Trump holds lead in 8 upcoming primary states…
Things sure look good for Donald Trump.
The Republican presidential race expanded across the country Sunday, and polls show the real estate mogul ahead in eight of the dozen states voting in the next nine days.
Trump has now won primaries in two very different states, center-right New Hampshire and evangelical-dominated South Carolina. And the Republican Party system of choosing a presidential nominee favors candidates who continue to win early primaries and caucuses.
“He seems to have about a third of the Republican electorate under his spell, and it’s a durable, non-ideological coalition,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball Sunday.
The biggest hope for stopping Trump is for a single strong challenger to emerge, and so far that hasn’t happened.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., finished second Saturday in South Carolina, but he was 10 percentage points behind Trump and barely edged Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, even though Rubio barnstormed the state with popular Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Rubio also lacks an obvious state where he can win in the next few weeks. He should be a favorite in Tuesday’s Nevada caucus. Rubio lived in Las Vegas as a child, was a church member, and Sunday picked up the endorsement of Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada. But a CNN/ORC poll last week showed Trump with a huge lead, with more support than Rubio and Cruz combined.
Trump had 45%, Rubio 19% and Cruz 17% in the Feb. 10-15 CNN/ORC Nevada GOP caucus poll
A week later, Rubio faces primaries and caucuses in 11 states where voters will award delegates, including seven Southern or border states where Cruz is making a strong push. Polls show Rubio ahead in only one Super Tuesday state, Minnesota, though he could contend in Virginia and Tennessee, which have big moderate GOP constituencies.
Rubio’s best hope is that once the campaign moves into larger, more diverse states on March 8 that he can emerge as the mainstream hope. He previewed his pitch Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying, “I give us the best chance to unify.”
But in Michigan, which votes that day, and Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, which vote a week later, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio is making a strong effort for the same constituency.
Cruz has a more daunting test.
South Carolina should have ignited his crusade for a more God-fearing America. Everything was in place, including a big momentum-filled downtown Charleston rally Friday with Duck’s Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, conservative talk show host Sean Hannity and a surprise endorsement from Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
Instead, Cruz not only finished third, but exit polls showed he trailed Trump among evangelicals. In the upcoming contests, he also has to contend with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who’s far behind but appeals to the same voters.
Imagine for a second Phil Robertson as ambassador to the United Nations Ted Cruz in a speech to South Carolina voters
The challenge for Trump’s rivals is that his appeal transcends traditional political boundaries. The future of Trump’s candidacy was apparent last week when he stopped in wealthy Kiawah Island, a southeastern South Carolina residential and resort community. The audience was a well-educated, politically sophisticated group full of teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors and retired government workers.
They tended to be over 55 and had worked in bureaucracies all their lives. They appreciated Trump’s ability to cut through the rhetoric.
“I’m tired of all the political correctness,” said Isabel Romero, a former Army finance official. “He appeals to your heart and he appeals to the middle class.”
“He’s credible,” said Phil Bernstein, a retired intelligence analyst. Bernstein described how often he’ll holler at the television when he sees reports about government he thinks misses the point. Trump gets to the point, Bernstein said.
Life at work for these people was tough enough, but now they have to deal with the government for their Medicare, Social Security and other benefits. And they’re finding it a nearly indecipherable maze.