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Trump Confident about Winning Florida; Cruz Focusing on Key States; Kasich Optimistic about Ohio; Dems Battle Over 691 Delegates; North Carolina Turnout Expected to Be High; Final Hours of Voting Underway in Five States; Super Tuesday Three Stakes. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 15, 2016 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:02] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, decisive day. Will the third Super Tuesday be the last for some candidates, or will it be the first step in their comeback campaigns?

[17:00:13] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: No place like home. John Kasich and Marco Rubio hoping to take their winner-take-all states. The question is, what happens to the race if they do?

BLITZER: Plus, taking the pulse of the votes. Our first exit polling arriving right now. What clues will it reveal about who's voting and why?

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The night could not be bigger. The stakes could not be higher. Millions of voters going to the polls in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Florida. For the Democrats, a close race could get even closer. For Republicans, with Ohio and Florida delegates winner-take-all, today could be win or go home for two of the candidates.

We have the first batch of exit polling coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now that could give us some early indications. Our David Chalian's going through all of the numbers. We're going to bring them to you shortly.

And of course, we have our correspondents across the map at polling places and campaign stops, bringing you all the latest as well as the best team of analysts around.

Let's begin with Jim Acosta. He's joining us now from Palm Beach, Florida. He's covering the Trump campaign. Jim, Trump is making a big play for Florida and Ohio. How confident is his campaign feeling right now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Donald Trump and his team have seen the polls here in Florida. They're feeling very confident that they will win the state. Will it be by 20 points as polls suggest? I talked to one Trump official here who said that's going to be tough in Marco Rubio's home state. But the other big prize of the night, Wolf, John Kasich's backyard of

Ohio. That's obviously where the big concern is for the Trump campaign. Trump has spent the last 48 hours savaging Kasich as an absentee governor who supports great deals that are killing jobs in Ohio. Trump clearly wants tonight be a turning point in this campaign, where he becomes up all five states that are up for grabs, becomes the presumptive nominee and then starts pulling the GOP establishment behind him.

But the establishment, Wolf, still has jitters. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier today said he spoke with Trump by phone, and then he urged the real-estate tycoon to denounce the violence at his rallies.

And speaking of the unrest that we've seen at Trump's events, like that near-riot in Chicago on Friday night, that is likely to be a big topic at Trump's news conference later on tonight, which is likely, once again, to be half party with supporters and half press availability. And as we've seen with most of his news conferences, Wolf, it will be must-see TV.

BLITZER: Certainly will be. And Jim, when we hear from Mr. Trump later, after his victories last week, remember, you'll remember, he held that unorthodox news conference event, to say the least, featured Trump-branded water, wine, steaks. Can we expect the same tonight?

ACOSTA: I think that remains to be seen, Wolf. He may have made his point the other night when he had Trump products out there, although it turns out the steaks were not exactly Trump Steaks.

We're outside of Mar-a-Lago right now. They haven't quite put the finishing touches and done the full security sweep inside to allow the press in there. But once we get inside, Wolf, we'll find out what's on the menu, besides potentially a victory speech tonight for Donald Trump, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jim Acosta reporting.

Ted Cruz, who's currently running second in delegates, has already gone on record saying that a vote for Marco Rubio in Florida or for John Kasich in Ohio would be a wasted vote because, as he sees it, he's the only remaining viable alternative to Donald Trump. He does, however, say he'd make room for Kasich and Rubio in a Cruz administration.

Sunlen Serfaty is over at Cruz primary night headquarters in Houston, Texas, for us right now.

Sunlen, while Cruz hasn't written off bigger prizes of Florida and Ohio, he's much more focused on wins in the other Super Tuesday states, right?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Wolf.

You know, for the Cruz campaign, it's not about the outright right wins tonight and any winner-take-all states. They're much more focused on the math, collecting delegates. And that's why we've seen the Cruz campaign invest a lot of time and a lot of money in the recent days in the states of North Carolina, Missouri and Illinois. These are states that award delegates proportionally.

So the goal of the Cruz campaign says they fully expect to meet the threshold in all of those states to expand their delegates' totals going forward. And that's a core part of their messages beyond today. It's to be able to bring this fight against Donald Trump. It's about being competitive in terms of the delegates, in terms of the math to make it so important for them to amass those delegates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen, what's the Cruz campaign's plan going forward?

SERFATY: Well, the plan that they want to be able to start arguing tomorrow is that it is it legitimately a two-man race with Donald Trump.

