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Live blogging the Florida Primary — Donald Trump wins primaries in Illinois, North Carolina and Florida

The latest on the 2016 presidential campaign (all times Eastern Standard Time):

Tuesday, March 15

9:53 p.m.Donald Trump is winning the Republican presidential primary in Illinois, where his rally was canceled last week in Chicago over security concerns.

His victory Tuesday comes after an earlier win in Florida and North Carolina. It increases his delegate lead over the rest of the Republican field.

9:50 p.m.Donald Trump has won the Republican presidential primary in North Carolina.

His victory Tuesday comes after an earlier win in Florida and increases his delegate lead over the rest of the Republican field.

That field shrank by one on Tuesday as Marco Rubio dropped out. But John Kasich captured his first victory of the nominating contest by winning his home state of Ohio, nabbing all 66 delegates there.

Ted Cruz has yet to win a state Tuesday.

9:35 p.m.Ted Cruz says his “friend and colleague” Marco Rubio ran “an optimistic campaign focused on the future of our party.”

In a statement released shortly after the Florida senator suspended his presidential campaign, Cruz said he’s certain Rubio will continue to be “a champion for limitless opportunity in America.”

Cruz lost Tuesday’s major winner-take-all contests — in Florida to Donald Trump and Ohio to the state’s governor, John Kasich.

But his campaign was still hoping to pick up delegates in states that award delegates proportionally: Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina.

Cruz has said for weeks he’s the only candidate in the field who can beat Trump one-on-one.

8:45 p.m.Marco Rubio spoke over boos from the audience as he congratulated Florida primary winner Donald Trump. Rubio offered the crowd an emotional evaluation on the state of politics in the United States Tuesday as he ended his bid for the White House.

The Florida senator sought to calm his supporters, and took a heckler in stride, saying the person would “not get beat up” at his rally, a swipe at the recent disturbances at some of Trump’s rallies.

He said that he would offer “a prayer” for the eventual Republican nominee but did not suggest it would be Trump, who has a significant delegate lead over Ted Cruz and John Kasich. He has waffled of late as to whether he would support Trump if the celebrity businessman became the Republican standard-bearer.

Rubio also bemoaned the current political climate in which people “literally hate each other” because they differ politically.

4:25 p.m. —The polls might just be open for a few more hours, but Secretary of State Ken Detzner is making sure voters know Florida is a closed primary state.

On Tuesday afternoon, Detzner issued a statement following complaints in Palm Beach County that voters weren’t able to vote in the primary.

The Palm Beach Post reported that Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Butcher said dozens of people tried to vote in the primary but were unable to because of their party affiliation. Florida is one of 28 states that has closed presidential primaries or caucuses. That means only registered Republicans or Democrats can vote in their party’s primary.

“The Florida Department of State has spoken with the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office and all eligible voters are able to vote. Anyone who is registered as no party affiliation is not able to vote for a Republican or Democratic nominee in the Presidential Preference Primary,” said Detzner in a statement.  “No party affiliation voters who showed up at the polls were provided with ballots for local municipal races.”

Polls close at 7 p.m.

1 p.m.Hillary Clinton says on primary day in five key states that “the numbers are adding up in my favor” but she is going to keep working as hard as she can.

Clinton is pointing to the general election, telling reporters in Raleigh, North Carolina, that she thinks it’s important that she focuses on “the really dangerous path that Donald Trump has laid out.” She says the “kind of bluster and bigotry and bullying” is disturbing to most Americans.

Clinton faces Democratic rival Bernie Sanders in primary contests in five states on Tuesday: North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. She says she will “keep working all day on Election Day and remind people how important it is to vote” and not let “anyone get complacent.”

11 a.m. — Republican Party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said he expects “record turnout” in this year’s primary election.

Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican and state representative, told CNN’s Carol Costello, that he expected record turnout this election cycle. He also said he thinks the Republican race will be closer than what the polls have been projecting.

“I think Marco Rubio can do better than expected,” he said. “If anyone can pull off a statewide race as an underdog, Marco Rubio can do it.”

Recent polls show Rubio trailing Donald Trump in the Sunshine State. The Florida Republican has spent the past week barnstorming Florida to drum up support. He spent Monday campaigning in the I-95 corridor, and is scheduled to hold a rally in Miami on Tuesday night.

10:30 a.m — Rick Scott is encouraging Floridians to get out and vote.

“If you haven’t voted, go vote,” he said during a press conference in Fort Myers on Monday. “It’s going to be an exciting day. This will be the biggest state this fall and, right now, it clearly might impact the entire primary season.”

More than 2 million Floridians voted early. Polls across the state are open. Polls close at 7 p.m.

9 a.m. — The Marco Rubio campaign is asking voters to let them know if they run into any problems at the polls.

In an email to supporters on Thursday night, the campaign encouraged voters to inform poll workers of any problems, before calling or emailing the campaign to report issues.

“Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been marred by reports of dirty tricks by other campaigns, and so we need our eyes and ears on the ground,” the Rubio campaign said in an email.

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Monday, March 14

3:10 p.m. –Sarah Palin made a surprise appearance at a Donald Trump rally in Tampa, despite canceling a solo event after her husband was injured in a snowmobiling accident.

Palin told the crowd that her husband is currently recovering in the intensive care unit.

She said that accidents like that put things “in perspective.”

2:49 p.m.Mitt Romney did not endorse John Kasich ahead of Tuesday’s Ohio primary, but the 2012 GOP presidential nominee shared a stage with the governor Monday and said Kasich is the only Republican running who “has a real track record.”

Romney told voters at an air museum in North Canton, Ohio, to treat the election like a job interview and review each candidate’s record.

The former Massachusetts governor has not endorsed a candidate in the nomination fight, but he has urged Republicans not to choose front-runner Donald Trump.

Romney said Monday Kasich is the candidate who can balance budgets, eliminate Obamacare and bring jobs back to America.

2:23 p.m. – A prayer team supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is calling on its members to fast before primaries in five states on Tuesday.

An email from Cruz’s prayer team asks for a day of “fasting and prayer” on Monday. Cruz has been courting evangelical voters throughout the campaign, and this is not the first time his backers have called for giving up food to help the cause. There were similar calls for fasting before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 and conservative talk show host Glenn Beck urged his listeners to join with him in fasting to help Cruz in Nevada last month.

Monday’s email says “Many of you have prayerfully interceded and fasted on your own for our nation and for Ted Cruz, the candidate we believe God will use to re-ignite the promise of America.” It then calls on supporters to do it again so that “each person would discern the difference between (God’s) wisdom and the distraction of false messages.”

Cruz ignored a question at the conclusion of a press conference Monday about whether he was fasting on Monday.

2:03 p.m. – In a not-so-veiled shot at Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan says candidates must accept responsibility for clashes that occur at their campaign events and should never condone or encourage violence.

The Wisconsin Republican did not mention the GOP’s leading presidential candidate by name in an interview Monday on WRJN in Racine, Wisconsin.

