NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, February 29, 2016, 5:53 PM
Donald Trump could win Virginia Tuesday — as well as Georgia, Massachusetts, Alabama, Vermont, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Alaska.
On the eve of Super Tuesday, Donald Trump opened up an extraordinary 33-point lead in an eye-popping national poll, cementing his status as the Republican front-runner going into the crucial March 1 day of voting across the U.S. and sending his party’s establishment into an outright panic.
The former reality show star got the support of 49% of GOP voters in a CNN/ORC International poll released Monday, leaving his next closest competitor, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in the dust.
Rubio got 16% support, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz received 15% in the poll, which was taken Feb. 24 to Feb. 27 — a period that included Rubio’s strong performance at the last GOP debate as well as Trump’s endorsement by former Knights of the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Meanwhile, according to most polls in the 11 states where Republicans will vote Tuesday, Trump is in the driver’s seat. The mogul held sizeable advantages over Rubio in Virginia (37%-22%), Georgia (36-22), Massachusetts (45-18), Alabama (38-20), Vermont (32 17); and Cruz in Tennessee (40-22), Oklahoma (31-23) and Alaska (28-24).
Cruz, however, appeared likely to steal away his home state of Texas — and its whopping 155 delegates — where poll averages show him leading Trump 36-27, as well as neighboring Arkansas, where poll averages show him up over Trump 27-23.
Voters in Minnesota, on the other hand, remained locked in a statistical three-way tie, polling averages showed, with Rubio getting 23% support, Cruz getting 21% and Trump getting 18%.
But even if non-Trump victors prevail in a handful of states Tuesday, their wins won’t be nearly enough to prevent the businessman from sailing toward the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination (1,237), political scientists claim.
“March 1st is likely to mark the beginning of the end of the Republican nominating process. With more than 500 delegates at stake, it is imperative that either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz make concerted gains against Donald Trump or the Trump lead will only increase in subsequent nominating contests,” David Caputo, president emeritus and professor of Political Science at Pace University, told The News in an email.
Though Sen. Ted Cruz will likely win his home state of Texas Tuesday, he’s trailing Donald Trump in the national polls, averaging just 15% in a recent CNN/ORC International poll
“For Donald Trump, March 1 provides the opportunity to gain a commanding delegate lead and have between one-third and one-half of the delegates he needs,” Caputo said. “This may be the last and only chance that Trump’s opposition has to cut into his lead.”
But Caputo also suggested that party leaders, scared silly over the prospects of Trump as their candidate, could try to “deny him a majority of the delegates between now and the convention and permit the convention to decide who will be the nominee.”
To that end, a prominent GOP senator hinted Monday that, if Trump won the Republican nomination, he would recruit a third-party candidate to run as a conservative better aligned with the party’s principles.
“If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee, my expectation is that I will look for some third candidate — a conservative option, a Constitutionalist,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote in a long and blistering note on his Facebook account. “I do not claim to speak for a movement, but I suspect I am far from alone. After listening to Nebraskans in recent weeks, and talking to a great many people who take oaths seriously, I think many are in the same place.”
“Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans & on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation,” he added. “We can do better.”
But the front-runner remained unfazed: A confident Trump spent his last day before Super Tuesday voting commenced being Trump.
“Are you from Mexico,” the mogul sarcastically yelled at a protester at a raucous rally in Radford, Va.
Sen. Marco Rubio has been doing slightly better in recent polls, but his only real chance to win Tuesday will be in Minnesota, where he holds a slight lead in a three-way race.
“You have a problem? Get her out,” he blared at another protester.
“Believe it or not, we’re going to unify this country,” he added.
A hoarse Rubio, for his part, continued to blast the real estate magnate at rallies across Tennessee.
“You may not be able to tell, but this is not my normal voice,” Rubio said at an Alcoa, Tenn., event. “We’ve been working hard for you, and if it means that by the end of tonight I don’t have a voice and I have to whisper how strongly I feel about the future of our country I’m willing to do it.”
Neither of the two other remaining GOP candidates, Ben Carson and John Kasich, appeared to have a viable path to the nomination, but both vowed to press on.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton appeared as poised as Trump to run away with most of the delegates at stake in her own party.
The former secretary of state, coming off consecutive convincing victories in the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary, led Bernie Sanders in a CNN/ORC International poll out Monday 55% to 38%.
Sen. Bernie Sanders trails Hillary Clinton in many states at stake Tuesday, and could see his campaign be dealt a major blow after the first Super Tuesday.
Despite a razor-thin win in the Iowa caucuses and a bad loss in the New Hampshire primary, Clinton appeared on the verge of being untouchable in the majority of Super Tuesday states where Democrats will vote.
Supporters in those states could put her in solid position to approach the 2,383 delegates she would need to secure the nomination. Clinton has already secured 544 such delegates, including superdelegates. More than 1,000 are at stake on Tuesday.
Clinton held a strong lead over Sanders in many of the 11 states Democrats will vote in Tuesday, according to poll averages, including Virginia (55%-36%), Texas (61-33), Georgia (63-28), Tennessee (59-33), Arkansas (57-29), Oklahoma (44-40), Minnesota (59-25), Colorado (55-27) and Alabama (65-27).
Sanders, however, remained a strong favorite in his home state of Vermont, where poll averages showed him up 85% to 19%. The senator was locked in a close race with Clinton in neighboring Massachusetts.
Taking her cues from the polls, Clinton on Monday seemed to redirect her attention toward a potential general election matchup with Trump, repeatedly casting herself as alternative to the mogul’s bullying style.
“What we can’t let happen is the scapegoating, the flaming, the finger pointing that is going on the Republican side,” she said at a Massachusetts rally Monday.” It really undermines our fabric as a nation. So, I want to do everything I can in this campaign to set us on a different course.”
She made almost no mention of her Democratic primary rival.
Including superdelegates, Hillary Clinton could be in a solid position to win the Democratic nomination if Tuesday’s results are similar to what the polls predict.
Gov. Cuomo, a Clinton-backer, echoed that message during remarks to the state Democratic Party’s business meeting Monday.
“If I had to guess, I believe it will be Mr. Trump,” Cuomo said, referring to his thoughts on who would be the GOP nominee. Cuomo added that he felt Democrats would do well against the mogul in a general election because he is selling a message of fear and divisiveness.
“The problem is people who are different from us,” Cuomo said of his interpretation of Trump’s core message. “You are going to make America great again? You don’t understand what made America great in the first place.”
Sanders, on the other hand, spent much of his time Monday in Minnesota, where his campaign has spent heavily, imploring his supporters in the state to turnout to vote.
“We can win, no question, here in Minnesota if we have the turnout,” he predicted.
With News Wire Services
With Glenn Blain