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Viewer’s Guide: GOP debate about Donald Trump vs. everyone else

And then there were four.

Ben Carson‘s departure from the GOP presidential race means the quartet of remaining Republicans on the debate stage Thursday night get more time for attacks as Donald Trump treads a path to the GOP nomination and his three rivals try to trip him up. Cheered on by many Republican leaders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are racing the primary clock to March 15, likely their last chance to stop Trump in a series of winner-take-all contests.

Some things to watch Thursday night as the candidates meet at 9 p.m. EST for the Fox News Channel debate in Detroit:

HE WHO WAS NOT NAMED

Love him or loathe him, Trump has taught the poohbahs of the Republican Party what a power grab really is — and he’s done it by winning over large swaths of the GOP’s own core supporters far from Washington. His wobbling over whether to disavow the support of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke finally gave the Republican leaders of Congress a way to go after the billionaire publicly — without uttering Trump’s name. Trump responded by saying House Speaker Paul Ryan would have to get along with a President Trump or pay some sort of “big price.” On the eve of the debate, Ryan’s office confirmed that Trump’s campaign had contacted the speaker’s staff in a first sign of outreach. Notably, Trump has started talking about unifying the GOP. Look for Trump to be asked about the existential rift in the party and how he expects to govern.

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RUBIO, RUDE? TRUMP, TOO?

The Florida senator who once insisted on staying above the scuffling has leapt right into it, emulating Trump’s schoolyard-taunting style.

At campaign events in the past week, Rubio made sometimes crude jokes about everything from Trump’s tan to the size of his hands — he even suggested that the billionaire wet his pants at the last debate. Look for whether a newly confident Rubio, emboldened by his first primary win in Minnesota Tuesday, keeps it up or takes a more statesmanlike approach.

And what to expect from Trump? “I can’t act overly presidential because I’m going to have people attacking from every side. A very good man, Ben Carson’s not there anymore, so now we’re going to have more time for the fighting,” he said. “When people are hitting you from different angles, from all different angles, unfortunately you have to hit back. I would have a very, very presidential demeanor when I win, but until such time, you have to hit back,” he told NBC on Thursday.

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CRUZ’S STAND

Thanks to Rubio’s win Tuesday, Cruz can no longer say he’s the only Republican who has shown he can beat Trump. But he won three states on Super Tuesday — Alaska, Oklahoma and his home state of Texas. And the delegate math shows that Cruz is emerging as the candidate who might stop Trump. Look for some confidence from Cruz, because on Super Tuesday alone he came close to Trump. For the night, Trump won at least 237 delegates and Cruz won at least 209. Rubio was a distant third with at least 94.

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham, who a week earlier joked at a dinner about killing Cruz, acknowledged on CBS that the Texas senator might be the party’s best hope to beat Trump.

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KASICH, STILL

The debate setting is likely most helpful to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is looking for a strong showing in Michigan in the state’s March 8 contest, to survive.

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FOX AND TRUMP, FRENEMIES

Trump has uttered barely a peep about the fact that Fox News Channel is hosting the debate, and that his sometime-nemesis Megyn Kelly, is one of the moderators.

This is a marked change from the upheaval that led to Trump boycotting Fox’s debate just before the leadoff Iowa caucuses. Trump had demanded that Kelly be removed; Fox refused and Trump headed a few miles away to host his own event.

He later said that could have been one of the reasons he lost Iowa to Cruz.

Trump has not tweeted about Kelly in weeks. In an interview with the Associated Press this week, Kelly said she thinks Trump has more confidence now.

“He knows he can handle me. He can handle any interviewer,” she said.

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TRUMP UNIVERSITY

How good is a degree from Trump University? “Worthless” — as are his promises — according to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney will brand the billionaire businessman as “a phony, a fraud” in a Salt Lake City speech on Thursday, as party of a push by GOP establishment figures to paint the billionaire as unfit to represent the party. Trump should have a few things to say about it. He already started slugging on Thursday morning, saying that Romney “begged” him for his endorsement four years ago, and called him a “failed candidate.”

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REMEMBER BEN CARSON?

Kelly said he wouldn’t have gotten much attention even if he had stuck around for the debate. Fox will concentrate its questions on Trump, Cruz and Marco Rubio — making for potentially awkward moments for Kasich.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

After Super Tuesday, cold hard delegate math

Presidential candidates will wake up Wednesday morning to the cold, hard truth of delegate math. It might give the front-runners some breathing room, but for the rest of the field, the truth may hurt.