Of course, so much of that depends and is contingent on what John Kasich and Marco Rubio do, how they perform and what decisions they make going forward.

[17:05:03] But the Cruz campaign says they fully will continue to make that argument. They believe that, if they can get this in a two-man race, a head-to-head race with Donald Trump, that they come out on top. And this will be the message that he takes into the contests coming up in Arizona and Utah next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

If any Republican in any state has a built-in advantage, certainly it's John Kasich, the sitting governor of Ohio. He has a well- established political organization and approval ratings at nearly 80 percent among Republicans in the state.

For as long as we've been asking him, Governor Kasich has told us he's going to win. He's going to win at home and then take that momentum out on the road.

Phil Mattingly has the latest from the Kasich primary night headquarters.

Phil, when John Kasich voted this morning, he said he felt terrific, and again said -- and I'm quoting him now -- we're going to win. What's the latest from his campaign this evening?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, his campaign shares the enthusiasm, maybe more cautious on the optimism.

Look, Wolf, you pointed it out: they have significant structural advantages in this state, but still, it has been an uphill climb over the last couple of weeks.

Now, what we've seen in public polling, John Kasich starting to build a little bit of a lead. The last couple days, his campaign has seen internally, as well. So they feel good about that. But they recognize that Donald Trump's message resonates in certain

parts of the state, and they know that tonight will be close, no matter what. Their hope is that that organization really bolstered by the 2014 re-election and governor, a very fresh political list, a very fresh political team, will pay off tonight with a victory in Ohio, Wolf.

BLITZER: As tonight plays out, what exactly will team Kasich be watching for as far as signs of how they're doing?

MATTINGLY: It's all about the suburbs, Wolf. I think you have to look at where he can turn out his voters. If you look at Cuyahoga outside of Cleveland, Stark County, and the Canton/Akron are, down in Columbus, Franklin and Delaware, outside of Dayton, those are crucial counties if John Kasich wants to win. How he's doing there, the separation he gets from Donald Trump in those counties will really determine whether or not he wins.

Key note: Mitt Romney won all of those counties in 2012, only won Ohio in 2012 by 10,000 votes, but he won those counties. There's a good reason Mitt Romney was in a number of those counties with John Kasich as they traveled through Ohio yesterday, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good point. Phil, thanks very much.

Marco Rubio, who's vowing to stay in the race beyond tonight, has virtually camped out in Florida lately, hoping to turn "win or go home" into "go home and win." He also has begun expressing doubts about whether he could support Donald Trump if Trump were to win the Republican nomination.

For the latest on the Rubio campaign, let's go to Sara Murray. She's over at Rubio campaign headquarters in Miami for us.

Sara, today's a big day for Marco Rubio. He's focused a lot of his campaign on winning tonight in Florida. With only a few more hours until polls close, what's the latest over there?

MURRAY: That's right, Wolf. The Rubio campaign is hoping for a shocker tonight. They see the same polls that we're seeing, which show him with an uphill climb. But they are hoping that they can surprise, that the polls will be wrong and that they will be able to drive up turnout in places like Miami-Dade County and also be able to surprise for Marco Rubio.

And the impetus behind this is not just them wanting their home-state senator to win here in Florida and to be able to continue with some momentum behind his campaign. Of course that's what his campaign wants.

But they're also watching what's been going on with the Trump campaign. They saw the images coming out of Chicago. They've seen his rhetoric on the trail. And Marco Rubio and his staff around him are increasingly concerned about the tenor of the politics that's going on in the country right now, and they want to be a part of being able to stop that right here in Florida, Wolf. BLITZER: Senator, if Senator Rubio doesn't come out on top tonight in

his home state, what's the path forward for his campaign? Is he planning to push forward? He says he is. What are you hearing?

MURRAY: Well, despite the fact that many people view Florida as a must-win Rubio. He and his campaign are not saying that. In the last 24 hours, Rubio's done a couple different interviews where he said that he is going on to Utah, irrespective of what happens here in Florida tonight.

You know, it's kind of amazing, because I think a number of his donors have second thoughts about that strategy. But he is saying that, no matter what the results are here tonight, he is going to be heading on to Florida and plans to continue the fight there, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara. Thanks very much. Sara Murray reporting.

Let's check in with Boris Sanchez right now. He's in a polling station in Winter Park, Florida. That's just north of Orlando. Boris, what's the turnout been like all day over there?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's certainly different right now as you look behind me. There's not quite that many people here as there were this morning when it was a full line out the door.

