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Tonight in the 2016 presidential race: Florida, Ohio, three other big states and a great deal of hyperventilation.
Let's believe the polls for a minute: A big night Tuesday for Republican Donald Trump in Florida, crushing Marco Rubio's presidential hopes. A drag-out fight in Ohio between Trump and John Kasich, the popular Ohio governor who hasn't won anything in the primary season and rarely comes close. A strong night for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and probably Florida. But can Bernie Sanders upset her in Ohio, Missouri or even her native Illinois, and keep rocking a Democratic race that remains tilted toward his opponent?
Let's see what the voters do.
They haven't always marched to the beat of horse race polling or the pundits in a campaign that resembles none other in modern times.
Will they bring clarity? Probably yes, if Trump broadly triumphs. Probably no, if he's set back.
If the long-time front-runner falters in an effort marked in recent days by raw anger and violent outbreaks — for him and against him at his rallies — an extraordinary contest may loom at the national convention in July, for decades merely a rubber stamp of the party's choice for president in a cloud of pretty balloons.
HOW IT UNFOLDS
At 7:30 p.m. EDT, polls close in Ohio and North Carolina.
At 8 p.m., final polls close in Florida, Illinois and Missouri.
Expect a rush of results when polls close, because of ballots cast before Tuesday or earlier in the evening. North Carolina, for example, was a big-absentee-voting state and may have close to half the votes counted in the first hour. In Florida, 95 percent of the polls close at 7 p.m.
Illinois and Missouri are expected to be slower reporting than the rest.
FLORIDA (99 GOP delegates, 214 Dem delegates)
It wasn't supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be Rubio and Jeb Bush at the top of the pack in a mighty struggle for their home state's big delegate prize.
Instead one's down, one's out and the sun just seems to keep shining on Trump.
Bush is long out of the race; Rubio is on the ropes. If the polls hold, Trump, a part-time resident and big spender in Florida business, will win the biggest prize of the night: all 99 Republican delegates. In the Democratic campaign, the stars appeared aligned for Clinton, with Florida's older population a counterweight to the youth vote that has propelled Sanders elsewhere. All 2016 Democratic races are proportional — as all Republican ones have been until now — so each candidate will come away with delegates based generally on how well they do.
Trump faced heavy advertising against him and a big test of his boast that Hispanics will support him despite his caustic remarks about Mexican immigrants and contentious immigration plans. Florida's Latino population is large and diverse — with a strong segment of Cuban-Americans who are more open to Republicans than some other Hispanic groups. But Rubio is one of them, and speaks the language.
OHIO (66 GOP delegates, 143 Dem delegates)
A governor winning his home state is ordinarily nothing to roil the waters, but what's ordinary in 2016?
This is swing-state Ohio, after all, and another big cache of delegates who all go to the winner.
Looking strong in Florida, Trump added late events in Ohio to try to fend off the governor and avoid complications on his path to the nomination: namely a contested convention. Kasich was likely to exit the 2016 race absent a win.
Sanders upset Clinton in Michigan and fought to replicate that in Ohio, if not Illinois or Missouri. He spoke to the economic worries of Rust Belt voters in going hard after Clinton on her past support of trade agreements that he says undermined America's manufacturing core. On that, the liberal Vermont senator and the ideologically indistinct Trump were in agreement.
NORTH CAROLINA (72 GOP delegates, 107 Dem delegates) , MISSOURI (52 GOP, 71 Dem ) ILLINOIS (69 GOP, 156 Dem)
It's a scramble in both parties, with delegates to be divvied up according to results. In short: more chances for Clinton to pad her already significant delegate lead, more chances for Sanders to keep his feisty "political revolution" from the left alive and an opportunity for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to further solidify his standing as the only Republican within range of Trump in the delegate count.
Coming into Tuesday, Trump had been winning 43 percent of delegates, thus needing to up his game to clinch a majority before the convention.
Cruz had been winning 34 percent of delegates. His only path to primary-season victory is to have a strong Tuesday night, see the contest turn into a one-on-one against Trump and score commanding victories against him in a hurry.
The melee between Trump supporters and protesters at his aborted rally in Chicago on Friday night and trouble at some events after that have rung louder alarms among Republicans who already saw him as a divisive figure who could not win in November. Said Rubio on CNN: "I think that all the gates of civility have been blown apart."
Do Trump-leaning voters care?
Time and again they have kept the faith through incendiary turns. Hundreds of thousands have already cast early votes, and the limited amount of opinion polling conducted post-Chicago has not pointed to a mass defection. Still, whether Trump will pay a price remains an open question going into Tuesday night.
In the Democratic primaries of 2008, Barack Obama won Missouri in a squeaker and swamped her in Illinois, which he represented in the Senate. Clinton handily won Florida and Ohio. Obama dashed her diminishing hopes with a solid victory later in the calendar, May, in North Carolina.
Trump took the winner-take-all contest for nine GOP delegates in the Northern Mariana Islands.