But three days after Trump supporters and opposing demonstrators fought at a Chicago event that the billionaire TV personality later canceled, Ryan said candidates should never accept violence or an atmosphere that permits it.

Ryan says the public is angry and frustrated, but he says politicians shouldn’t call people names or fuel anger for political gains. He says they instead should propose policies that resolve problems.

1:57 p.m.Cruz is blaming the media for paying too much attention to Trump.

Cruz told reporters Monday before a campaign stop outside of Chicago that coverage of the presidential race has been like a telethon for Trump. Cruz says he keeps “waiting for Jerry Lewis to come out and make and ask for money to help poor Donald Trump.”

Cruz says “the mainstream media loves talking about Donald Trump” because he says those in control of media outlets are partisan Democrats want Democrat Hillary Clinton to win and they think Trump is the only Republican who will lose to her.

Cruz says the media has lost focus on issues that matter to voters. He says the election “is not about the latest soap opera about Donald Trump terrorizing some poor, hapless reporter.”

1:36 p.m. – Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders is promoting a “yuuuge” turnout in Ohio’s Tuesday primary.

At a rally in Akron, Sanders said he is confident that high turnout among low-income, working-class and young voters can deliver him a win in Ohio.

“If you don’t tell anybody,” the Vermont senator said in a whispered tone, “let me mention to you, I think we’re going to win Ohio tomorrow.”

In introducing Sanders, former state Sen. Nina Turner invoked the storied Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry. She said Ohio voters can’t let themselves be outdone by Michigan, where Sanders scored an unexpected victory against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

1:31 p.m.Trump ended his campaign stop in North Carolina with a number of disruptions but without the type of violence that marked a canceled stop in Chicago and led to an assault in the state last week.

A crowd of nearly 1,000 attended the rally on the campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University. Three separate times, protesters interrupted Trump’s comments, and each time, his supporters rose to their feet, drowning out the protesters with chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump!” and “USA, USA!”

Trump, who appeared in a question-and-answers session with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, blamed the disruptions on Democrats. The GOP front-runner told the audience Democrats are to blame, saying they see the success of his campaign and try to disrupt it, but he said, “It’s not a big deal.”

1:15 p.m.Hillary Clinton is calling on Democrats to unify around her presidential bid, arguing that the party must focus on a larger threat: GOP front-runner Trump.

The former secretary of state is telling supporters: “Do not rest … Do everything you can in the next 24-plus hours to come of these elections with the wind at our backs,” she said at rally in Chicago on Monday morning, just miles from where protests forced Trump to shut down a campaign event.

She adds that her campaign knows “the way forward to be able to start talking about not only unifying the Democratic party but unifying our country.”

Her new pitch comes as Trump blames Sanders supporters for protests that prompted him to cancel a rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago – just a few miles away from the union hall where Clinton wooed supporters.

Facing tightening contests in a trio Midwestern states that vote on Tuesday, Clinton is trying to boost support among minority voters.

Photo courtesy Washington Post
Photo courtesy Washington Post

12:30 p.m. – Breitbart versus Donald Trump: Resignations of Breitbart News reporter Michelle Fields and editor-at-large Ben Shapiro demonstrate a widening rift between the Republican Party front-runner and the conservative news media that had, until now, been one of his biggest cheerleaders.

James Hohmann of The Washington Post reports on the departures of Fields and Shapiro, which came in protest over how Breitbart handled an alleged assault on Fields last week by Trump’s campaign manager. On Friday, Breitbart spokesman Kurt Bardella also resigned over a story by a senior editor casting doubt on Fields’s version of incident, which Hohmann notes was also witnessed by a Washington Post reporter.

More resignations are imminent, Hohmann says.

The situation over at Breitbart is just the latest indication of the growing sense of alarm in conservative circles, led by such traditional media outlets like the Weekly Standard and National Review, over how Trump’s increasingly likely nomination would mean for the country. In the past, such criticism would spell doom for a campaign, but in 2016, grassroots activists see it as more complaints from the exact Republican Party establishment they are trying to overturn.

“Breitbart has unfortunately become Trump’s Pravda,” Shapiro said in announcing his resignation. “No media outlet worth its salt would throw over their own reporter and bad mouth her on their front page in order to protect the candidate.”

10:30 a.m. – What Bobby Kennedy would say to Trump: Trump does not have the dark heart of a racist or a hater, says Mike Barnicle in the Daily Beast.

What Trump is, Barnicle writes, is a man of “huge ego and narcissism whose ambition, chip on his shoulder, his background and the fact he feels he has never been truly respected now prevent him from seeing what is actually right in front of him: ordinary Americans left behind by an economy and a culture that has damaged the lives, dreams and hopes of so many who listen to him and are quickly emboldened to behave like an army of antagonists to the unseen enemies who stole a country that exists only in myth.”

Yet for insight, Barnicle goes to the words of Bobby Kennedy, who – exactly 48 years ago – found himself running a campaign in an America rocked by war, assassinations, violence and a “future seemingly wrapped in trauma.” The ill-fated candidate was speaking to the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio, on May 5, 1968:

“Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force, too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others…

“We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others…

“But we can perhaps remember—even if only for a time—that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life that they seek—as we do—nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can. Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something…and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

10 a.m. – What Florida’s reading this morning: Despite having a “rare opportunity” to vote for one of their own for the White House, some Cuban-Americans are making a different choice – Donald Trump. Lesley Clark and Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald are reporting that with several Trump backers “ethnicity plays no factor.”

“I don’t think Cuban, I think American,” said Julio Martinez, the former Hialeah Mayor who been holding a Trump campaign sign outside an early voting site just blocks from where Marco Rubio called for the support of Hispanics in Tuesday’s Florida primary.

Trump’s rise is fostering a sense of panic among establishment Republicans, who have been struggling for more minority outreach – particularly with Hispanic voters – after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s 2012 loss. Hispanics make up a sizable part of the electorate in several key swing states, such as Florida, Colorado and New Mexico.

Currently, Trump is drawing only 19 percent of Florida’s Hispanic vote, according to a March Washington Post-Univision News poll. Compare that to Romney, who won about 27 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012. George W. Bush, the last Republican president, got an estimated 40 percent in 2004.

Also, Trump has the highest negatives of any of the candidates – 6 in 10 holding a somewhat or very unfavorable impression – more than twice that of Cruz or Rubio negative rating.

Sunday, March 13

8:40 p.m. — GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio says he must win his home state of Florida in Tuesday’s primary to keep the conservative movement from getting “hijacked” by front-runner Donald Trump.

Rubio spoke briefly Sunday night at his Orlando campaign office. It was crowded with staffers, volunteers and supporters.

Using a bullhorn, Rubio said, “We must send a message to the country that we are not going to allow the conservative movement and the Republican Party to get hijacked by someone who is neither a Republican nor a conservative.”

He invoked the memory of the late President Ronald Reagan, saying he acknowledged the country’s fears and frustration in 1980 but “didn’t exploit them.”

Rubio is trailing Trump in Florida polling.

