trail baby pic:
TREND ALERT: Trump rivals assuring protesters they won't get assaulted at their campaign events. Today, Cruz told a heckler he was "not asking anyone to punch you in the face. And Marco Rubio told a Sanders supporter: "Don't worry, you're not going to get beat up at my rally."
TODAY IN CAMPAIGN FINANCE: The FEC told the "Trump Has Tiny Hands PAC": Hands off the Trump name. "Your committee's name includes the name of a candidate; however, your committee does not appear to be an authorized committee of that candidate."
FEC tells "Trump Has Tiny Hands PAC" to change its name pic.twitter.com/s7NrtQ5r2f— Dave Levinthal (@davelevinthal) March 14, 2016
This afternoon: Compliance.
"Trump Has Tiny Hands PAC" has changed its name. pic.twitter.com/UmlFF6RQrn— Teddy Schleifer (@teddyschleifer) March 14, 2016
LOOKING FOR SOME MIDWEST MOJO:
On the Democratic side: Bernie Sanders is looking to the Midwest to reclaim some momentum, reports John Wagner, as Florida looks beyond his reach.
"Aides are hopeful Sanders’s anti-trade pitch -- which propelled him to a surprise victory in Michigan last week -- will resonate in the Tar Heel state as well as in the industrial Midwest. Sanders has been hitting Clinton hard in those states for her past support of trade deals that he opposed.
"The electorate in parts of Missouri resemble that in Kansas, where Sanders won big over Clinton in caucuses earlier this month. That has been a source of optimism for the campaign in state where limited polling has suggested a close race."
Bernie Sanders reaches out to supporters as he leaves a rally in Youngstown, Ohio pic.twitter.com/PWT5ZziXCo— John Wagner (@WPJohnWagner) March 14, 2016
Per the math, the strategy is unlikely to deliver the payoff he needs, notes Philip Bump.
"Let's say that Clinton and Sanders tie in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois and she wins by a 20 points in Florida and North Carolina," he writes. "Per some back-of-the-envelope math, Clinton would get about 380 delegates to Sanders's 315 -- increasing her lead by about 60 delegates. Even if Sanders wins Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, Clinton will still net more delegates if she wins Florida and North Carolina big.
"If delegates split evenly on Tuesday, Sanders needs more than 55 percent of all of the rest of the delegates to tie Clinton."
(Today brought a Sanders soundbite you'll hear again, as the Clinton team uses it to paint him as a Democrat of convenience: One reason he ran for the party's nomination, he said, is that “in terms of media coverage, you have to run within the Democratic Party.”)
Tuesday is Election Day in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri and Ohio. You'll be able to find full results and team coverage from the field here, along with updated delegate counts and election night live feeds.
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP: In honor of tomorrow's Ohio primary (and a fresh round of convention chatter): Cleveland Rocks.