Welcome to a special election night edition of The Daily Trail. Polls started closing at 7 p.m. ET, with more to come at 7:30 and 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT.
A viewer's guide to tonight's results follows; first, here are some of the early exit poll takeaways, via the Post's Scott Clement:
-- For Democrats: By a roughly 2 to 1 margin, Democratic voters said Clinton had a better chance than Sanders of beating Donald Trump in a general election matchup across Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Missouri contests, according to exit polls reported by ABC News. But roughly 8 in 10 said Sanders was honest and trustworthy, compared with about 6 in 10 for Clinton. Sanders has dominated among honesty-focused voters all year while Clinton has won those focused on electability by a wide margin.
-- Just over half of Ohio Democratic primary voters said free trade takes away U.S. jobs -- that's a group Sanders won by double digits in Michigan. The anti-trade cohort was slightly larger in Michigan (57 percent) than in most states voting today, with less than half of Democrats in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina saying trade cuts U.S. jobs.
-- There isn't a big party divide: Large majorities of Democrats in today’s primaries would be satisfied with either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination. At least 7 in 10 voters across primary voting states would be satisfied with each candidate becoming the party’s nominee, with slightly more satisfied with Clinton than Sanders.
-- GOP voters are considering the idea of a third-party candidate. In all of today’s Republican primaries, a little more than half said they would be satisfied with Trump as the Republican nominee against Clinton, according to early exit polls from ABC News. Just under 4 in 10 Republican voters across today’s contests said they would consider a third-party candidate if Trump and Clinton were the nominees. Looking specifically at non-Trump supporters, ABC reported 6 in 10 would consider backing a third-party candidate if Trump became the party’s nominee.
-- There were slight indications of Democratic crossover voting in Republican primaries, according to preliminary exit polling reported by NBC News. Some 7 percent of Republican primary voters say they usually identify as Democrats; that compares to 3 percent in 2008 and 5 percent in the 2012 Republican primary, a year in which there was no competitive Democratic race in which to participate. Those preliminary numbers could shift substantially through the night, and further exit polling may indicate the motivations of these Democrats.
-- Voters saying they are “angry” at the federal government have fueled Donald Trump’s support in primaries this year, and preliminary exit polls show frustrated voters making up a substantial minority of the electorate across all states. Roughly 4 in 10 said they are angry on average across five contests today, peaking in Missouri and dipping to about one-third in Illinois. Across all past contests, angry voters have made up an average 42 percent of GOP voters, and Trump has won them by a 19-point margin. Trump has held a more narrow margin in previous contests among the 48 percent of Republicans who say they are “dissatisfied, but not angry.”
OHIO: Polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET. There are 66 Republican delegates at stake, and 143 Democratic. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a little less than 4 points up on Donald Trump in the Real Clear Politics average of recent state polls, 39 to 35 (basically, a statistical tie). Hillary Clinton has a high single-digit lead on Bernie Sanders in a race that's tightened considerably over the past few weeks.
Every state is special. But on any given day, some are more special than others. And tonight, Ohio is most special of all.
First, the Republicans: The state's GOP delegates will be awarded in one of the two winner-take-all contests today. It's Kasich's do-or-die moment -- the winner takes all, second place gets a goose egg. ("If I don't win Ohio ... ballgame over," Kasich said last month, in a quote he may be regretting right now.) Trump has stepped up his attacks on the governor over the past few days. Just look at Twitter. wapo.st/1LoLpJy Kasich told reporters today he would soon be "forced to talk about the way this campaign has been run by some others," if the mogul wins Ohio. (It's pretty clear he's already in Trump’s head.)
If Trump wins the state -- which, along with Florida, is viewed as a hugely symbolic fall bellwether -- he'll have roughly 60 percent of the 1,237 delegates he needs to officially be the nominee. If he loses Ohio, the hill gets steeper: he'd have to win around 60 percent of the remaining delegates to claim a majority before Cleveland. He'd still be much closer than any of the remaining candidates, of course -- but the top priority of most of the #NeverTrump caucus right now isn't to guarantee someone else gets a pre-Cleveland majority. It's to guarantee that Trump doesn't. An Ohio loss would make that possibility far more likely. And given the contests ahead, a win might put it nearly out of reach.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton averaged around a 20-point lead last month. Right now, she's down to less than half that. Ohio fits the profile -- industrial, Midwestern, with a solid white working class presence in the Democratic primaries -- that the Sanders team has highlighted as his top targets. Sanders can't afford many more victories like he had the night he won Michigan -- claiming narrow wins that are deep in symbolism but not in delegates, as Clinton continues to put distance between them by racking up huge margins elsewhere. But a Sanders win in Ohio would still essentially guarantee a very long spring for Democrats.