However, that's not fully representative of turnout for Winter Park. And actually exceeded expectations here.

Part of the reason we're not seeing a huge turnout here in the polling location is because about 40 percent of Winter Park voters voted early, before the polls were even open.

One interesting note, though, Wolf: There's apparently been a glitch in about a dozen polling locations here in Winter Park and in Orange County, specifically. They nearly ran out of ballots.

[17:10:02] Now, the reason for that is because, along with the presidential primary today, this area also held municipal elections. And because Florida is a closed primary, there were individual ballots for GOP voters, for Democratic voters and for independent voters that were going to vote in that municipal election.

Unfortunately, the local elections board didn't print out enough individual GOP and Democratic ballots, and too many of the independent municipal independent election ballots. So they had to have them reprinted and restocked at polling locations like this one. An elections board spokesperson tells us they are fully up and running now.

And they've actually asked the governor to extend voting by an hour here so to keep polls open until at least 8 p.m. We did reach out to the officer, Rick Scott, but have yet to receive an answer as to whether or not that will happen, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in touch with you. You've also been talking to voters, Boris. What's on their minds, at least anecdotally as you spoke to them about while they were casting their ballots?

SANCHEZ: Well, this area of Florida, central Florida, Winter Park specifically, is supposed to be a Trump stronghold. He's projected to do very well here. And that was more or less reflected in the people we spoke to today. A lot of them were evenly split between Marco Rubio and Donald Trump.

I did speak to at least one voter who said that she was a Kasich supporter, but she was voting for Marco Rubio, partly because she believes that Rubio has the best chance to stop Trump from securing those 1,237 delegates that he need to head into the convention as the undisputed candidate, on the Republican ticket, Wolf.

BLITZER: Boris, thanks very much -- Anderson.

COOPER: Wolf, thanks very much. We've got a very full night ahead, to say the least. Coming up next, further hints of what kind of voters turned out and the issues driving them. We're going to look at our first batch of exit polling.

Also ahead tonight, the Democrats have both candidates positioning themselves against Trump and whether Bernie Sanders can turn last week's Michigan surprise into success in nearby Illinois and Ohio.


[17:16:18] BLITZER: Now less than two hours away from the first poll closings of the very, very big night. At stake, nearly one-third of the delegates needed for either party's nomination. Already, we're getting early hints of how the evening might go. It comes from exit polling. The first batch has just come out.

Our political director, David Chalian's, been crunching the numbers for us just now. We're getting a little bit of insight into the minds of these voters.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And we're starting to see some patterns, Wolf, that we've seen across each of these election nights. We asked voters in the Republican primary, do you feel betrayed by Republican Party leaders? Take a look at this.

North Carolina, one of the states to close early tonight, 56 percent of Republicans say they do feel betrayed by politicians in their own party. Forty percent say no. Similar story in Ohio: 57 percent of Republicans say they feel betrayed, compared to 38 percent that do not feel betrayed.

But the two states have slightly different solutions to this. Take a look at this. In North Carolina, we asked, do you want somebody who's from outside the establishment or would you like somebody with experience in politics? Big sentiment for the outsider: 54 percent of Republican primary voters in North Carolina want an outsider; 38 percent want somebody with experience.

In Ohio, though, it's a slightly different story. Fifty percent want an outsider, and a slight uptick for those looking for somebody with experience in politics. Forty-three percent of Republicans in Ohio voting in the primary today, Wolf, tell us they want somebody with experience.

BLITZER: So beginning to get a little bit more sense of the minds of the voters today. I know you and your team are crunching more numbers.

CHALIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: We'll get more very soon. Fascinating. Thanks very much...


BLITZER: ... David, for that -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Wolf, David. Let's get the panel's early take on those numbers and the rest of it. Joining us now is CNN chief national correspondent, "INSIDE POLITICS" anchor John King; our political analysts, Gloria Borger, David Gergen and Maggie Haberman. Maggie's also presidential campaign correspondent for "The New York Times." But TV really is her main focus.

Maggie, I -- here all day (ph), ladies and gentlemen -- clearly, that number in Ohio would seem to play, you know -- be a good indication for John Kasich, obviously somebody who has, you know, long experience in politics. But -- but there is this real desire, in all of the states, and we're seeing this in states previous to this, for somebody outside, somebody even without any experience.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm very struck by the numbers of how many feel the party has betrayed them.

COOPER: Right.

