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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.

Donald Trump couldn’t find a large enough venue for Sunday Jax rally

The Donald Trump road show will go on Sunday … but not in Jacksonville because plans for a local rally  have been abandoned.

“No event in Jax,” says Trump Florida co-chair Susie Wiles.  Hate it but, try as I might, I couldn’t find a venue large enough.”

Trump, whose rallies have an energy not seen in this area since the  George Wallace era, will make one Florida stop in Boca Raton Sunday. Earlier stops will be in Illinois and Ohio, where his polls are within the MOE of Ted Cruz and John Kasich respectively.

Sources familiar with the thinking of the Trump campaign expect there’s little chance for Marco Rubio to close the Florida polling gap in the coming days. Rubio’s new rhetorical tactic, a forthright attack on the breakdown of civility at Trump rallies, will likely be the last evolution of the Rubio persona ahead of the Florida primary on Tuesday.

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