6:30 p.m. — Former President Bill Clinton rallying Florida Democrats ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

The former president is scheduled to hold three get-out-the vote events Monday. Clinton is scheduled to encourage Floridians to vote for Hillary Clinton by explaining why she is the best candidate to break down social and economic barriers for Florida families.

The former president will start the day with a get out the vote event at 12:30 p.m. at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. for the FAMU event.

From Tallahassee, he’ll head to a get out the vote event at Zion Hope Baptist Church in Jacksonville. The event starts at 4:30 p.m., and doors open at 3:30 p.m.

The former president will end the day in Winter Park, according to the campaign. He’ll attend a rally at 7:45 p.m. at Rollins College. Doors open at 6:45 p.m.

According to recent polling averages compiled by RealClearPolitics, Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders in the Sunshine State.

6 p.m. — Minutes after Rubio began speaking at a Central Florida rally, a man rose to accuse Rubio of stealing his girlfriend.

The man repeatedly claimed that Rubio “stole” his girlfriend in New Hampshire, and the crowd seemed stunned.

Rubio laughed off the bizarre claim, noting that he didn’t fare well in the New Hampshire primary.

Police escorted the man out of the rally without incident. He was not identified.

Associated Press photo
Associated Press photo

2:11 p.m.John Kasich is laughing off an Ohio voter’s suggestion that he should pre-emptively offer Rubio the vice presidency after Tuesday’s primaries in Ohio and Florida.

A voter at a town hall in Strongsville, Ohio, says if Rubio loses his home state on Tuesday, Kasich should team up with him to form a ticket.

In response, Kasich asked the man, “where do you come up with this stuff?” He says he’ll win Ohio on Tuesday, but that choosing a vice president now would be like “measuring the drapes.”

“I just think he would be a good vice president,” the man said back.

Wins for Kasich and Rubio in their home states would make it harder for Trump to earn enough delegates to become the GOP nominee outright.

Friday, March 11

11:10 p.m. – Police say they used pepper spray twice outside a Trump rally in Kansas City, Missouri, and two people were arrested for refusing to follow the law. In a Twitter post late Saturday, Kansas City police did not say if the use of pepper spray was on demonstrators or Trump supporters. Television images showed one protester rubbing his eyes and saying that he had been sprayed.

While a boisterous group of protesters gathered outside the theater where Trump spoke in downtown Kansas City, the event concluded without significant incident. Police say the majority of people exercised their rights to gather peacefully.

Trump’s remarks were interrupted about a dozen times by protesters who managed to get into the theater, and they were escorted out.

9:34 p.m.Hillary Clinton is apologizing again for crediting Nancy Reagan for confronting the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Clinton initially apologized Friday after saying in an interview with MSNBC during its coverage of Nancy Reagan’s funeral that the former first lady helped start a “national conversation” about AIDS.

Writing on the Medium website, Clinton said Saturday that the Reagans did not do so. She instead credited the work of gay, lesbian and bisexual activists and their straight allies.

“I’ve heard from countless people who were devastated by the loss of friends and loved ones, and hurt and disappointed by what I said,” she wrote.

Clinton added there’s still “work to do to eradicate this disease for good and erase the stigma.”

9:10 p.m. – The most recent Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, says he doesn’t think GOP front-runner Trump will ever release his tax returns and believes that the billionaire businessman is hiding something significant.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Romney also cites the main reasons he decided to give a blistering anti-Trump speech earlier this month. One was Trump’s call for not allowing Muslims into the U.S. But it was the interview on CNN in which Trump wouldn’t disavow David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan that Romney says spurred him to action.

Romney tells the Boston Globe that Trump’s recent remarks that Islam hates America are highly offensive and bigoted. He also says Trump represents a threat to both the GOP and the country.

Romney admits he has been wrong before about the 2016 presidential campaign. He says he didn’t think Trump would join the race and would quickly disappear if he did. He thought Trump’s disparaging comments about Sen. John McCain would cost him supporters. And Romney says he thought Jeb Bush would be the Republican nominee.

9 p.m. – Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says that with the world watching the U.S. presidential election, political leaders in both parties have a responsibility to ensure that the “discourse we engage in promotes the best of America.”

His statement comes amid rising tensions and some violent skirmishes at rallies for Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

Priebus never mentions Trump by name and focuses his comments on leaders in both parties.

The RNC chair says he hopes voters can exercise their First Amendment rights in a manner “that is respectful of our fellow Americans.” And he says violence “is never the answer.”

8:45 p.m.Trump is asking law enforcement officers to arrest protesters at his rally in Kansas City, Missouri. He argues that fear of an “arrest mark” on people’s records may put an end to the near-constant disruptions at his rallies.

He says he’s “going to start pressing charges against all these people. “This, a day after he called off a planned Chicago event because it attracted so many protesters.

Trump says arrests would mar their records.

That’s “going to ruin the rest of their lives,” he says. And then, he tells supporters, “we’re not going to have any more protesters, folks.”

8:30 p.m. – Republicans in Guam have held a presidential convention but only one delegate has been awarded — to Ted Cruz.

Guam has nine delegates to the Republican National Convention. Former party chairman Mike Benito says in an email that eight delegates are uncommitted. He says they will meet decide Tuesday. whether to back a candidate.

Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo is the only delegate who has endorsed a candidate. Benito says that Calvo serves as Cruz’s local campaign chairman.

Donald Trump leads the overall race for delegates, with 460. Cruz has 370, Marco Rubio has 153 and John Kasich has 54.

It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.

8:20 p.m. – Trump is blaming Bernie Sanders‘ supporters for trouble at his rallies.

And that’s prompting him to go after the Vermont senator.

In his Kansas City, Missouri, rally, Trump referred to “Bernie our communist friend” and called him a “lousy” senator.

Indeed, some signs for Sanders have shown up at the protests but there’s no indication of an organized effort from his Democratic campaign to undermine him and no evidence that Sanders people are dominating the demonstrations. Trump says he’s seen some Hillary Clinton signs, too.

8 p.m. – As protesters made their mark at his latest rally, Donald Trump seemed to relish the interruptions.

In Kansas City, Missouri, he repeatedly ridiculed them — as people with a “little weak voice” and saying “go home to mommy.” Even while stirring up his boisterous supporters, he asked security to be “very gentle” when taking the protesters out.

By about 20 minutes into his remarks, more than a dozen demonstrators were escorted out, offering little resistance. Most of them are white.

Trump was eager to engage them. As he put it: “There is nothing so interesting as a Trump rally.”

7:55 p.m.Trump is once again facing repeated disruptions from protesters as he campaigns in Kansas City, Missouri.

He was just a few minutes into his speech Saturday night at a theater in the city’s downtown entertainment district when the protests began.

The protesters appear to be scattered in all parts of the theater, and even Trump is marveling at how many are in the crowd.

He’s bemoaning that they’re taking seats away from his supporters, thousands of which he says are outside and can’t get in.

But Trump also says he’s ready to wait them out. He says, “I’ve got plenty of time. … We’re in no rush. We’re in no rush.”

