, YOUNGSTOWN, United States, Mar 15 – Voters began going to the polls Tuesday in five make-or-break presidential nominating contests, with Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton seeking to tighten their grip as their party’s front runners.
Polls opened at 1030 in the states of North Carolina and Ohio, and at 1100 GMT in Florida, Illinois and Missouri, in an event dubbed “Super Tuesday 2.”
Trump is seeking to push one or two of his rivals out of the race, while Clinton hopes to fend off a resurgent Bernie Sanders and assert her claim as the party’s all-but-certain presidential nominee.
“I love you Ohio. You can make the difference!” Trump said at a late Monday rally at the Youngstown airport — a last minute push which suggested that he viewed the Midwestern state as his closest of the five races.
Violent clashes and protests at Trump rallies over the weekend dominated US headlines, with rivals in both parties accusing the billionaire real estate mogul of creating a toxic campaign environment.
The latest polls showed the Republican frontrunner poised to win the Tuesday contests, although Ohio’s Governor John Kasich held a narrow lead in his state in some surveys.
A Kasich victory in Ohio may be the last chance to derail Trump’s march to July’s Republican nomination, especially as Tuesday marks the point when the party moves to a winner-takes-all format in terms of the delegates accorded for each primary win.
Trump struck a blue-collar tone as he urged Ohio to reject their popular governor, saying he was better positioned to re-invigorate the state’s struggling economy.
“Your steel industry is dead,” Trump said. “I’m going to bring your industry back.”
Florida, Illinois and Ohio are the day’s biggest prizes for both parties, as each state offers large delegate hauls.
Among Democrats, if polls prove accurate Clinton will extend her lead over rival Sanders. She is comfortably ahead in Florida, but in Ohio the former secretary of state only held a five-point lead, according to a Quinnipiac University poll out Monday.
Sanders, appealing to blue-collar voters, has made impressive gains in the state, after trailing by as much as 30 points in polls last month.
– High stakes –
In a sign of the high stakes, Trump canceled a rally Monday in Florida, where he has a 20-point lead over Florida Senator Marco Rubio, to make a final pitch in Ohio.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee, campaigned with Kasich Monday in an attempt to thwart a Trump victory in Ohio.
Sanders also campaigned in Ohio on Monday. The self-described Democratic Socialist drew some 2,000 people at a rally in Youngstown where he slammed “disastrous” US trade policies over the past 20 years that he said had cost America “millions of decent paying jobs.”
“If we have a good vote, and people come out, we’re going to win in Ohio,” said Sanders, 74.