HABERMAN: And that is a very, very serious indicator of why people are looking for outsiders. We saw throughout this primary process that the poll leaders for most of it, leading up until the Iowa caucuses, were Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. They combined made up more than 50 percent. So you are seeing a lot of people gravitating toward something different.

It is not -- it is a real "throw the bums out." It's not just "We want change; we want something different." This is "We want to tear the system down." And that is going to benefit Trump.

The question, though, is how -- whether that is consistent across every state. I think you're seeing different electorates in different places. And there are going to be some places where late deciders did not all go for Trump. And that is going to be what will give hope to the people trying to stop them before the convention.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And remember, if you go -- if you take Donald Trump out of the equation for just a second, because you cannot take him out for longer than a second.

COOPER: There's a lot of people who have been trying to take him out. KING: I would just go -- I would go back to the -- as we look at

these states tonight, go back to the original Tea Party movement. Remember, a lot of people think the Tea Party movement was started under Barack Obama. It was started under George W. Bush because of the bailouts. And that was the space Ted Cruz wanted. Ted Cruz wanted to be the "You want change. You're mad at the establishment" role in the race.

So it will be interesting to see tonight, on a night when we're focused so much on Kasich and Rubio, because this is survival for them, Cruz needs to turn in a strong performance. He keeps saying, "I'm the alternative to Donald Trump." They're essentially, in some ways, fighting for the same voters. I'll challenge the Republican establishment. I will change Washington. Not many like me. Rare is the candidate who say vote for me because they don't like me. But that is the appeal of both Trump and Cruz for Republican voters.

[17:20:08] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Cruz's appeal was supposed to be that he was the genuine, pure-bred conservative.

And he thought that, in this election cycle, that was -- that was going to be popular, that was the key to his success, which is he didn't compromise.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: He didn't work with others. He was disliked, you know, in Washington. And as it turns out, people don't really care about how conservative someone like Donald Trump is. They care more that he tells it like it is, right? They care -- they see him as the truth teller in this, the politically incorrect candidate who represents that betrayal they talk about, and their anxiety. And they believe he can provide problems -- solutions that nobody else could.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Think about this high level of betrayal that Maggie was talking about. What it does suggest is, I'm not sure who is the outsider, who is the insider anymore, but Cruz really is the outsider. But the sense of betrayal really sends a message to the party. If you go to a brokered convention and the establishment takes away from the outsider, it's going to rip the party apart. When you have that level of betrayal. They will expect something. They will expect a candidate who responds.

COOPER: And I mean, GOP leaders must know that. I mean..

KING: But they haven't managed -- this is the thing. You're looking at -- if I wrote a book about Washington, it would be why do smart people do such stupid things? They have seen this. They're very smart people. And most of them, a career of public service.

Whether you're talking about Governor Romney, whether you're talking about Speaker Ryan, when leaders in the party, the Tea Party movement was about them. Their voters were mad at them. Then they quashed the Tea Party in 2014 by outraising -- they didn't try to manage them. They didn't try to embrace them. They didn't try to learn from them. They got better candidates. They raised a lot of money, and in Mitch McConnell's own words, crushed them.

And this is the revenge. This is the revenge. The Republicans, the Obama years have been the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party.


KING: They have taken the House by bigger margin. They have taken back control of the Senate. Thirty of the 50 governorships and they've won nearly 1,000 seats in state legislatures across this country. But their voters think they've got nothing for it.

GERGEN: And they're in crisis.

HABERMAN: Listening to you list those numbers, that is why you have Republican leaders freaking out at the prospect of a Donald Trump nominee, because all of the gains that you just described, they are worried those go, and that is a major, major concern.

BORGER: Although, if you talk to some House members, Donald Trump is doing really well in their districts. And you might -- you might find that, while the senators might say, "OK, we can't run with Donald Trump on this," you have a lot of House members from those conservative districts who see Trump's numbers go up, and they're like, "He's fine with me." So the split in the Republican Party, honestly, no matter what happens, will only grow.

COOPER: The question is, then, does Donald Trump have coattails that they can ride on?

GERGEN: Some. Some.

BORGER: In the House, in the House, perhaps. In the Senate, there are a lot of blue-state Republicans up for re-election, and that could be a real problem for control of the Senate.

KING: This is a great conversation in the Republican Party right now. And I don't know who's right. I don't think anybody knows who's right. If Donald Trump has a big night tonight, and he's clearly on a path to the nomination and, to David's point, your only way to stop him is to essentially tell all these voters, "You're wrong," you're telling the customer, thousands and millions of them, "You're wrong."

