As Donald Trump drives on toward the Republican nomination for president, Ohio's Gov. John Kasich could slow him with a victory in his home state in Tuesday's primary. But in nearby Illinois, the New York businessman seems poised to win the contest there.
On the Democratic side, in the first Midwestern primaries since Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' surprise victory in Michigan a week ago, Sanders is trying to capitalize on disenfranchisement with trade deals and the unpopularity of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom he casts as a Clinton ally.
New NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls released on Sunday shows Kasich leading Trump among likely GOP primary voters in Ohio by six percentage points, but Trump ahead in Illinois. Among the Democrats, the former secretary of state leads. The closest race: Clinton's home state of Illinois, where she also is ahead six percentage points.
“For those who thought March 15 was going to be the end of the confusion, we’re going to know a lot more but the show will gone,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion.
Kasich is the type of moderate politician who normally does well in Illinois, but he has been overshadowed by Trump's appeal to voters' anger, said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. And Trump's inconsistent ideology, something for which conservatives in particular have criticized him, serves him well, he said.
"People can see in him what they want because he has been some of what almost everybody wants," Jackson said.
As for the Democrats, he thought Clinton would do well in Illinois and Ohio. Michigan was likely an aberration, he said.
"She’s the kind of Democrat that tends to win in illinois," Jackson said. "And Sanders is benefiting from the same anger and angst on the left, but I don’t think the anger on the left is as deep-seated or loud as it is on the right."
Four other contests will be held on Tuesday — primaries in Florida, Missouri and North Carolina and a Republican caucus in the Northern Mariana Islands. Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio seems likely to lose his home state, and Ohio stand out for their winner-take-all rules for Republicans. Florida allocates 99 delegates; Ohio, 66. But Illinois and Missouri together will allocate 121 delegates by congressional district, and North Carolina has 72 delegates to be distributed on a proportionate basis.
Going into Tuesday's contests, Trump had 460 delegates to 370 for Cruz, 163 for Rubio and 63 for Kasich. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates.
Among the Democrats, who need 2,383 delegates to win, Clinton has 766 and Sanders has 551. In addition, Clinton has the support of 464 super delegates, compared to 25 for Sanders, The Associated Press reported.
In Florida and in Illinois, Trump is favored among most key demographic groups except for likely voters who describe themselves as very conservative. Among that group, Cruz has the advantage.
Rubio's campaign is urging his supporters in Ohio to back Kasich there on Tuesday, hoping that Kasich’s supporters will do the same in Florida. But on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, the Ohio governor deferred a question about whether he would ask his supporters to vote for Rubio.
"My voters are not like robots where I can say, 'Go do something,' okay," Kasich said. "How do you run for office and tell people to vote for somebody else?"
Cruz meanwhile has made it clear that he wants a two-man race against Trump and hopes to force Rubio out with a loss in Florida.
Kasich, who was campaigning with the 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney ahead of Tuesday's vote, is popular not only among Ohio's Republicans but also among independents, said Bill Burges of Burges & Burges Strategists in Cleveland.
"The question is whether Trump’s going to dominate them here the way he’s dominated them elsewhere, because — and I think I think you saw this in Michigan — Governor Kasich is pretty popular among independents,” Burges said. “So I wouldn't make any predictions here."
As governor, Kasich has a very strong ground operation in his state, which Trump lacks, said Mark R. Weaver of Communications Counsel, a longtime Republican consultant based in Columbus. He predicts a narrow win for Kasich in Ohio.
"Getting out the vote matters and in a close election, it can make a difference," he said.
On the Democratic side, young people are gravitating toward Sanders and bringing their enthusiasm to the competition, the consultants said.
"Even the ones who are voting for Hillary, they like Bernie a lot," Burges said. “And we’re seeing that all over the place.”
Sanders is also popular among blue-color working class families in northeastern Ohio, tapping into resentment between classes. Weaver said. At his rallies he zeroes in on trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement signed into law in 1993 and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Clinton now opposes, hoping his populist message will appeal to Ohio voters.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, mayors and others in the Democract establishment have lined up with Clinton, and she is well ahead. But Ohio and Michigan are not very different and Sanders' surprise win in Michigan is on everyone's mind.
“Anybody who wouldn't think he's gaining is a fool," Burges said.
But because none of the Democrats' contests on Tuesday are winner-take-all primaries, the results will not be as dramatic even if Sanders manages to repeat his Michigan victory.
"The best thing Bernie can do is chip away at Hillary’s lead, but chipping way may not be enough," Miringoff said. "It’s probably not going to be enough."
In Chicago, where Clinton is courting African American voters, Sanders is trying to link her with the unpopular mayor. Emanuel, who has endorsed Clinton, has long had tense relations with the city's teachers especially.
"I don't want the endorsement of a mayor who is shutting down school after school and firing teachers," Sanders said at a rally in Illinois.
"We want the endorsement of people who are fighting for social and racial justice," he said. "We do not want the support of people who are indebted to Wall Street and the big-money interests."