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GOP Candidates Look To Slow Donald Trump In 5 Major Primary Contests


In today's primaries, two candidates face intense pressure - Ohio Governor John Kasich and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Each is trying to win his home state tonight, and a loss could mean the end of the road for their campaigns. If Kasich and Rubio succeed tonight, it would go a long way towards keeping Donald Trump from clinching the Republican nomination. We're hearing about the state of the Democratic race elsewhere in the program. For a look at the Republicans, we're joined now by NPR's Sarah McCammon who's in Palm Beach, Fla. Hi, Sarah.


SHAPIRO: And also by NPR's Don Gonyea who is here in the studio in Washington. Hey, Don.


SHAPIRO: Sarah, let's start with you in Florida. This is the biggest prize in the Republican race, awarding all of its 99 delegates to the winner. How do things look on the ground there?

MCCAMMON: You know, on paper, Marco Rubio should have been able to win this state. It's his home state. But he's never had a lead in the polls here. Trump has been way ahead in the polls for a long time. So Rubio's been trying to make up ground promising his supporters a big surprise today. But, you know, if he doesn't win, it's not clear he has a path forward. If Trump does win, you know, he picks up a lot of delegates but not just that - bragging rights that he can win in a big, important state like Florida with a sitting senator on the same ballot. And, you know, in a race where the goal is to get a little more than 1,200 delegates, getting 99 from a single state really helps.

SHAPIRO: Now, Don, you're just back from the other big winner-take-all state tonight. That's Ohio. What do things look like there?

GONYEA: Well, it's home-field advantage for John Kasich, the sitting governor. The catch, though, is when you have home-field advantage, you better win (laughter).

SHAPIRO: High expectations.

GONYEA: Exactly, so - but here's what Kasich has going for him on that score - two convincing wins as governor. He has a political machine, a ground game, people in every county, people in every single precinct. So he's going to get turnout with all of that. And he has been working it, working it, working it - rallies in every corner of the state. Still, the polls tell us it is really, really close between him and Donald Trump. And Trump is making a pitch for working-class white voters. There are a lot of those in Ohio. He made a last-minute visit last evening to Youngstown - a lot of working-class - white working-class voters there and kind of as good of a symbol of the Rust Belt as you'll find anyplace so.

SHAPIRO: And Kasich has really been drawing a contrast with Trump striking a very different tone from any of the other Republican candidates in the race. Talk about that.

GONYEA: Absolutely. First, he presents himself as a conservative, as a commonsense conservative who knows how to govern, you know? He's got this time as governor, and the state is doing well. He was in Congress, and he worked on a balanced budget - remember that. He talks about that a lot. But the other thing he talks about and he takes great pride in the fact that he says he has never gotten into the gutter. He has never taken cheap shots. He was asked about that after voting this morning in Westerville, Ohio. It's a Columbus suburb. And he said he does not regret never having taken the low road.


JOHN KASICH: By the fact that I ran a positive campaign or our team has run a positive campaign, that there were probably missed opportunities to get attention early on. But by continuing to run the race, the positive campaign is now starting to shine through like a beacon all over the county.

GONYEA: Here's what he did say, though - he said he is prepared to start going hard after Donald Trump on some of Trump's statements on women and minorities. He said it won't be the low road, but it's going to get tough.

SHAPIRO: The candidate running second to Trump in the delegate count so far is Ted Cruz. And, Sarah McCammon, you have followed the Cruz campaign pretty closely. He's trailing Trump, I think, by 99 delegates at this point. What's he looking to accomplish tonight?

MCCAMMON: The Cruz campaign say, you know, he's competing everywhere. And it doesn't look like he can win Ohio or Florida, but he does want to show strength in these states. And he's really looking to states that vote today that divide up their delegates rather than winner take all - so Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois. The strategy is to pick up delegates wherever he can. Even if he doesn't beat Trump, keep things competitive. And, you know, unlike Rubio and Kasich who seem to be looking to put a big obstacle in Trump's way, Cruz says he's fighting to actually win the nomination outright.

SHAPIRO: And, Don, if we wake up tomorrow and Donald Trump has swept all of these contests, where does that leave the Republican race?

GONYEA: It's going to feel like it's over. At the very least, it's then a two- person race going forward with Trump and Ted Cruz.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Don Gonyea and Sarah McCammon, both following the Republican presidential race. And we will be checking in with you both as results come in tonight. Thanks.

GONYEA: Thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.

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