So what do you have -- what's the choice that Republican establishment figures make? Do we hug this bull and ride it until November and hope -- hope that the damage isn't so bad that we can rebuild it. Or that we run and some people say have a third-party conservative candidate?

COOPER: Do we get clarity by the end of tonight? I mean, people have been seeking clarity for months now. Do we know?

BORGER: I think if Trump runs the table, then it's clear, no matter what the Republican establishment thinks or hopes or dreams of. It's clear.

GERGEN: I think this is the first night it's going to be clarifying. COOPER: Gloria, David, Maggie, thank you. John King is going to go

to the Magic Wall just very briefly.

In the meantime, we have some breaking news to bring you, and it raises a chill. Rubio campaign headquarters in Washington has been evacuated. A haz-mat team is on the scene. CNN's Dana Bash reporting it began after a powdery substance was found in a piece of office mail. These are the first early details. We are just getting this in. We have a crew on the way to the scene. We'll obviously bring you more as we learn more.

Just ahead the latest in the Democratic race with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders said to voters as they made their final push on what could be a pivotal day.


[17:28:40] BLITZER: We're bringing you the latest wave of March Madness in election 2016 on this Super Tuesday 3. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they're battling over five states. He made his final push today in Illinois while she stumped in North Carolina and Florida. A total of 691 delegates are at stake today for the Democrats. As we've said, Florida is the biggest prize. First polls close about 90 minutes from now.

Brianna Keilar is joining us from West Palm Beach, Clinton's headquarters for this night. Brianna, a lot of focus on the Republican candidates today, but nearly 700 delegates at stake for both Clinton and Sanders. What's been their final push message on this day?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: There really is so much at stake on the Democratic side. And you see there's a lot of focus on the Republican candidates. Well, that's even true here with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Wolf.

Both of them focusing a lot on Donald Trump in their final push, really framing themselves as the best alternative to a Donald Trump candidacy in the general election. And they are really the best candidates to take him on moving forward.

Bernie Sanders, of course, focusing a lot on trade. We're here in Florida, where Hillary Clinton is, but with Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio at stake here, these industrial states, he is continuing his attacks that we saw in Michigan on Hillary Clinton's past trade positions.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is urging voters not to be complacent. This has been part of her final pitch, this morning in North Carolina, telling them, "You may think that your candidate is ahead and that you don't need to vote, but you need to get out and vote." I think it's very clear that the Clinton campaign is worried that some of the margins in these states are a lot closer than the polls indicate, Wolf.

BLITZER: How are the camps feeling about tonight in terms of their confidence? Are they secure they can win?

KEILAR: Well, they are. And you know what? There's something different about the Democratic side; and that's that when you look at these states, they are not winner-take-all, unlike with Florida and Ohio on the Republican side. So there will be splitting of delegates, even if one candidate greatly outperforms another in one of these states.

Hillary Clinton's campaign feels very good about Florida and about North Carolina. They're a little worried about Missouri, Ohio, Illinois. Bernie Sanders has been raising expectations about Ohio. Certainly, he's feeling bullish coming off of his upset in Michigan. And he's also expecting that he'll do well in Missouri. So those are really the expectations here from Florida.

But I think that the Clinton campaign is really haunted by what happened in Michigan. They think that perhaps some voters thought she was so far ahead in the polls they didn't come out, but they also certainly admit that Bernie Sanders' attacks on her past trade positions may be resonating; and we could see that happen tonight, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.

I want to check in with CNN's Polo Sandoval right now. He's in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the polls will be open for another two hours or so.

Polo, North Carolina's primary was moved up earlier to March this year. How's that affecting turnout?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a very significant part of the story, too, Wolf. You have to remember that the primaries here in North Carolina were typically held in May. That's when there's usually a presumptive candidate, so according to some voters, that almost takes the excitement out of it and perhaps a reason not to show up at the polls.

But obviously, this year, legislators pushing it up to March, so they're part of this Super Tuesday madness. And that's why some voters have told me that they feel more involved, that their vote goes a lot further now and they play a more significant role in selecting their presidential nominees.

That could be one reason we expect extremely large turnout here at this location in this YMCA gymnasium in Charlotte, Wolf. I checked in with some of the folks. They're saying about 850 people have already made their way through here. The trickle really does remain constant.