What to watch for on the day after Super Tuesday doles out a quarter of all the delegates at stake in the GOP and Democratic nominating contests:

THE TALLY: With 12 states awarding delegates, see how the delegate totals stack up when the dust settles.

With some delegates still to be allocated, Donald Trump had won at least 192 Super Tuesday delegates and Ted Cruz at least 132. Marco Rubio had won at least 66 delegates, John Kasich 19 and Ben Carson three. There were 595 GOP delegates at stake in 11 states.

Overall, Trump led with 274 delegates, Cruz 149, Rubio 82. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.

On the Democratic side, Clinton was assured of winning at least 457 of the 865 delegates at stake on Super Tuesday. Sanders was sure to get at least 286. Including superdelegates, Clinton had at least 1,005 delegates. Sanders had at least 373. It takes 2,383 Democratic delegates to win.

GENERALLY SPEAKING: Watch how front-runners Clinton and Trump position themselves going forward. Do they focus more on their primary election rivals or pivot toward an anticipated general election matchup? Trump said Tuesday night that if Clinton hadn’t straightened out Washington by now “she isn’t going to straighten it out in the next four years.” Clinton, in turn, criticized what she called the angry, divisive rhetoric from the Republican front-runner, though she did not name him.

THE B-WORD: Trump’s strong showing could generate fresh talk about the possibility of a brokered convention from Republicans who just can’t get on board with the idea of Trump as the eventual GOP nominee.

RUBIO’S ROAD: Rubio’s itinerary reflects his priorities. He campaigns Wednesday in Michigan, which votes March 8. And he’s already putting big effort into his home state of Florida, which votes with a number of winner-take-all-delegates states on March 15. Early voting already has started in Florida, and Rubio put his focus there on Tuesday night, saying, “two weeks from tonight, right here in Florida, we are going to send a message loud and clear.”

CRUZ’S COURSE: Watch for a more assertive Cruz, rejuvenated by victories in his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma. On Tuesday night, he urged the other GOP candidates to “prayerfully consider coming together” and uniting against Trump. Translation: Get out of the race.

GOP SOUL-SEARCHING: Keep an eye on how the GOP establishment does — or doesn’t — reconcile itself to Trump. In the run-up to Tuesday’s mega-round of voting, some establishment figures were vowing they’d never, ever support Trump; others were reluctantly pledging to fall in line behind the eventual nominee, whoever it is.

AM NOT, DID TOO: The rhetoric in the GOP race took a turn for the worse before Super Tuesday, featuring a series of taunts between Trump and Rubio about potential pants-wetting, bad spray tans and overactive sweat glands. Do the candidates elevate the conversation once Tuesday’s big vote is past?

SANDERS’ STAND: Sanders, looking for more places to shine after wins in Oklahoma, Colorado, Minnesota and his home state of Vermont, was ready to campaign Wednesday in Maine and Michigan, where he hopes his populist message will resonate with union and blue-collar voters. And his campaign strategists scheduled a “path forward” breakfast to lay out his intended route to the nomination.

ENTHUSIASM GAP? Check out final turnout figures from Tuesday. The first two primary states to vote — New Hampshire and South Carolina — turned out record numbers of Republican, but not Democratic, voters. If that trend continues, it could have implications for the general election.

AIR WARS: Expect to see lots of Trump thumping in the next two weeks. Ahead of Super Tuesday, anti-Trump ads outnumbered pro-Trump commercials nearly 3-to-1. That ratio is likely to grow. Three outside groups, Our Principles, American Future Fund and Club for Growth, have laid plans for millions of dollars in new Trump attack ads. Conservative Solutions, a super political action committee backing Rubio — and blasting Trump — has reserved $6 million of ad time for in the soon-to-vote states of Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Florida. On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders both continue their campaign advertising. From the looks of the ad reservations, Sanders is betting big on Michigan, spending more than two-thirds of future ad money there,

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump cemented as 2016 leaders

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, emboldened by commanding victories Tuesday across large swaths of the country, are beginning to focus on each other in the race for the White House.

Clinton previewed a “love and kindness” message while Trump traded his typical rollicking rallies for a sober media conference where he pressed his case that Clinton is a proven failure as a longtime politician.

Both spoke from Florida, where the general election is often won or lost. That wasn’t one of the dozen states that weighed in on a day known as Super Tuesday because it’s the busiest of the 2016 primary season.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won his home state, Oklahoma and Alaska, buttressing his out-of-the-gate win in the Iowa caucuses a month ago, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio notched his first victory, in Minnesota.
“Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump,” Cruz thundered to supporters gathered at the wood-paneled Redneck Country Club in Stafford, Texas.