7 p.m. – Among the Trump supporters at Saturday night’s rally in Kansas City, Missouri, is Neal Jones. He’s a 56-year-old accountant and die-hard Republican.

Jones says he’d vote for Donald Duck if that were the Republican nominee.

But Jones has no problem with protesters coming to Trump events. As he put it, “Freedom of speech, baby.”

One of those protesters is purple-haired, 22-year-old Liz Blumenthal of Kansas City. She carried a placard outside reading “A Vote For Trump Is A Vote For Hate.”

She says she wants to spread the word that “you’re able to love everything, no matter your race, what political side you’re on, your religion.” And she says Trump “doesn’t stand with that.”

And she says this message can be conveyed peacefully, without the violence seen in Chicago on Friday night.

Several hundred protesters occupied one Kansas City sidewalk as Trump supporters lined up on the other, separated by police and barricades as they waited to get in.

A full plastic soda bottle flew from the protesters into the lineup of Trump supporters.

5:50 p.m. – A Kansas City, Missouri, rally for Trump has drawn a crowd of people hoping to attend the rally and scores who are there to protest the Republican presidential front-runner.

The line of people hoping to attend the rally at the downtown theater snaked around the block Saturday afternoon. Police officers and barricades in the street separated the rally participants from about 200 protesters on the other side.

Many protesters were chanting “Dump Trump” and “Black Lives Matter.” Some Trump supporters responded with obscene gestures.

Trump’s rallies in recent weeks have been marked by frequent clashes between his supporters and demonstrators.

Protesters who prompted Trump to call off his Chicago rally Friday night after fights broke out with his supporters are hoping the Kansas City event will be shut down before he takes the stage, too.

4:35 p.m. — Clinton has picked up more superdelegates after winning the Northern Mariana Islands caucus.

The chairman of the Democratic Party there, Rosiky Camacho, says all five of the U.S. territory’s superdelegates are now supporting Clinton over Sanders. Up to now, only one of them had endorsed Clinton while the others were uncommitted.

Superdelegates are party officials who can back any candidate they wish.

Camacho told The Associated Press that he and the others made their decision after Clinton won their caucus with 54 percent of the vote.

Earlier Saturday, Clinton had picked up four delegates to Sanders’ two based on the caucus results.

When including superdelegates, Clinton maintains a big delegate lead over Sanders, 1,231 to 576. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.

The Northern Mariana Islands are in the Pacific Ocean near Guam.

4:20 p.m.John Kasich has delivered his harshest criticism yet of Trump. The Ohio governor says in Heath, Ohio, he’s “had it” with the “toxic” nature of Trump’s campaign.

Violence between Trump protesters and supporters led to the cancellation of a Chicago rally on Friday night. That’s given Kasich a fresh opportunity to distinguish the tone of his campaign from Trump’s in the final days before Ohio’s critical primary on Tuesday.

For months, the Ohio governor has declined to hit Trump, saying mudslinging has no place in a presidential contest.

Kasich says he was “deeply disturbed” by reports of the violent clashes outside of Trump’s event. Despite saying in the latest debate that he would back the GOP nominee, Kasich now says the environment Trump has created “makes it very, extremely difficult” to support him.

4:10 p.m. — Florida officials say they have received no complaints about problems with early voting despite an assertion by Trump that there were attempts to “rig the vote.”

Meredith Beatrice, a spokeswoman for Florida’s secretary of state, says on Saturday state officials have received no formal complaints about election fraud during this year’s presidential primary. The primary is Tuesday but early voting has been going on for at least a week in some counties.

Republican front-runner Trump said on Twitter that his campaign was “asking for law enforcement to check for dishonest early voting in Florida.” He also stated that he had heard that some Republicans may be trying to “rig the vote” for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. The campaign has provided no examples.

Florida has earned a reputation for troubled elections in the past.

3:42 p.m. — Authorities in Ohio have identified the man arrested and charged with rushing the stage at a Trump campaign rally.

Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer says Thomas Dimassimo of Fairborn, Ohio, has been charged with inducing panic and disorderly conduct.

The Republican candidate for president was inside an airport hangar near Dayton on Saturday when a man leapt over a barricade, jumping into the security buffer surrounding the stage from which Trump was speaking.

The man was stopped by several U.S. Secret Service agents and other officers, but not before making his way to the stage itself.

Several Secret Service agents surrounded Trump on stage briefly while the man was detained and removed from the area.

Trump then continued his speech and was able to finish without further incident.

2:54 p.m. — A handful of protesters interrupted Trump‘s rally in Cleveland, but the event otherwise appeared calm.

Trump was interrupted shortly after taking the stage on Saturday. He used the moment to criticize the protesters who flooded into his event in Chicago on Friday night, leading him to postpone it indefinitely.

He says: “We were not allowed to exercise our First Amendment rights.”

Several of the protesters at the Chicago event said they were supporters of Sanders, a point Trump gleefully noted during several interruptions in Cleveland.

Trump says: “They’re Bernie fans! Hey Bernie, get your people in line, Bernie!”

At a rally earlier Saturday outside Dayton, Trump was briefly surrounded by Secret Service agents when a man tried to breach the security buffer. He was stopped and Trump continued with his speech.

2:30 p.m.Sanders is going after Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel, linking the provocative Democratic mayor to rival Clinton.

Emanuel is disliked by some African-Americans and progressives, and Sanders is trying to cast him as a close Clinton ally. Emanuel is a former congressman who previously had worked at an investment bank. He endorsed Clinton in May and served as a senior adviser during her husband’s administration.

As mayor, he’s come under intense criticism for efforts to revamp the city’s schools and for his alleged cover up of a video showing city police shooting 17-year-old, African-American Laquan McDonald last year.

Sanders says at a news conference in Chicago: “Based on his disastrous record as mayor of the City of Chicago, I do not want Mayor Emanuel’s endorsement if I win the nomination. We do not want the support of people who are indebted to Wall Street and big money interests.”

His campaign is also running ads critical of Emanuel.

2:10 p.m. — Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio says Trump is “dividing both the party and the country so bitterly” that the Florida senator may not be able to support the businessman if he becomes the GOP nominee.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rubio says Trump is engaged in an “ongoing pattern” of encouraging supporters to respond to protesters aggressively.

When asked whether he would look for a third-party candidate to support if Trump does become the nominee, Rubio says that’s not his preference. But he says the fact that he was even asked the question shows why Trump is a problem for Republicans.

The Florida senator blames Trump’s continued behavior in part on rival Ted Cruz. Cruz allied himself with the billionaire for months. Rubio also faults television coverage that gives the real estate mogul a frequent platform.

12:42 p.m. — A spokeswoman for Trump says a man tried to breach the security buffer at his event in Ohio, leading U.S. Secret Service agents to briefly rush the stage to surround the Republican presidential candidate.

Spokeswoman Hope Hicks says the man “was removed rapidly and professionally.”

Trump was speaking Saturday at a campaign rally in Dayton when he was briefly surrounded by Secret Service agents, who formed a protective barrier around him.