One more reason why we could be seeing a fairly significant turnout here, Wolf, take a look at the sample ballots here. This is for the Democratic primary. You can see it's very extensive, some very important races for people here, including North Carolina governor, lieutenant governor, and also attorney general, as well. The people that I have spoken to in the location telling us that some of those key races, those local races also another reason why they're seeing this kind of turnout here in the Tar Heel State.

BLITZER: All right. Polo Sandoval, thanks very much for that.

We have to take a quick break, but we're getting some new exit polling information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to have that for you in just a moment.


[17:37:40] BLITZER: The polls are open in five states right now: Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Florida. The first polls close in less than two hours from now, 7:30 p.m. Eastern. But we already are getting some exit poll information. Our political director, David Chalian, has been crunching the numbers for us, as we say. What are you learning?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, we are looking at the racial makeup in the Democratic primary in two of the key states tonight.

Take a look at this. In Ohio today the breakdown among race: 76 percent white, 19 percent African-American in Ohio among Democratic primary voters. That's quite a different picture than we see in Florida, another key state tonight, where we see 49 percent of the Democratic primary voters in Florida are white, 27 percent are black, and 20 percent are Latino.

So, Wolf, as you know, as we've looked in these contests, Hillary Clinton has tended to do better in states where the white turnout is lower and there is more African-American and Latino presence in the electorate. South Carolina, Nevada as examples for that. So you look at these and you say, well if you're the Bernie Sanders campaign, Ohio looks like pretty fertile ground. It looks similar, even a little whiter, in turnout than Michigan, where he had the upset victory last week, whereas Florida looks like a much more diverse electorate, which tends to benefit Hillary Clinton. We'll see if that plays out when the votes start coming in later. But those two states do tell two different pictures of what's going on in the Democratic primary.

BLITZER: Of course, she's swept the whole South, where there's big minority turnout on the Democratic races at that time.

All right, David. Thanks very much -- Anderson.

COOPER: I want to go now to our political commentators: conservative writer Mary Katharine Ham; conservative columnist Kayleigh McEnany, who supports Donald Trump; former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, who supports Hillary Clinton; and radio host Bill Press, who supports Bernie Sanders.

Bernie [SIC], one of the interesting things about Ohio, and I guess with Sanders doing so well in Michigan, winning the state of Michigan, the question is, does that -- the similar electorate in Ohio -- we just saw the exit polls, large number of white voters -- does perhaps his win in Michigan help him in Ohio, and is Hillary Clinton weak in Ohio? BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, Hillary Clinton has been strong in Ohio. I wouldn't doubt -- wouldn't downplay her appeal there. But Bernie Sanders has really come on strong in Ohio, I think, with the same message that worked in Michigan.

COOPER: Trade.

PRESS: Very much the same electorate. Trade, jobs, against CAFTA, against NAFTA, against TPP. He's been advertising heavily in -- in that state. And, you know, with Hillary Clinton, when she won Ohio in 2008, she said, "This is my reason for staying in the race all the way to the end."

I think Bernie could pick up three states tonight. But the key win for him would be Ohio. It would be hugely significant for him.

COOPER: Where else do you think he's strong?

PRESS: In Missouri and in Illinois, as well, where he's been running, as you know, tying Hillary Clinton to Rahm Emanuel and also...

COOPER: In what is, Mayor, her home state.

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's certainly her home state. I mean, I would say this is quite surprising in a presidential election, maybe a little on the low side, that a presidential candidate goes after a sitting mayor, trying to take advantage of some local issues in that particular city for his own political benefit.

And you know, the senator is this independent candidate running as a Democrat, running against President Clinton, against President Obama and running against, of course, in the race, Secretary Clinton, and now is running against the mayor of Chicago, who is taking on some big challenges there and really should not be exploited in that way.

I also find it very interesting that the Republican super PACs are running ads against Hillary Clinton in Illinois and other places with regard to trade, helping to make Senator Sanders's case, which is really not a pure case. She was against NAFTA, voted -- CAFTA, voted against that; was not in office when NAFTA was the issue: her husband, President Clinton, did that, and...

COOPER: She did speak in favor of that.

NUTTER: Expressed opposition to TPP.

COOPER: And we should point out that candidate Obama also...


NUTTER: Well, you know, every now and then, you get lucky that your wife might actually be for something, you know, that you're working on. Every now and then, you get a little lucky with that. So... PRESS: The facts -- the facts are the facts. I'd also like to point out, Bernie Sanders is running for president of the United States against Hillary Clinton, period. He's not running against Barack Obama. Mr. Mayor, if you say that...

NUTTER: He talks about President Clinton, consistently talks about President Obama, has made really negative comments.