Still, he’d been counting on more appeal in the Southern states and among evangelical Christian voters. Trump, who dubs his surging campaign the “Trump Train,” has derailed those plans.

Rubio and the other Republicans still in the race, John Kasich and Ben Carson, struggled Tuesday to convey optimism even as they vowed to fight on.

Simple math reinforces a bind for the Republicans who reject Trump, as the brash billionaire businessman carried seven states and continues to barrel toward the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the GOP nomination.

Trump won at least 203 delegates Tuesday. Cruz collected at least 144 delegates and Rubio picked up at least 71. Overall, Trump leads with 285 delegates; Cruz has 161, Rubio has 87, Kasich has 25 and Carson has eight. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the GOP nomination.

Increasingly, leading Republicans talk of a contested convention in July as their best remaining option for stopping Trump, whose divisive rhetoric about immigrants and ethnic and religious groups has some fearing a GOP wipeout in November.

Like Cruz, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was victorious in his home state.

He also picked up victories in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Colorado, and he assured supporters he’d take his fight to “every one” of the remaining contests. With a staggering $42 million raised in February alone, Sanders has the campaign cash to do just that — though Clinton is well on her way to the 2,383 delegates needed on the Democratic side.

Tuesday’s results left little doubt as to the front-runners in the race.

Clinton collected wins in seven states, and Trump swept up victories in seven, including Virginia, another important general election battleground.

She is assured of winning at least 457 of the 865 delegates at stake Tuesday. Sanders will gain at least 286. When including party leaders, Clinton has at least 1,005 delegates, and Sanders has at least 373.

Clinton held on to older voters and strongly prevailed among Hispanics and African-Americans, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research. Trump, a political newcomer, pulled in two-thirds of voters looking to install an outsider in the White House, while GOP voters seeking an experienced candidate were split between Rubio and Cruz, both first-term senators.

Speaking from his gold-flecked Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump asserted that his candidacy is a “movement” and that he is expanding the Republican Party even as many of its leaders have distanced themselves from him.

A moment after Trump professed to have good relationships with his party’s elite; he issued a warning to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who had declared earlier Tuesday that “this party does not prey on people’s prejudices.” Trump said that if the two don’t get along, Ryan is “going to have to pay a big price.”

One way Trump claimed he would unify the party was by training his fire on Clinton.

He said she should be disqualified from even running for office because she broke from government protocol by using a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Clinton tried to turn Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan on its head, saying the country instead must be made “whole again.”

“What we need in America today is more love and kindness,” she said. “Instead of building walls, we’re going to break down barriers and build ladders of opportunity and empowerment.”

Trump ridiculed her comments. “She’s been there for so long,” he said. “If she hasn’t straightened it out by now, she’s not going to straighten it out in the next four years.”

Rubio said his supporters would never rally around Trump. He and Kasich showed little sign of relenting, especially with their home states of Florida and Ohio voting on March 15.

“We are so excited about what lies ahead for our campaign,” Rubio said at his Tuesday night rally in Miami, his hometown. “You see, just five days ago we began to unmask the true nature of the front-runner in this race.”

He portrayed his attacks on Trump as having an impact already, though that wasn’t evident in Super Tuesday’s results.

“Two weeks from tonight right here in Florida,” Rubio said, “we are going to send a message loud and clear: The party of Lincoln and Reagan will never be held by a con artist.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Report says Ben Carson has been urged to seek Florida’s U.S. Senate seat

The book-tour presidential campaign of Ben Carson limps along, even as his campaign chairman floated stories of a frightening quid pro quo that could effect Florida Republican voters.

In exchange for getting out of the race, Carson campaign chairman Bob Dees contends unnamed “billionaires” promised support for Carson pursuing the GOP Senate nomination from Florida.

“That’s been very tangible. It’s been several … two groups of billionaire types of folks that have pressured him,” Dees told the Washington Examiner Tuesday.

“People that drive super PAC activity and other endeavors and there was even discussion of a, well, we can help with the Florida [U.S.] Senate seat if he’ll just agree to do what we’d like you to do or support our guy, drop out, etc,” Dees said.

Such “help” likely would come as a surprise to David JollyRon DeSantisCarlos Lopez-CanteraTodd Wilcox, and Carlos Beruff, and their supporters and staff.

Kevin Cate: How Marco Rubio could win Florida with Donald Trump at 40 percent

There is a reason Marco Rubio is acting like Donald Trump.

Math.

If you believe averages of Real Clear Politics (RCP), with 306,619 GOP mail votes cast, Trump, polling at 40.3 percent, is dominating Rubio, polling at 20.8 percent, at 123,566 to 63,776 mail votes.