Fox News: Super Tuesday II— Hunter Schwarz (@hunterschwarz) March 15, 2016
CNN: Super Tuesday #3
MSNBC: Make Or Break Tuesday pic.twitter.com/lxpq7oMmD2
(What day is it? Depends who you ask...)
FLORIDA: Polls close at 7 p.m. ET in most of the state; in the CT panhandle, they close an hour later (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT). The RCP average has Trump +18 over Rubio, 43 percent to 25, in the winner-take-all contest for 99 delegates. Virtually all recent polls have Clinton leading Sanders by 25-30 points or more in the Democratic race, with 214 delegates at stake.
And here's where Sanders supporters worry delegate deja vu might play out. Clinton's Super Tuesday romp in Alabama meant Sanders won Michigan, but lost the night. If Clinton has a bad night elsewhere, but the final results in Florida's closed, senior-heavy primary bear any resemblance to the polls, then delegate history could repeat itself.
In the GOP primary: with a stubbornly significant poll gap and near-daily Rubio campaign pre-mortems, tonight could be Marco Rubio's last stand: If he doesn't mount a near-unprecedented home state comeback, Donald Trump walks away with a delegate haul sizable enough to cushion any Ohio loss.
He insisted it's not the end. “Tomorrow we’re in Utah,” Rubio told local station WFOR early this morning. But his latest rallies have taken on a sort of valedictory air. If Kasich wins in Ohio -- or even keeps it closer than Rubio does Florida, then donors may see little rationale to stay on board.
Today, he said again that it’s “getting harder every day” to pledge he will support Trump, should the businessman win the Republican nomination.
“I’m just disgusted by some of the things he’s doing in his campaign, to be honest with you. I know people are angry, I know people are frustrated, but leaders don’t take advantage of anger and frustration. They address it, but then they say here’s how we’re going to solve it. He’s spurring it on,” he said.
NORTH CAROLINA: Polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET; 72 GOP delegates and 107 Democratic delegates are at stake. Trump appeared to hold a 12-point lead over Cruz in the RCP average, 41 percent to 29 percent. Clinton leads Sanders by 20-30 points.
In Raleigh today, Clinton was battling her own deja vu, reports Abby Phillip:
"Clinton expressed concern that her supporters might see public polling that shows her with leads in many of the states with presidential primaries on Tuesday and conclude that they don’t need to vote, which her campaign thinks might have contributed to her unexpected loss to Sen. Bernie Sanders in Michigan last week.
'Sometimes the reporting of polls, some might say, well, my candidate is doing so well, I don’t need to come out,' Clinton said. 'But everybody should come out. There’s so much at stake in this election.'"
MISSOURI: Polls close at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. There's been virtually no recent polling, though it appears the race may look a bit like neighboring Illinois: Trump with a very slim margin on Cruz, and Clinton-Sanders growing too close to call.
Today, Clinton was endorsed by the mother of Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Mo. man shot by police in a high-profile 2014 incident, as African American support continues to provide a critical boost to her campaign, especially in the South.
ILLINOIS: Polls close at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT. There are 69 Republican delegates at stake, and 156 Democratic.
In the most recent polls, Trump held a narrow lead over Cruz, 36 percent to 30. But tonight's not just how many votes Cruz is getting -- for the Texas senator's campaign, where they may come from here and in Missouri, and who those delegates are is almost as important, Katie Zezima reports, as the man who's beaten Donald Trump more than anyone else gears up for the long haul:
"Here in Illinois, the winner of the majority vote gets 15 of the state’s 69 delegates, and the rest are divided among the winners of each of its congressional districts; each district gives a candidate three delegates.
'Vote not just for me but also to vote for your delegates to vote for every delegate that’s a delegate for me,' Cruz told a cheering crowd at the Peoria Civic Center."