PRESS: He has praised Obama to the skies, Mr. Mayor.

NUTTER: And he's also, you know, been very negative about the president...

COOPER: Let's move on to the Republican side.

NUTTER: ... which is reflected in your book.

COOPER: Kayleigh, how optimistic are you that, for Donald Trump, that he's going to get Florida and going to get Ohio and, essentially, if those things take place, has a clear path?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I could certainly see that happening. I'm very optimistic about Florida. You look at the last four polls, he's ahead in most of the polls by 20 points, if not 20, very short -- very close to that.

Ohio's a different story. You know, he's running against a popular sitting governor. Two polls show him tying him, the most recent four polls; two show him five, six points losing to Kasich.

Kasich has the infrastructure there. He has the Ohio Republican Party in his back pocket. That cannot be underestimated.

That being said, the same issues that are propelling Sanders are issues that could propel Trump in Ohio: the anti-trade. We saw him do the same thing Sanders has done, saying, "Kasich was for NAFTA; I'm against it. I'm for you workers." So that appeal cannot be underestimated either. So it's a battle: Does that message win the night or does Kasich's infrastructure win it?

BLITZER: Mary Katharine, do you think the protests against Trump, the violence we saw, have actually helped Trump?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there's certainly part of his support that is galvanized by that, looking at this is a coordinated effort, and they're trying to silence us. That being said, of course, Trump should stop telling people to beat people up and/or that he'll pay their bills for them, their defense bills.

But no, I think there's an interesting dynamic at work in Ohio, though, where it's Kasich is arguably the most establishment and more moderate of any of the candidates that are non-Trump candidates, but he also, when speaking to these people who feel betrayed or want an outsider, he also has a message for the blue-collar workers in a way that other establishment GOP guys have not. He has a bit of that Trump populism to him. That's why I think this is an interesting match-up for him.

Plus, 60-something percent popularity...

COOPER: Right.

HAM: ... approval in his home state.

COOPER: Yes. A lot to watch for tonight. We're going to be on way into the morning. I want to thank our commentators.

Just ahead, we're going to check in at a polling station in Ohio, one of two winner-take-all states for Republicans tonight. Kasich predicts he will win the state. He's been saying that. In fact, he says he's got to win the state. Hear what voters are saying, ahead.



BLITZER: Voting is under way right now in five states, two of the biggest contests are in Ohio and Florida. A lot at stake for the hometown boys in those states, Governor Kasich and Senator Rubio, respectively.

We have our reporters at polling stations in Florida and Ohio. Let's check in first with Dan Simon. He's about 20 miles west of Cleveland, in North Olmsted, Ohio.

Dan, how busy has it been over there?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Wolf. It's been pretty steady and right now you have a mad dash of people coming here to this polling place. People leaving work, casting their ballots. You know, polls remain open until 7:30 tonight. So it should be pretty full until then.

We chose this area of North Olmsted because it's very diverse. You have a large amount of Republicans and Democratic voters. And one thing that's important to point out here is that here in Ohio during the primary, you can actually either poll a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot. So if you're a Democrat and you want to vote for John Kasich or you want to vote for Donald Trump, you are absolutely free to do so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I understand, Dan, you're also hearing some Democrats actually voting Republican. What more can you tell us? That's what they've been telling you, right?

SIMON: That's right. You know, unsurprisingly in our nonscientific survey we talked to a lot of people, a lot of Republicans who are voting for John Kasich but surprisingly a lot of Democrats as well. And that could be key in the outcome with those crossovers.

[17:50:12] We've also spoken to a number of Donald Trump supporters both on the Republican and Democratic side. Again, those -- that crossover vote could be key in determining the outcome -- Wolf. BLITZER: We'll see. Get the results fairly soon. All right, Dan,

thank you.

Let's check in with Brian Todd right now, he's in St. Louis for us.

Brian, what's the turnout like over there in Missouri?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, very strong turnout in Missouri. We're going to show you why as we go into the booth area here, the voting area here. Just a couple of hours before the polls close. One of the reasons that turnout is very strong is because it is an open primary format. People have the luxury of deciding who they want to vote for at the very last minute. You do not have to register by party in the state of Missouri. You come in here, as these voters have done. We see a last push here just a couple of hours before the polls close.

You come in here, you register, you check in, show a photo I.D. Then you can -- they ask you which primary you want to vote in, Democrat or Republican. You get you ballot, you have the choice of touchscreen or paper with an optical scan over here. And one of the reasons that turnout is high is because of that system and it also is favoring voters who are last-minute deciders.