The agents left the stage quickly, and Trump was able to finish his speech and did so without apparent incident.

12:10 p.m. — A group of U.S. Secret Service agents briefly formed a protective ring around Trump at his rally in Ohio, but then quickly left the stage and allowed him to continue his speech.

It was not immediately clear why the agents rushed onto the stage Saturday morning to surround Trump, who appeared to jolt after hearing something in the audience standing behind his right shoulder.

Four Secret Service agents then rushed onto the stage, as the audience chanted “Trump! Trump! Trump!” The agents quickly cleared.

Trump did not explain what had happened, but said: “Thank you for the warning. I was ready for ’em, but it’s much better if the cops do it, don’t we agree?”

Both the Secret Service and Trump campaign staff did not immediately respond to questions seeking comment.

Trump was able to finish his speech and did so without apparent incident.

The billionaire businessman called off a rally on Friday night in Chicago, after protesters filled the arena where he was scheduled to speak.

12:05 p.m. — It’s another election Saturday in the presidential race.

There’s a Republican contest in heavily Democratic Washington, D.C. There’s a single place to vote — a downtown hotel — and 19 delegates are at stake.

In Wyoming, Republicans are holding caucuses to select the state’s first 12 presidential delegates. Ted Cruz is the only active Republican candidate to have campaigned in the state, which will bring a total of 29 delegates to the national convention this summer.

Republicans will choose 14 more delegates at their state convention in mid-April. The other three are the state GOP chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman.

Clinton won the Democratic caucus on the Northern Mariana Islands. The U.S. territory located in the Pacific Ocean near Guam held its vote Saturday. Clinton received 54 percent of 189 votes cast to earn four of the six delegates at stake. Sanders picked up two delegates.

And results are expected later on the GOP side from Guam.

noon Clinton is charging Republican front-runner Trump with encouraging “violence and aggression,” saying his heated political rhetoric is “wrong and it’s dangerous.”

Clinton called heated protests last night at his rally in Chicago “deeply disturbing.” She says voters must stand up to “this tide of bullying and bigotry and blustering that is going on in our political strategy.”

She is telling campaign volunteers in St. Louis on Saturday morning: “If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control.”

Clinton is in the midst of a weekend campaign swing through Missouri and Ohio, ahead of primaries in those states on Tuesday.

11:50 a.m. — Chicago police say two officers were injured when supporters of Trump clashed with protesters Friday after he abruptly canceled a campaign rally.

Police say the two officers were taken to a hospital for treatment and released. No other details about their injuries were available. Police say no other injuries were reported at the event Friday night.

Police say five people were arrested at the event, but the charges have not yet been released. CBS News says one of its reporters has been charged with resisting arrest.

Reporter Sopan Deb was on the floor of the arena on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago and interviewed Trump supporters and protesters. He also was taking video of the scene outside of the arena.

11:40 a.m.Sanders says Trump‘s heated language is inciting violent outbursts at his rallies, and it’s up to the billionaire businessman to stop it.

The Democratic senator from Vermont was speaking at a news conference Saturday in Chicago. The day before, scuffles between protesters and supporters forced Trump to call off a rally in the city.

Some of the Trump protesters were chanting Sanders’ name as they celebrated the event’s cancellation.

But the Democratic presidential candidate says his supporters are not instigating trouble. He says, they’re “responding to a candidate who has, in fact, in many ways encouraged violence.”

Sanders says what the “Trump campaign has been about is insulting Mexicans in a very crude way” and “insulting African-Americans.”

11:24 a.m. — As he campaigns in Kasich‘s home state, Republican presidential candidate Trump is taking on the Ohio governor.

“It’s a boring subject, but we’ll talk about him anyway,” Trump says Saturday as he launched into an attack on Kasich’s resume and votes on trade during a rally at an airport hangar outside Dayton.

Trump points out that Kasich once worked for Lehman Brothers, an investment bank whose collapse in 2008 Trump calls one of the “great catastrophes of the word.”

He also notes Kasich’s support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and his stance on immigration. “He’s not the right guy to be president,” Trump says.

Trump has ramped up his attacks against Kasich in recent days ahead of Tuesday’s presidential primary in the state. The billionaire businessman will campaign later Saturday in Cleveland and Kansas City, Missouri.

11 a.m.Trump has kicked off a rally at an airplane hangar outside Dayton, Ohio, one day after protesters forced him to cancel an event in Chicago.

The billionaire businessman addressed the incident at the start of his rally, calling what took place at the University of Illinois at Chicago “a disgrace, if you want to know the truth.”

Trump says his supporters are “nice” and “great” people, but protesters he called “professionally-staged wiseguys” were determined to cause problems. He says he was worried his backers would have gotten hurt.

Trump says, “We would’ve had a problem like you wouldn’t have believed.”

He adds, “We made a decision. And I hated to do this, because frankly it wouldn’t have been easier to do. But I didn’t want to see anybody get hurt. You would have had a problem like they haven’t seen in a long time. Because we have people that are so amazing.”

10:45 a.m.Kasich seems to be running out of patience when it comes to Trump.

The Ohio governor blames Trump for creating what Kasich calls ‘ “toxic environment” in the presidential race.

Kasich is suggesting he may not support Trump should the businessman become the GOP nominee.

He says during a stop in Cincinnati that there’s “no place for a national leader to prey on the fears of people.”

Kasich’s comments come during a news conference to address the violence that led Trump to cancel a rally in Chicago on Friday night.

10:20 a.m.Clinton has won the Democratic caucus on the Northern Mariana Islands.

The U.S. territory located in the Pacific Ocean near Guam held its vote Saturday.

Clinton received 54 percent of 189 votes cast to earn four of the six delegates at stake.

Sanders picked up two delegates.

Heading into a batch of delegate-rich states on Tuesday, Clinton now has 766 delegates to Sanders’ 551, based on primaries and caucuses alone.

When including superdelegates — party leaders who can support any candidate — Clinton’s lead is even bigger: 1,227 to Sanders’ 576.

The Northern Mariana Islands is one of five U.S. territories that help choose the Democratic nominee, even though they don’t get a vote in the November general election. It has a population of 52,000.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Donald Trump’s support softens – just not enough for his rivals

In several states, Republican front-runner Donald Trump has been losing support as primary contests near. But in most cases, it’s not happening fast enough for his rivals to catch up.

Exit poll data shows Trump tends to do worse with voters who wait to pick their candidate until the final days of campaigning in their states. In some places, these late deciders have been more than twice as likely to back Trump’s main rivals — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and to a lesser degree John Kasich — than the billionaire businessman.

So how does Trump keep winning?

The front-runner is buoyed by supporters who commit to a candidate early and in some cases, participate in early voting. Trump has often built up such a lead in early voting, or such high levels of support among early deciders, that his weaker showing among late deciders simply doesn’t matter.

Anti-Trump forces have tried aggressively in recent weeks to peel even more voters away from Trump ahead of Tuesday’s crucial contests. Millions of dollars in advertisements blasting Trump’s business record and brash demeanor have been blanketing airwaves in Florida, as well as in Ohio and Illinois.

