(CN) – Presidential hopefuls crisscrossed the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri and Illinois on Monday, making last-minute appeals to potential supporters in the hectic, fleeting hours before what could be a game-changing day of primaries Tuesday.
The biggest prizes for the Republican candidates on Tuesday are the delegate-rich, winner-take-all states of Florida, where the winner will claim 99 delegates, Illinois, where the winner will garner 69 delegates and Ohio, where the winner will walk away with 66 delegates.
Missouri, another winner-take-all state, has 52 delegates at stake, and in North Carolina, where the delegates will be divvied out proportionately, the candidates will be vying for a share of 72 delegates.
As for the Democrats, 214 delegates are at stake in Florida, while 143 are in play in Ohio.
In the other states voting Tuesday, 156 delegates will be at stake in Illinois, 107 in North Carolina, and 71 in Missouri.
But it’s the Republican race that’s under the most intense scrutiny. Big wins by the frontrunner, Donald Trump, would all but eliminate two of his rivals, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and make the race for the Republican nomination a two-man affair with Trump facing off with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, probably all the way to the floor of the party’s nominating convention.
The latest Marist/NBC/Wall Street Journal poll show Trump holding a double-digit lead over Rubio in Florida, 43-22 percent. The same poll shows Rubio and Cruz in a statistical tie for second place.
Taking the political temperature in Ohio, the Marist/NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds Kasich will a slight edge over Trump, 39-33 percent. Other polls show the two men essentially tied.
Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac University released Monday suggested Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is closing the gap between himself and Hillary Clinton. She now leads him in the poll 51-46 percent, but a month ago she was up by 30 points.
Douglas Schoen, the veteran pollster, author and commentator and political analyst for Fox News offered his assessment of what might play out Tuesday to Courthouse News Monday afternoon.
“If John Kasich doesn’t win Ohio, he’ll be out of the race. If Marco Rubio doesn’t win Florida, he’ll be out of the race,” Schoen said.
“Hillary and Bernie, I think are going all the way to the convention,” he said. “Bernie has the chance to win somewhere between one and three states tomorrow. I think Donald Trump will certainly win Florida, and potentially as many as four more states.
“If Trump wins Florida and Ohio, I think he will have a giant leg up on winning the nomination, and if he doesn’t we can expect to see a long slog between he and, most likely, Ted Cruz,” Schoen said.
Hoping to sure up his support heading into Tuesday contests, Rubio scheduled an “Interstate-95 Bus Tour” of the state Monday with events planned in Jacksonville, Melbourne, West Palm Beach and Miami.
Trump, meanwhile, convinced he’ll soundly win Florida, turned his personal attention to Ohio. In his place, his campaign scheduled a noon rally featuring former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in The Villages, Fla., a community a few hours northwest of Orlando, but that event was abruptly called off.
The campaign explained that Palin’s husband, Todd, was in “a bad snow machine accident last night and is currently hospitalized.”
“Gov. Palin is returning to Alaska to be with her husband and looks forward to being back on the campaign trail soon,” the statement from the campaign said. “Mr. Trump’s thoughts and prayers are with the Palin family at this time.”
All four remaining Republican candidates participated in an intense, but oddly cordial debate at the University of Miami Thursday night.
The two-hour event was hosted by CNN, the Washington Times, Salem Media Group and the Republican National committee, and it was moderated by CNN anchor and Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper.
And rather than the insults and brickbats that dominated past debates, this one actually focused more on issues, touching on immigration, Cuba, climate change, and the Middle East, as well as jobs, the economy and education.
“Immigration is something that brings youth and vibrancy and energy to our country. But we clearly have to control our borders,” Kasich said.
Rubio contrasted his views to those of the Ohio governor, saying supports a legal immigration system that meets the needs of the American economy.
“We’re bringing in far too many low skilled workers. What that is doing is driving down the wages of hard-working Americans,” he said.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Trump to explain a comment he made early last week in which he referred to “Islam hatred.”
“There’s something going on that maybe you don’t know about, maybe a lot of other people don’t know about, but there’s tremendous hatred,” Trump said.
If the Republican candidates were more gentle to each other Thursday night than they have been in other debates, they were not so kind to President Barack Obama who they only roundly criticized for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“I would love the relationship between Cuba and the United States to change. But it will require Cuba to change, at least its government. Today, it has not,” Rubio said.
Congresswoman and member of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, visited the debate and expressed strong opinions about Donald Trump, particularly when it came to the United States’ relationship with Israel.
“I wonder the last time Donald Trump has been to Israel and if he understands what kind of siege Israel is on every single day being surrounded by your enemies, and where are all the republicans who say they love Israel with all their hearts , but don’t seem to be attacking Donald Trump’s position,” Schultz said.
“At the end of the day, as far as the other candidates are concerned, it is good to see that some of them recognize that Israel should be a bipartisan issue,” she added.
After the debate former GOP candidate, Carly Fiorina, visited the press room to show her support for Ted Cruz, who she endorsed a few days earlier..
“I think Cruz is a real conservative, who’s challenged the system, who’s had substantial solutions to all our problems, and I think he can beat Donald Trump … I cast my vote for him, and I encourage Floridians to cast their votes for him,” Fiorina said.
“You have a notorious state, and you are going to make a big difference in this election,” said Fiorina when asked about the importance of the Florida primary.
During his introductory statement before the debate Senator Cruz strongly encouraged Floridians to go out and cast their vote, and to let their voices be heard.
“This election, this debate is not about insults. It’s not about attacks. It’s not about any of the individuals on this stage. This election is about you and your children. It’s about the freedom America has always had and making sure that that freedom is there for the next generation,” Cruz said.
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