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Voters In 5 Large States Go To The Polls In Primary Contests


As you've no doubt heard by now, this is a big day in the presidential race with some big primaries happening. Voters are at the polls in Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Florida and Illinois. To talk about what's at stake, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is back here in the studio with us. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: How much will tonight clarify the race for both parties?

LIASSON: Well, it could clarify it a lot. The Republican nomination could be wrapped up tonight if Donald Trump sweeps the table, or it remains muddy if he doesn't. On the Democratic side, the nomination battle could be prolonged if Bernie Sanders wins a few states, or not. If Hillary Clinton sweeps the table, she'll be the definite nominee.

SHAPIRO: This is the first big voting day since the outbreak of violence at that Donald Trump rally in Chicago on Friday. Has that changed anything in the last week?

LIASSON: Well, we haven't had a lot of polling since those events. We do know from exit polls in Iowa that 57 percent of Republican voters said they felt betrayed by their leaders in Washington. That sounds like the kind of result...

SHAPIRO: ...You just said Iowa. Do you mean Ohio?

LIASSON: I mean Ohio.

SHAPIRO: OK (laughter).

LIASSON: I'm sorry, Ohio. We - that's the kind of result we've seen when Donald Trump wins big. We also know, however, that John Kasich has been very, very critical of Donald Trump's remarks at these rallies, the fact that Kasich thinks he's incited the violence. He's a very popular governor of Ohio and, something we haven't seen in other primary contests, he has been endorsed by his state Republican Party - the Florida Republican Party stayed neutral - and he does have pretty much control of the Republican Party machinery there.

SHAPIRO: There is, as we all know, this movement in the Republican Party to stop Trump. What does their path look like after tonight?

LIASSON: I think if Donald Trump wins Ohio and Florida - those are two big winner-take-all states - the hashtag #NeverTrump movement basically is left crying in its beer. If he loses Ohio and Florida, that means he's probably not going to get to 1,237 delegates on the first ballot at the Cleveland convention. Then the #NeverTrump movement is happy and optimistic. More likely is maybe he wins Florida, he loses Ohio.

Then the people who want to stop him from getting the nomination start looking for some kind of an alternative, and Ted Cruz is there raising his hand, saying, I am the obvious alternative to Trump. And he's been organizing like crazy in these states - looking for delegates, not necessarily wins.

SHAPIRO: On the Democratic side, things have become more competitive since Bernie Sanders defied the polls and won Michigan last Tuesday. He could pull off more wins against Hillary Clinton tonight. How is the Democratic race shifting?

LIASSON: He could. Now if the Republican race is going to change from a narrative around Trump's insurgency to hard math, the Democratic race could change from math - Hillary's big delegate lead - to narrative, the populist uprising of Bernie Sanders. Don't forget, though, unlike the Republicans, the Democratic primaries are not winner-take-all. They're proportional.

That means she keeps on adding to her delegate lead even if Bernie Sanders wins. And in Michigan, his big upset surprise win last week, he only came out with seven more delegates than she did. But if he can pick up a few of these big Midwestern industrial Rust Belt states, he gets a new narrative that shows maybe he could win. And then he starts appealing to those super delegates to switch to him.

SHAPIRO: Mara, we've had several of these primary conversations, and I've never asked you about a specific voter. But today, I'm going to ask you about one voter in particular. Illinois is voting today. That's where Barack Obama is registered to vote. He has not endorsed a candidate. Did he vote today?

LIASSON: He voted. The first lady voted. They voted by absentee in Illinois, but the White House will not say who they voted for. However, he has been weighing in on the race. He did speak about the race today during an appearance with House Speaker Paul Ryan to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and here's what he said.


BARACK OBAMA: I suspect that all of us can recall some intemperate words that we regret. Certainly I can. And while some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it for it is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America, and it has to stop.

LIASSON: Those were very calm, sober, subtle words directed at Donald Trump. He's been a lot tougher on him in other events, and you can expect to hear from the president much more talk like that about the race as time goes on.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.