Meanwhile, Clinton's first home state is perhaps the tightest race of the night; over the past few days, she's gone from massive double-digit leads to a race that's too close to call.
“I think that if there is a large voter turnout, we are going to do just great here in Illinois, in Missouri, Ohio, and hopefully North Carolina and Florida,” Sanders said today during a stop at Lou Mitchell’s, a Chicago institution. “In the states that are coming down the pike, we have great opportunities to win many of them, so we are feeling really good.”
High turnout has been reported today in Missouri, Ohio, and the Chicago suburbs.
THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS: Trump has already scored a Mar. 15 win, swamping the tiny vote in a Republican caucus held in the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a tweet from the executive director of the GOP in the U.S. territory, and picking up 9 delegates in the process. (In other words, the strategy of sweeping up delegates in U.S. territories -- which the Cruz campaign launched last summer -- worked! It just didn't work for Ted Cruz. Donald Trump netted more delegates over Cruz in the Northern Marianas than the half dozen Cruz netted over Trump in Alaska, Oklahoma, and Maine combined.
That contest was important for another reason: it gave Trump his eighth win, a critical threshold -- candidates are currently required to rack up that many to be considered for the GOP nomination. Trump now qualifies. It's unclear whether anyone else will.
Clinton scored a territorial win of her own; and despite the miniscule caucus turnout -- just 189 participated -- she walked away with as much of a delegate advantage as she won in Iowa last month.
Speaking of Trump attack ads: here's the latest Democratic spot that uses the billionaire to hit other Republicans.
The Democratic front-runner is making her own star turns in opposing party attack ads: A new spot from GOP Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt's campaign features Democrat Jason Kander stumping with Clinton.
TRUMP TRAIL SPOTLIGHT: Today, President Obama issued a dire warning about the consequences of 'Trumpism.' Tomorrow, it's Harry Reid's turn. On the GOP side, House Speaker Paul Ryan issued his third warning in three months directed at Trump's campaign: an obligation to "not incite violence." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he delivered a similar message.
A slightly more subdued Trump appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, walking back previous comments that he was “looking into” paying the legal fees of a man who sucker-punched a protester at a Trump rally in North Carolina last week: “I didn’t say that. I haven’t looked at it yet. And nobody’s asked me to pay for fees,” Trump said. “I never said I was going to pay for fees.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Trump told host Chuck Todd that he had “instructed my people to look into” paying the man’s bills.
Asked Tuesday whether paying legal fees for violent rally attendees would encourage more violence, Trump responded: “Well, maybe so. And maybe that’s why I wouldn’t do it. I don’t condone violence at all. I looked and I watched and I’m going to make a decision, but I certainly don’t condone violence. And maybe you’re right. And maybe that’s why I wouldn’t do it.”
TRAIL MIX: Ben Carson, newly-minted Trump surrogate, is still... finding his footing: “Even if Donald Trump turns out not to be such a great president, which I don’t think is the case, I think he’s going to surround himself with really good people, but even if he didn’t, we’re only looking at four years as opposed to multiple generations and perhaps the loss of the American dream forever,” Carson told Newsmax.
(That line probably won't make it into a Trump campaign ad.)
-- Meanwhile, The Hill reported that Carson's super-PACs -- which spent more than $14 million on his failed presidential bid -- are now turning their attention to fundraising for a draft Carson VP bid.
-- It's hard to pick a favorite detail from this amazing Jason Horowitz profile of Donald Trump's butler, so here's one at random: Years ago, he heard Trump was in a bad mood -- so he hired a bugler to play 'Hail to the Chief' as he stepped out of his limousine to enter Mar-a-Lago. Now that's service.
-- Caught on a hot mic, Clinton speculated about Chris Christie’s support for Trump: ‘Did he have a debt?’
Back in DC:
Meanwhile, in Congress pic.twitter.com/vBDhBR5TjR— daveweigel (@daveweigel) March 15, 2016
YOUR DAILY TRAIL PIT STOP:
"Ugh, I want to go to the park," Clinton said after meeting five cute kids headed to the park. pic.twitter.com/wTKLkmzFTM— Dan Merica (@danmericaCNN) March 15, 2016
On behalf of the 2016 press pool and staffers on all campaigns, we think we can safely say: Same.