Let’s assume turnout pops and 2,000,000 Republicans vote in the primary here, that’s 15.3 percent of the ballot already locked down.

So let’s talk about the remaining 1,693,381 votes up for grabs.

If Trump maintains his 40 percent, Rubio would need to win ~ 43.5 percent of all outstanding votes from this morning through Election Day (736,224 +1).

In 2012, Mitt Romney, with all the momentum in the world, was only RCP averaging about 42 percent of the vote right before Election Day and ended up winning 46.4 percent of all votes counted. But stay with me.

With current RCP averages Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush (I know), Ben Carson, John Kasich, and “other” are pulling about 585,909 or 35 percent of the outstanding votes. To cobble together a winning number, Rubio would need to draw about 65 percent from all of these outstanding votes.

Add in the extra 4.3 percent (72,815 outstanding) not in RCP average (undecided or other, presumably), and he needs to pull a healthy 58 percent (or thereabouts) of current RCP non-Trump outstanding votes.

But, we all know that’s just not going to happen.

Kasich isn’t going anywhere until Ohio, so strip away 84,669 (5 percent) outstanding votes. Carson, depending on his laundry situation, will pull in at least 4 percent, so throw 67,735 votes in the crazy bin, in 2012, 1.3 percent of Floridians voted for a suspended campaign or other — there go another 22,013 votes.

That’s 174,417 outstanding votes entirely unavailable to Rubio.

Which leaves Cruz and his 267,554 (15.8 percent RCP) projected outstanding votes. If, by some miracle, Cruz loses Texas tonight, and every single one of his voters go to Rubio from today on, that would still only get Rubio to 683,553, or 116,448 short of his win number with Trump maintaining his 40 percent.

Throw Rubio the bonus 4.3 percent not in RCP average, and he still loses by 43,633.

All of this should feel eerily familiar to Marco Rubio. Trump’s people are basically his people from 2010. Rubio is being Marco “Rubioed” by Trump.

So, there is a how for Rubio with Trump at 40 percent, but it’s also impossible.

Rubio needs Trump voters. And that is why he’s embarrassing himself on TV.

But it won’t work.

Donald Trump will win Florida’s GOP primary March 15.

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Kevin Cate owns CateComm.com, a public relations firm, and is a media adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. You can reach him at kevin@catecomm.com.

Donald Trump at 49% nationwide among GOP voters in new CNN/ORC poll

A day before the biggest day of the 2016 presidential election cycle, Donald Trump‘s lead nationally in the GOP presidential race is at an all-time high.

A CNN-ORC poll released on Monday has Trump at 49 percent support. Marco Rubio is a distant second with 16 percent. Ted Cruz is third with 15 percent.

Ben Carson has 10 percent, and John Kasich is at 6 percent.

Trump and Rubio both have seen their popularity rise 8 percentage points from a similar poll taken last month. The CNN/ORC poll from January had Trump at 41 percent, and Rubio at just 8 percent. Kasich was only at 1 percent in that survey.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton tops Bernie Sanders 55 percent to 38 percent in the new poll, a slightly wider margin than she held in late January before any primaries or caucuses were held.

The CNN/ORC Poll was conducted by telephone Wednesday through Saturday among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results for the 418 registered voters who are Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. It is the same for results among the 427 Republican and Republican-leaning voters.

Donald Trump holds 20 point lead over Marco Rubio in Florida

Donald Trump is dominating Marco Rubio in a new poll of likely Republican Florida primary voters.

According to a Public Policy Polling survey released Thursday night, Trump holds a 20-point lead over Rubio. Trump leads the Republican pack with 45 percent in the Sunshine State, followed by Rubio at 25 percent. Ted Cruz is at 10 percent, followed by John Kasich at 8 percent and Ben Carson at 5 percent.

Trump dominates in a head-to-head match up with Rubio. In a two-man race, Trump leads Rubio 52 percent to 38 percent. Rubio would win over voters who supported Cruz, Kasich and Carson; but Trump would maintain a double-digit win over Rubio.

Florida has the most delegates at stake in the March 15 winner-take-all primary. Rubio has said several times he thinks he can win his home state. During an appearance on the Today Show on Friday morning, he said: “We are going to win Florida.”

“We’re not behind by double digits in Florida. Those polls that they’re doing, that you’re citing are wrong. Not only do we have our own numbers, but I know my state,” he told “Today Show” hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. “We’re going to win Florida, and we’re going to do well on Super Tuesday.”

The Public Policy Polling survey comes one day after two Florida polls showed Rubio trailed Trump in the Sunshine State. A Quinnipiac University Poll showed Trump with a double-digit lead over the Florida senator; while an Associated Industries of Florida survey showed a much narrower margin between the two men.

