Florida presidential primary could prove pivotal

Posted at 5:21 PM, Mar 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-02 17:21:06-05
With Super Tuesday now in the rearview mirror, the next round of presidential primary voting comes this weekend. But many experts say the March 15 primaries, including Florida’s, could help decide the race.
Right now, Donald Trump still has a commanding lead on the Republican side, and Hillary Clinton is on top for the Democrats.
Here's the challenge: The magic number needed for Trump to get the nomination is 1,237 delegates.
He's only about a quarter of the way there right now. Two of his challengers, Marco Rubio and John Kasich, will see both of their home states vote March 15. Ninety-nine delegates are up for grabs in Florida, and 66 in Ohio. Both are "winner take all" primaries.   So if either Rubio, Kasich, or Cruz can pick up wins, it gives them a clearer path to stop Trump from getting the number of delegates he needs to secure the nomination. 
Some voters in Tampa say it's making them feel their vote this year means more than ever before.
There's a steady stream of voters already filing in to cast their ballots in Hillsborough County.
"The lines are shorter and it's a lot more convenient, so that's why I come early," voter Richard Stern said.
But as for who he's voting for, Stern isn't convinced any of the candidates are worthy.
"I think it's a very sad commentary on our system with the quality of the candidates we have. They're all very poor," Stern said.
Mom Erin Wiley says she thinks the stakes in this election are high. The polarizing nature of the front-runners gives her even more reason to vote.
"I know a lot of people feel some certain candidates are the opposite of what they'd want. If you feel the need to vote against somebody, that's better than not voting at all in my opinion," Wiley said.
USF political science professor Susan MacManus says that is what candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are banking on: The anti-Trump vote.
"They're hoping if they're not ahead right now, they can keep his number down so that perhaps it could be a contested convention and then the dynamics could be very, very different," MacManus said.
That's part of what makes Florida's vote so crucial.  Whoever wins here, and in Ohio, takes all the available delegates in each state.
The other reason the Florida vote matters so much is that we're a swing state come November, and there are implications from how those votes are cast well into the future.
"People who are running for office or thinking of running for offices, congressional, state legislative, county offices, etc. Who is at the top of the ticket really matters a lot," MacManus said.
Television ads could also have a significant impact on the Florida vote. Ads are just now starting to hit the airwaves, and we're likely to see even more of them in the next two weeks. Studies show those ads do have the ability to sway voters and ultimately can change who wins.