I personally sampled more than 80 voters coming out of the polls today, more than a third of them were last-minute deciders and that breaks well for Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, Wolf, and Ted Cruz on the Republican side, so that's what they've been telling us, that a lot of those last-minute deciders have gone for Sanders and Cruz. Those are two candidate who did expect to do well here in Missouri tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd in Missouri for us.

Before going to a break, a quick update right now on the evacuation over at Rubio campaign headquarters right here in Washington, D.C., after a piece of mail came in containing some kind of powder. Just moments ago, we got word emergency crews have given the all-clear. So campaign workers are returning to their offices right now. That's good news.

Just ahead, John King joins us over at the magic wall. He's going to show us how tonight's wins and losses could reshape the race ahead.


[17:56:42] COOPER: Today's Super Tuesday, like the first two, has the potential to reshape the presidential race. Nearly two hours to go until the last polls close.

John King is back with us to break down the stakes.

KING: Anderson, five states on the board tonight, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri. The big question, can Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump pull away or can their rivals close the game especially on the Republican side, maybe raise the prospect of an open convention. 691 Democratic delegates, 367 Republican delegates. Let's start there as we look at the map.

Donald Trump enters tonight with about 100-delegate lead over Ted Cruz. Rubio a distant third. Kasich, whose home state is up today, way back in fourth.

What happens if Donald Trump runs the board? Well, if Donald Trump runs the board tonight and he fills in all five, Trump red, he's going to end up somewhere, winner-take-all Florida, winner-take-all Ohio, see how the delegates are allocated in North Carolina, Illinois, Missouri. But a big night for Trump would leave him somewhere in the ballpark of 790, maybe as high as 800 delegates. If that happens, the Trump train becomes a runaway train.

At this point, he would need just 42 percent, 43 percent, 44 percent max of the rest of the delegates to get to the magic number of 1237. Again depending on how the delegates are split in the non-winner-take- all states, which is why running the board tonight would make Donald Trump almost unstoppable.

But here's the big question. What happens, for example, if just John Kasich can win his home state of Ohio? This happened, you see Trump comes back a little bit, he would still be in a commanding lead. But this dramatically changes the math and because of the future states increases the odds of an open convention. The Republican establishment dream, of course, is for Marco Rubio to somehow hold on and win his home state of Florida. At this point, Donald Trump would need -- if that happened, Kasich, Ohio, Rubio, Florida, Donald Trump would need 60 percent, somewhere in that ballpark, of the remaining delegates.

At that point, if you see, Kasich purple, Rubio red at the end of the night, we're almost guaranteed an open convention on the Republican side. But Donald Trump is hoping for a big night to run the board. Most folks heading in think we'll see something like this at the end of the night, perhaps Donald Trump if he can hold onto Florida and Kasich holds on in Ohio raises the prospect of an open convention but doesn't guarantee it.

Now let's switch to the Democratic race. Hillary Clinton simply wants to put Michigan behind her. That's her big goal tonight. She wants to run the board and prove to Bernie Sanders, I'm winning again in the south in North Carolina and I'm racking up some wins in the Midwest. Should she sweep the race, her math becomes more and more dramatic. She'll get close to the halfway point in the delegate chase, pledged delegates, put Bernie Sanders behind her, and she wants to make the statement that Michigan was a fluke and that she now can prove she can win in the rustbelt.

What Bernie Sanders wants tonight is to prove Michigan was no fluke and to try to send a message -- that would send a message if he just won Ohio, he would say, I'm strong in the industrial Midwest, but it would not fundamentally change the map. If Bernie Sanders wants to change the conversation tonight and make people think Hillary Clinton is weak, he needs to win more than one in the Midwest. Illinois and Ohio would be a strong message to the Sanders campaign also thinks he'll do very well in Missouri.

So watch at the end of the night, is Bernie Sanders somewhere in the ballpark of 100 delegates away or does Hillary Clinton run the board and get into a situation where not only is the math in her favor, this is what Hillary Clinton wants, she wants to send a message that I'm strong in the Midwest, I'm dominant in the south and that Senator Sanders, you can't catch me --Anderson.

COOPER: John, thanks so much.

A big night ahead. Polls still open in five states. Two states winner-take-all for Republicans. Tonight we'll find out if Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can cement their frontrunner status or whether their rivals experience campaign revivals. So much at stake. Our special coverage continues right now.