But unless Trump’s support softens more substantially than in recent contests, Tuesday’s primaries could give him a lead in the delegate race that will be difficult for his rivals to overcome.

EARLY VOTING

In Florida, the biggest prize up for grabs Tuesday, more than 1 million people voted early in the GOP primary. That’s about one-fourth of the projected electorate that can’t be persuaded in the final days of campaigning.

Giving Trump’s showing in other states with early voting, the numbers in Florida could bode well for the billionaire.

In Georgia, where Trump won handily, 44 percent of early voters sided with the real estate mogul. In Arkansas, Trump won about 34 percent of early voters, more than any other candidate, and also went on to win the state.

Early voting was designed to make it easier for more people to vote. It’s become particularly popular in Florida, where 10 days of early voting were held in the lead-up to Tuesday’s contest.

Jean Vasiliades of New Port Richey, Fla., is among those whose support has been cemented at the ballot box. While she attended a Rubio rally near her hometown Saturday, there was nothing he could say to win her vote — because she’d already cast it for Trump.

“I like Rubio very much and will vote for him if he runs again for Senate,” she said.

THE ART OF (CLOSING) THE DEAL

Trump’s strength with early voters is matched by his broad support among people who make their decision early, but vote on their state’s primary or caucus day.

Across 15 states where exit polls were conducted, Trump was the choice of about 43 percent of voters who picked their candidate more than a week before their state’s contests — far more than any of his rivals. The early deciders also comprised about two-thirds of the electorate in those states.

But there are indications that Trump struggled in some states to close the deal with voters who held off on making a decision.

In those same 15 states, just 23 percent of people who made up their minds in the last seven days of campaigning sided with the billionaire. That’s according to Edison Research, which conducts exit polls for The Associated Press and television networks.

Iowa, which leads off the nominating process, was a particularly egregious example for Trump. In a crowded field with more than 10 candidates, Trump had the support of about one-third of voters who made their minds’ early. Among those who decided on a candidate within a week of the caucuses, Trump’s support slipped to 14 percent, far behind Rubio and Cruz, the Texas senator who went on to win the state.

WHO WINS WITH LATE DECIDERS?

Here’s the problem for Trump’s rivals: No single candidate has emerged as the clear beneficiary of the billionaire’s inability to close the deal with late-deciding voters.

It’s another consequence of a crowded primary field that’s left voters with plenty of anti-Trump options.

In South Carolina, one of Trump’s rivals may have been able to top the real estate mogul if they could have carried the majority of late deciders. Instead, 28 percent went to Rubio, 26 percent went to Cruz and 12 percent to Kasich. The breakdown was similar in Arkansas, with Rubio winning 35 percent of late deciders and Cruz carrying 31 percent in their losses to Trump.

Kasich, who desperately needs to stop Trump in his home state of Ohio, has been a nonentity in most of the primaries up until this point. But in Michigan, a state his campaign views as similar to Ohio, Kasich had a late surge, winning 43 percent of those who decided on a candidate within a week of the primary, compared to a paltry 13 percent of voters who made up their minds earlier.

While Kasich celebrated his third place finish, Trump walked away with the win.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Donald Trump turns eyes toward pivotal primaries

GOP front-runner Donald Trump tried to prove over the weekend that no perceived misstep can derail his march to the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump enjoyed a relatively controversy-free multi-state tour Sunday ahead of primaries that could determine whether he wins the GOP nomination without a contested summer convention.

Perhaps most critical to that equation is Tuesday’s winner-take-all contest in Ohio, where the real estate mogul and the popular governor, John Kasich, have intensified their focus on one another — Trump calling his rival “a baby” and Kasich suggesting Trump and the violence at some of his rallies represent a “dark side” of American society.

Besides Ohio, candidates are readying their closing arguments in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida, with the total number of delegates at stake Tuesday accounting for more than a quarter of the 1,237 necessary for nomination.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz argues that only he can keep Trump from reaching the required majority, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tries merely to remain relevant, hoping his home-state voters defy the polls and give him justification to extend his candidacy.

Trump tried Sunday to shift attention away from the intense criticism that followed harrowing scenes Friday of a melee in Chicago, where he canceled a scheduled rally amid a near-riot among his supporters, protesters and authorities.

“If we can win Ohio, we’re going to run the table, folks,” Trump boasted in West Chester, Ohio, on Sunday, one of three events he held with only occasional interruptions from protesters.

None of those interruptions led to violence, a stark turn from the scenes in Chicago and a Saturday rally in which a dissenter stormed the stage as Trump spoke, only to be subdued by Secret Service agents.

“We’re not provoking. We want peace. … We don’t want trouble,” Trump told a crowd in Bloomington, Illinois.

Kasich wasn’t buying it, reversing his months-long practice of avoiding the topic of Trump.

Speaking with The Associated Press aboard his campaign bus between stops in Ohio, Kasich read a list of Trump quotes compiled by an aide. They included Trump’s comments that his audiences should “hit back” a little more and a statement that he’d like to “punch” a protester “in the face.”

Trump has often declared the country must “toughen up,” and suggested one man who was physically assaulted at a November rally deserved the treatment. He confirmed earlier Sunday that he was considering assisting a North Carolina man charged with assault after video captured him sucker-punching a protester at a March 9 rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Said Kasich: “It’s really cause for pause.”

Trump answered this weekend by casting Kasich as weak and deliberately mispronounced his rival’s Czech surname.

“He’s not the right guy to be president. He’s not tough enough, he’s not sharp enough,” Trump said at an event outside Dayton.

In line with his protectionist economic pitch, Trump hammered Kasich for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement as a member of Congress in the 1990s.

And he went on to incorrectly identify the governor as KASE-itch. “Like, most people don’t even know how to pronounce his name. Kase-ick! Kase-ick!” Trump mocked. “He cannot do the job, folks. He’s not your president.”

Kasich will campaign in Ohio Monday with 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Despite Sunday’s relative calm, Trump’s events unquestionably have become increasingly tense over the course of his campaign, and the candidate has frequently called for aggressive tactics against protesters, with Chicago’s events giving his rivals a new opening to criticize a front-runner they side-stepped or even praised for months.

Cruz said Trump encourages an essentially un-American atmosphere.

“I’m troubled by the rallies that Donald holds, where he asks all the people there to raise their hand and pledge their support to him,” Cruz said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

A distant third in delegates, Rubio compared Trump to third-world “strongmen,” and said the tone of the campaign “is really going to do damage to America.”

The senator has gone so far as to say his supporters in Ohio should vote for Kasich to help derail Trump. Kasich has not returned the favor.

Cruz argued in Columbus, Ohio, that Republican voters are wasting their time with either Kasich or Rubio. Kasich has yet to win a single primary; Rubio has won three.

Trump assured his backers their frustration is righteous rage against a corrupt political and economic system. He cast his naysayers as “bad people” that “do harm to the country.”

Though by the end of his busy Sunday, he seemed to miss the commotion.

