Republican front-runner Donald Trump is on a roll, and the Super Tuesday contests on March 1 could turn the GOP presidential nomination race into a rout.
Polls show Trump ahead in most of the 12 Republican contests on Super Tuesday. The exception is Texas, where home-state Senator Ted Cruz holds a lead. A stumble by Cruz there on Tuesday could end his White House hopes.
Some recent surveys have Trump leading by 9 percentage points in Georgia, 34 points in Massachusetts and 15 points in Vermont. In Florida, which holds its primary March 15, Trump leads home-state Senator Marco Rubio 44 percent to 28 percent in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. A Rubio loss in Florida could doom his presidential hopes, even though he has emerged as the favorite of the Republican establishment.
Republican strategist Karl Rove argued in his weekly Wall Street Journal column that “there is still time for the non-Trump majority to coalesce around a single candidate, but not much.”
Rove, who was former President George W. Bush’s chief political adviser, cautioned that unless the party establishment united behind one alternative by the middle of March, the bid to stop Trump would fail.
Trump rails at Rove
Trump has long criticized Rove as a creature of the Republican establishment and lashed out at him this week, asserting on Twitter that Rove was “belittling” his Nevada victory. He called Rove "dopey" and said, "He should be fired!"
Rubio has gotten several endorsements in recent days and still hopes to line up the support of his one-time political mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who abandoned his presidential bid after a poor finish in South Carolina. Rubio claims to be the best hope for denying Trump the nomination.
“You have a very hard-core majority of Republicans that do not want Donald Trump as the nominee, and as long as they are being divided up by three or four people, it’s good for Donald. But that’s not going to continue,” Rubio told reporters in Nevada this week.
Trump is focused on a making a big showing on Super Tuesday and told supporters after his win in Nevada that his appeal was spreading to various groups in the Republican Party.
“We won the evangelicals, we won with young, we won with old, we won with highly educated, we won with poorly educated, and I love the poorly educated!” he said.
There are four rivals dividing the anti-Trump vote: Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Cruz, who urged his supporters to stay motivated after his third-place finish in Nevada.
“The only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign,” Cruz said.
Once the Republican campaign reaches March 15, some states' nominating contests become winner-take-all affairs, which could rapidly boost a leading candidate by letting him secure a large number of delegates. Ohio and Florida are both winner-take-all states, holding primaries on March 15, with 66 and 99 delegates at stake, respectively.
“If this is a four- to five-person field, then Trump is going to be the nominee,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said. “If it’s a two- or maybe even a three-man race, then Rubio has a chance.”
Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders face off in the South Carolina primary Saturday, the first test for Democratic candidates in the South.
Clinton has focused on courting African-American voters in South Carolina, the first Democratic race featuring a large percentage of minority voters.
“I also believe that if we work together to make major new investments in communities that have been left behind and guarantee justice and dignity to every American, that will benefit all of us,” Clinton told supporters during a visit to a predominantly African-American church in Charleston.
The former secretary of state’s appeal to black voters could also help in several Southern Super Tuesday primaries, including Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
Sanders is also appealing to black voters in South Carolina, with celebrity help from actor Danny Glover and film director Spike Lee.
But the Vermont senator has begun to focus more of his time on the Super Tuesday contests in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Virginia, where he believes his strong support among progressives and young people will make a difference.
“We have taken on the political establishment, we’ve taken on the media establishment, and our momentum is growing every day,” Sanders told a large rally in Oklahoma.
Unlike the Republican race that moves to winner-take-all primaries, the Democrats stick with a proportional approach, raising the possibility of a battle that could last until the California primary in June.