There may be room for movement in the polls. Thirty-six percent of respondents said it was possible they would change their mind before the March 15 primary.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 464 likely Republican primary voters in Florida on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25. The Republican poll has a margin of error of 4.6 percent.

AIF poll shows Donald Trump leads Marco Rubio by small margin

Don’t call Florida for Donald Trump quite yet.

Trump continues to lead in Florida, but that margin is shrinking, according to a new Associated Industries of Florida survey of likely Republican primary voters. Trump leads the GOP field with 34 percent, followed by Marco Rubio with 27 percent. Ted Cruz rounds out the Top 3 with 17 percent.

The survey found Rubio is the most well liked among the top three Republican hopefuls. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Rubio. Of those, 20 percent stated that they had a very favorable opinion of the Florida senator. Nine percent of respondents said they had a very unfavorable opinion of Rubio.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of Trump; while 51 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Cruz.

That margin separating Trump and Rubio paints a much different picture of the race from the Quinnipiac University Poll released earlier Thursday. In that survey, Trump leads the Republican pack with 44 percent compared to Rubio’s 28 percent.

On Wednesday, Rubio told CBS This Morning that he will “win in Florida.”

Florida’s winner-take-all primary is on March 15. Millions of Floridians requested vote-by-mail ballots, and thousands of votes have already been cast.

The poll found Ben Carson and John Kasich tied with 5 percent support. It also found 12 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The Associated Industries of Florida poll was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday evening. The poll surveyed 600 likely Republican primary voters and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

Marco Rubio trails Donald Trump by 16 in new Florida Q-Poll

Donald Trump is clobbering Marco Rubio in Florida, according to a new poll of likely Republican voters.

A Quinnipiac University Poll released Thursday showed Trump has a commanding lead over Florida’s native son. The survey showed Trump led the GOP field with 44 percent of the vote, followed by Rubio with 28 percent of the ballot.

On Wednesday, Rubio told “CBS This Morning” anchors he believed he could win his home state.

“Well, we’ll win in Florida now that Gov. (Jeb) Bush is no longer in the race,” Florida’s junior U.S. senator told CBS News’ Gayle King. “Him and I split a lot of the support in Florida, so that will help us.”

Bush suspended his campaign on Saturday after a poor showing in three early primary states. In the days since his announcement, many of his Florida supporters have thrown their support behind Rubio.

“Florida is the single biggest prize of the primary season because it is the largest state to allocate delegates on a winner-take-all basis. If Sen. Rubio can’t win in his own home state, it is difficult to see how he can win elsewhere,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll in a statement Thursday.

The Quinnipiac University poll surveyed 705 likely Florida Republican primary voters from Sunday through Wednesday. It has a margin of error of 3.7 percent.

The poll indicates Floridians want the Republican nominee to be a strong leader, with 32 percent of respondents saying that was the most important quality, while 23 percent said honesty.

Among likely Republican primary voters in the Sunshine State who wanted a candidate with strong leadership qualities, 66 percent picked Trump, while 16 percent picked Rubio. The men are tied at 30 percent among voters who wanted a candidate who is honest.

The poll found 30 percent of likely Republican primary voters who said they supported a candidate said they might change their mind before the March 15 election.

The poll could signal trouble for Rubio. The Florida senator hasn’t won a nominating contest yet, placing second in the South Carolina primary and the Nevada caucus. He came in third in Iowa,  fifth in New Hampshire.

The Quinnipiac University survey is the first poll of Florida primary voters in about a month, and all of the recent polls showed Trump with a commanding lead. The new poll found Ted Cruz in third place with 12 percent, John Kasich at 7 percent, and Ben Carson at 4 percent.

Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz campaign: “Who’s going to be held accountable?”

In the race to get to a one-on-one showdown with Donald TrumpMarco Rubio and Ted Cruz are doing a great job cannibalizing each other.

Monday’s example: A Rubio media availability in Las Vegas, where Florida’s junior senator again went on the offense over Cruz’s bare-knuckle brawling style of campaigning.

“Who’s going to be held accountable for making up this video? Who’s held accountable for lying about Ben Carson? Who was held accountable for the robocalls, and who was held accountable for the commercials on television that they had to pull down?”

Spoiler alert: no one.

Rubio lamented a “disturbing pattern of deceptive campaigns … and flat out lying” in the MSNBC footage.

Likely more disturbing: the banner under Rubio that said “Trump holds big lead in Nevada.” A condition that is the case in many of the upcoming primary states, including Florida.

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