In Boca Raton, where he spoke in an outdoor amphitheater on a balmy Florida night, he asked, 20 minutes into his speech, “Do we have a protester anywhere? Do we have a disrupter?”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Donald Trump widens lead over Marco Rubio in Florida

Donald Trump has a 17-point lead over Marco Rubio going into Tuesday’s presidential preference primary.

According to a new Monmouth University Poll of likely primary voters in Florida, Trump is leading the Republican field with 44 percent support. Rubio is in second with 27 percent of Florida Republicans saying they backed him. Ted Cruz is in third with 17 percent, followed by John Kasich at 9 percent.

“Florida is do or die for the Rubio campaign, but it looks like victory may have slipped from his grasp,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement Monday.

The poll found that 35 percent of respondents said they had already voted in the Republican primary.

As of Monday morning, more than 1.1 million Republicans have already voted — either by absentee ballot or in person during the early voting period — in the March 15 presidential preference primary. Elections officials across the state have said they are expecting high turnout in the election.

Rubio is spending the day campaigning along the Interstate 95 corridor, holding an event in Jacksonville on Monday morning before making his way to Melbourne for an afternoon meet-and-greet.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted from Friday to Sunday. The live telephone poll surveyed 405 likely Republican voters and has a margin error of 4.9 percent.

Donald Trump leads Marco Rubio 46 percent to 22 percent in Florida

Donald Trump continues to hold a double-digit lead over Marco Rubio in the Sunshine State.

According to a Quinnipiac poll of likely Florida Republican primary voters, Trump leads the GOP field with 46 percent, followed by Rubio at 22 percent. Ted Cruz is at 14 percent, followed by John Kasich at 10 percent.

The winner-take-all Republican primary is Tuesday.

The survey found that 86 percent of likely Republican voters in Florida said their mind was made up. That number jumps to 91 percent among Trump supporters.

“At least when it comes to this presidential primary, Florida might change its nickname from Sunshine State to Landslide State,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a statement Monday. “Sen. Marco Rubio, who has staked his future on winning his home state looks like he’ll soon be toast. He trails GOP leader Donald Trump by more than 20 points with polling through Sunday night.”

Brown said there are “very few examples of candidates making up that much ground in 24 hours.”

Among like Florida Democratic voters, Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders, 60 percent to 34 percent.

Quinnipiac University surveyed 615 likely Republican primary voters and 519 likely Democratic primary voters in Florida by telephone from Tuesday through Sunday. The Republican poll has a margin of error of 4 percent; while the Democratic poll has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

Marco Rubio falls to 3rd in CBS News/YouGov poll

With just two days until the March 15 Republican primary, Donald Trump continues to hold a commanding lead in the Sunshine State.

According to a new CBS News/YouGov survey of likely Republican primary voters, Trump is at 44 percent. Ted Cruz is in second with 24 percent, followed by Marco Rubio with 21 percent. John Kasich rounds out the Republican field with 9 percent.

The survey found 14 percent of Republicans said they might change their mind before they cast their ballot. However, more than 1.1 million Republicans have already voted in the state’s winner-take-all GOP primary.

Rubio has long said he would win his home state, but most polls show the Florida Republican trailing Trump. The CBS News/YouGov survey found 45 percent of Republican primary voters said Rubio was not prepared to be president.

The survey found that 45 percent of Republican primary voters said Republicans should get behind Trump and try to win in November if the New York businessman wins additional March primaries.

The CBS News/YouGov Internet survey has a margin of error of 4.8 percent.

Donald Trump holds double-digit lead over Marco Rubio in NBC/WSJ/Marist poll

Marco Rubio remains in second place in Florida, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll.

Donald Trump holds a 21-point lead over Rubio in the Sunshine State. The poll found that Trump is at 43 percent, while Rubio is at 22 percent. Ted Cruz is in third with 21 percent, followed by John Kasich at 9 percent.

The survey found that Hillary Clinton would defeat Trump in Florida, 49 percent to 41 percent. The poll also found she would defeat Rubio, though by a much tighter margin — 47 percent to 46 percent.

In the Democratic race, Clinton leads Bernie Sanders, 61 percent to 34 percent.

The survey was conducted from March 4 through Thursday. The NBC/WSJ/Marist poll surveyed 511 likely Republican voters and has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.  The poll surveyed 500 likely Democratic primary voters in Florida and has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

New poll has Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton up by more than 20 points in Florida

A new poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University gives commanding leads to Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton headed to Florida’s presidential primary on Tuesday.

The survey, conducted Tuesday through Friday by FAU’s Business and Economics Polling Initiative, gives Trump 44 percent, followed by a tie between U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas with 21 percent each, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich 9 percent.

For the Democrats, Clinton has 59 percent and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont 31 percent.

While both Trump and Clinton have huge leads, both of their leads have been cut since the last FAU polls. Trump is down four points from FAU’s January poll while Rubio is up 10 points and Cruz up five points. Sanders has shaved 15 points off Clinton’s lead since November.

The institute polled 852 Republican and 414 Democratic likely voters. The margin of error for Republican results is 3.3 percent, and for Democrats, 4.8 percent.

None of the Republicans had enviable favorability ratings among GOP voters in Florida. Trump’s fell from the last poll to 56 percent, while Rubio was at 48 percent, Cruz at 44 percent and Kasich at 60 percent.

“There is some evidence this campaign is taking a toll on the candidates, FAU’s Kevin Wagner, associate professor of political science and research fellow, stated in a news release. “The favorability ratings for Trump, Rubio and Cruz are all down sharply in Florida. While Rubio has some rebounded some in our polling, he is still far behind Mr. Trump and running out of time.”

By contrast, Clinton enjoys a favorability rating of 84 percent among Democratic voters, and Sanders, 55 percent.

Trump not only leads among white voters, but he also leads among Hispanic voters, leading Rubio 37 to 35 percent with GOP Latinos.

Clinton holds a 20 point lead among white Democrats, and three-to-one advantages among African-American and Hispanic voters.

“So far, the strategy of Hilary Clinton of targeting minorities seems to be working in Florida,” stated BEPI Director Monica Escaleras.

At Tampa’s Oxford Exchange, Marco Rubio feels the love

With just three days left before the biggest election of his life, Marco Rubio pressed the flesh and took dozens of selfies with fans at Tampa’s uber-hip Oxford Exchange Saturday afternoon, the third stop on a five-city barnstorming tour of the Sunshine State.

The Tampa stop was one of three straight meet-and-greets in the Tampa Bay area market, a rich trove of Republican votes, but an area that he hasn’t spent a lot of time in since elected to the Senate in 2010. After a 9 a.m. rally in Pinellas County, Rubio then hit Pasco County before swinging by Tampa, then exiting before another meeting with voters in Polk County and concluding the night with a rally in the Panhandle.

In between shaking hands, signing autographs and listen to his supporters give him well wishes, Rubio ascended a staircase in the European-inspired restaurant/coffeehouse/bookstore (and now Warby Parker outlet) to keep up spirits of supporters ahead of the March 15 presidential primary.

