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Are Ohio and Florida the final frontier for trailing candidates?

March 10, 2016 at 8:05 PM EST
Ohio and Florida have constituted critical battlegrounds in recent election cycles -- a trend that promises to continue even in a 2016 election that is breaking all kinds of rules. Hari Sreenivasan joins Michelle Everhart of the Columbus Dispatch and Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times for more on the unfolding contests in their states and which candidates seem to have the edge.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: There are two states critical to any modern presidential election, the battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida. 2016 may be breaking all kinds of rules, but they remain crucial in this primary.

We turn now to Adam Smith, political editor at The Tampa Bay Times. And Michelle Everhart, political reporter for The Columbus Dispatch.

First, let’s talk about the folks for whom these are must-win states.

Adam, I want to start with you.

Marco Rubio has banked almost his entire campaign on Florida.

ADAM SMITH, The Tampa Bay Times: Well, yes.

Interestingly, he didn’t do much in Florida until very, very recently. I think he was running sort of a national campaign, focused on earned media nationally, as opposed to sort of protecting his home turf. And it has only been in the last couple of weeks, when he’s focused on Florida, which clearly is a must-win.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Adam, this is also a state where almost, what, a million Republicans have already voted, and with some of your reporting, you say that some of them are penalizing the direction he took against Trump over the last couple of weeks.

ADAM SMITH: Yes, you hear that a lot. And that’s one of the tricks in Florida.

There’s so much early voting. In every cycle, there’s more and more people voting early, so that more than half the vote is probably going to be cast by Tuesday. And that means you can’t have a last-minute spurt of momentum. You have got to be banking votes early.

And the early vote was occurring when Donald Trump was running. You hear a lot of voters complaining about Marco Rubio disappointing them with his sort of getting in the gutter, doing the sort of schoolyard bickering with Donald Trump.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Michelle, for you, it’s the governor. Governor Kasich has banked a lot on hopefully winning his home state.

MICHELLE EVERHART, The Columbus Dispatch: Yes, this is the change in the ball game for him.

This is where he plans to win. If he doesn’t win, he says he’s going to stay here in Ohio. So he is spending a lot of time here this week. They are spending a lot of money, about $2 million in ads from his super PAC. So this is definitely a must-win state for him.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Let’s also talk about one of the endorsements that he received, Urban Meyer, OSU football coach. For the rest of the country watching, they say, why is that significant? But, in Ohio, Ohio State football coaches matter.

MICHELLE EVERHART: Absolutely.

I heard someone describe it this morning as Ohio State is a religion here. The Buckeyes are a religion in Ohio. So it’s also interesting because Donald Trump last week when he was in town talked about Urban Meyer had said nice things about him. And Urban kind of demurred and said that he wasn’t going to get involved into politics. And then this morning, the Kasich campaign drops this video with Urban Meyer talking about how he was endorsing him.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Adam, what about the rest of the Republican field in the state? How have you seen the campaign activity? I’m assuming that your TV is plugged full of political ads?

ADAM SMITH: Yes, I think it’s probably the case in Ohio, too. This is really kind of the last-ditch effort by sort of — quote, unquote — “establishment” in the party to really kind of send all guns a blazing at Donald Trump.

So, there’s a lot of anti-Trump ads. The super PAC that is backing Marco Rubio is doing a lot of those ads. Ted Cruz was hinting and actually saying that they were going to be sort of going in and trying to knock Marco Rubio out, oddly enough, in Florida, but that seems to be sort of more of a head-fake than anything else. They have not spent any money.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Michelle, what about the other Republican candidates in Ohio? Besides Kasich, who has a presence there?

MICHELLE EVERHART: We are not seeing any Trump — or — I’m sorry — we are seeing a lot of Trump ads, but we are not seeing any Rubio or Cruz ads. It’s like they’re not trying to make a play for Ohio.

So it’s mainly just between Trump and Kasich. Trump spent about $1 million so far here in ads.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Adam, I also want to ask about the Democratic contest between the support that Hillary Clinton already has there and the inroads Bernie Sanders might be making?

ADAM SMITH: Yes, they’re actually both in the state today, but that has been especially for Bernie Sanders. He’s not stepped foot in Florida for any kind of campaigning this entire cycle.

One of the big differences, both Ohio and Florida are winner-take-all for their delegates. On the Republican side, there is not much gain in trying to campaign if you’re in third place and have very little chance of winning at all.

But on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton looks like she’s way, way ahead. She’s got deep, deep roots in Florida. But Bernie Sanders will walk away with some delegates out of the state.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Michelle, what about the Democratic activity in Ohio?

MICHELLE EVERHART: We saw former President Bill Clinton here yesterday in Columbia. He had a couple of stops and then went over to Dayton.

We have seen Bernie Sanders just a couple of times. I think here, in 2008, Hillary Clinton won, so I think she’s hoping to kind of carry that feared to this year, but, you know, the polls are showing her up, but we also saw what happened with the polls in Michigan, where she was way up there and didn’t walk away with the win.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And I also want to ask both of you kind of what’s on the voters’ minds. You’re on the ground there, you’re speaking to people, in some cases people who have not yet made up their minds or ones who are actually open to something maybe even in tonight’s debate changing their opinion?

Adam?

ADAM SMITH: I think it’s the same thing that is on everybody’s mind. And for a political reporter, maybe it’s refreshing. Everybody is talking about this election. And God knows everybody is talking about Donald Trump.

So, you clearly have 30, 40 percent of the people that are fired up about him, and you have got a lot of people that are just horrified. But it’s the same thing. I think the same mood of frustration and anxiety and anti-establishment is as strong in Florida as anywhere.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Adam, are there specific issues that are resonating? Is it about the economy or terrorism or immigration? What is on the minds of Floridians?

ADAM SMITH: I think what makes Florida such a good microcosm for the rest of the country and such a good battleground is, we are such a — we reflect the rest of the country.

So, there are going to be some issues, Cuban American policy — you saw in the debate last night, that’s going to be — ties with Cuba, that’s going to be more of an issue obviously in Florida than elsewhere. Offshore drilling is a trickier issue here than clearly it would be, energy exploration, in Ohio.

But mostly I think it’s — the same people are anxious, and the economic statistics may show one thing, but people in their pocketbooks may feel a different thing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michelle, how about Ohioans?

MICHELLE EVERHART: It’s very much similar here in Ohio.

I think people care about what affects them most. And it’s the economy that affects them most. Are they going to be able to pay their next mortgage? Are they going to have a job? So, that’s what they’re most concerned about. And people are frustrated that they’re not getting the wage hikes that they want or not getting the hours that they want, or not finding the job that they want.

So, I think that’s what has played into some of this Donald Trump love or interest in people. They want somebody different. They want something new. They don’t see what’s been happening, they don’t see it as working.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michelle Everhart, political reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, and Adam Smith of The Tampa Bay Times, thanks so much for joining us.

MICHELLE EVERHART: Thank you.

ADAM SMITH: Thank you.

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