“Every vote is going to count,” he said, standing behind a wall filled with photos of Ronald Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. “And if you do what needs to be done, I’m going to continue to do what needs to be done. We’re not stopping.”

With his presidential candidacy — and perhaps his entire political future — on the line, Rubio continues to trail in every single poll taken in the GOP presidential race. Most continue to show him trailing Donald Trump by double-digits, although a couple of surveys released this week show him closer.

He has never led here.

“I thank you for the faith and confidence that you have in me,” he continued. “I promise you no one will ever work harder than we will work this week so that I can win Florida, and I can be your nominee and we can take our party and our country, and we can leave America better than it’s ever been.”

“Florida Republicans need to get out and vote,” urged Patricia Johnson, a Rubio supporter from Tampa. “If we do not get out and support a strong conservative Republican candidate, we are going to end up in the biggest mess 20 years from now.”

Although some political prognosticators are already predicting that the 44-year-old lawmaker’s political career could be doomed with a loss this coming Tuesday in his home state, Johnson believes he has time on his side to make another presidential run in four to eight years. “I really strongly feel that this man will be our president, in our lifetime, and the one who can help get us out of this critical time.”

“We’re not thinking that way,” Trinity resident Heidi Hook said about the idea that Rubio’s campaign would end next week. After calling registered Republicans for over three hours earlier Saturday, Trinity said confidently, “I don’t think he’s going to drop out. I think he’s going to win.”

Showing up and giving his support was Dover Republican state Representative Ross Spano, one of a minority of Florida Republicans who came out early in support of Rubio over fellow Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

“I still feel very, very strongly that he is the guy who has the best chance to win in November,” Spano says, despite the fact that Rubio has underperformed on the national stage once the voting began last month in Iowa

Spano says the perception that Rubio is part of the Washington establishment has hurt him. “My hope is that as we get closer and move forward in more of these winner-take-all elections that we’ll have an opportunity to prevent Donald Trump from getting the number (of delegates) that he needs to get.”

The state representative says right now he’s inclined “not to” endorse Trump if he becomes the GOP standard-bearer this fall. “I’ll vote. But with my core conceptions and beliefs, it’s going to be really hard to swallow that one.”

Conservative Solutions USA, a super PAC supporting Rubio, is running digital ads this weekend that claims a vote for John Kasich or Ted Cruz in Florida “is a vote for Trump.”

Meanwhile, earlier Saturday Trump made comments on Twitter alleging that Rubio was somehow involved in unsavory activities regarding the early vote in Florida, showing that perhaps he is concerned that Rubio could overtake him. If that were to be the case, Trump perhaps is already attempting to so doubt about those results.

“Word is — early voting in FL is very dishonest,” Trump tweeted. “Little Marco, his State Chairman, & their minions are working overtime — trying to rig the vote.”

He did not say how or why he thought that was the case.

GOP rivals questioning whether they’d back Donald Trump as nominee

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and John Kasich suggested Saturday they may not support Donald Trump if he becomes the GOP nominee, as violence at the front-runner’s rallies deepened the party’s chaotic chasm.

Rubio told supporters that while he was currently sticking with his pledge to back the nominee if he wasn’t the party’s choice, “it’s getting harder every day.”

Kasich said the “toxic environment” Trump is creating “makes it very, extremely difficult” to support him.

“To see Americans slugging themselves at a political rally deeply disturbed me,” Kasich said while campaigning in Cincinnati. “We’re better than that.”

Rubio and Kasich have previously committed to backing Trump should he win the Republican nomination, despite reservations about his qualifications. Their extraordinary shift came hours after clashes between Trump supporters and protesters Friday night in Chicago, and just a few days before Tuesday’s elections in five delegate-rich states.

Trump insisted he’d done nothing to exacerbate tensions, despite having previously encouraged his supporters to aggressively — and sometimes physically — stop protesters from interrupting his raucous rallies.

“I don’t take responsibility. Nobody’s been hurt at our rallies,” Trump told CNN late Friday, one of several interviews he did as cable networks broadcast footage of the skirmishes both inside and outside the Chicago arena where he had planned to speak.

Trump had stops scheduled Saturday in Dayton and Cleveland in Ohio, as well as an evening event in Kansas City, Missouri.

The brash billionaire’s unexpected political success has roiled the Republican Party. Most leaders expected his populist appeal would fade as voting contests began and largely avoided criticizing even his most extreme comments out of fear of alienating his supporters.

But after 24 primary contests, Trump has only grown stronger and leads his rivals in the all-important delegate count.

GOP leaders are grasping for a last-ditch idea stop Trump from claiming the nomination, from talking about a contested convention to discussing whether to rally around a yet-to-be-determined third-party candidate. All are long shots at best and would likely have the effect of ripping the Republican Party apart in irreparable ways.

Rubio and Kasich must win their home state contests Tuesday in order to stay in the race. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, closest to Trump in the delegate count, has urged both to drop out so he can take on the front-runner in a head-to-head contest.

Cruz said late Friday that Trump has created “an environment that encourages this sort of nasty discourse.”

“When the candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence, to punch people in the face, the predictable consequence of that is that it escalates,” he said.

The chaos in Chicago was sparked in part by Trump’s decision to cancel his rally after skirmishes broke out in the crowd that, unlike past Trump events, was packed with protesters.

Some isolated confrontations took place afterward. Police reported arresting five people. Many anti-Trump attendees had rushed onto the floor of the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion, jumping up and down with their arms up in the air.

“Trump represents everything America is not and everything Chicago is not,” said Kamran Siddiqui, 20, a student at the school who was among those celebrating. “We came in here and we wanted to shut this down. Because this is a great city and we don’t want to let that person in here.”

Some supporters of the Republican front-runner started chanting “We want Trump! We want Trump!” in response to the celebrations.

“It’s a shame,” said Trump supporter Bill Tail, 43, of the Chicago suburb of Oaklawn. “They scream about tolerance, but are being intolerant themselves. That doesn’t make sense.”

As Trump attempts to unify a fractured Republican Party ahead of Tuesday’s slate of winner-take-all primary elections, the confrontations between his legion of loyal supporters and protesters who accuse him of stoking racial hatred have become increasingly contentious, underscoring concerns about the divisive nature of his candidacy.

A North Carolina man was arrested after video footage showed him punching an African-American protester being led out of a Trump rally in that state on Wednesday. At that event, Trump recalled a past protester as “a real bad dude.”

“He was a rough guy, and he was punching. And we had some people — some rough guys like we have right in here — and they started punching back,” Trump said. “It was a beautiful thing.”

At Trump’s rally earlier Friday in St. Louis, he was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. Police there charged nearly three dozen people with general peace disturbance and one person with assault.

In a telephone interview after postponing his event in Chicago, Trump said he didn’t “want to see people hurt or worse” at the rally, telling MSNBC, “I think we did the right thing.”

But Chicago police said they had sufficient manpower on scene to handle the situation and did not recommend Trump cancel the rally. That decision was made “independently” by the campaign, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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