The Note: Super Tuesday Preview

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--TRUMP HITS 49 PERCENT SUPPORT IN NEW NATIONAL POLL: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is stretching his lead to its widest margin, garnering support from nearly half of GOP voters nationwide in a new poll today, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK notes. Forty-nine percent of Republican voters say they back Trump for the Republican nomination in the new CNN-ORC poll released this morning. Sen. Marco Rubio earns 16 percent support, Sen. Ted Cruz earns 15 percent, Dr. Ben Carson has 10 percent and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has 6 percent.

--STILL, THE POLL SHOWS A DIVIDED PARTY: Almost half of GOP voters who don't support Trump say they probably or definitely will not support Trump in the general election. Trump's support also remains widespread across every demographic group, including gender, ideology, age and even education level, where Trump had lagged behind among voters with a college degree. Nevertheless, seven in 10 Republicans now believe Trump is most likely to win the party's nomination.

--MORE NUMBERS -- TRUMP LEADS IN 2 SUPER TUESDAY STATES BUT CRUZ HOLDING TEXAS: Donald Trump leads the Republican presidential field in Tennessee and Georgia, while Sen. Ted Cruz holds a lead in his home state of Texas, according to new polls of three of the states set to vote on Super Tuesday, ABC’s CORINNE CATHCART notes. In Georgia, Trump leads among likely GOP primary voters with 30 percent support followed by Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tied for second with 23 percent each, according to an NBC/WSJ/Marist poll released yesterday. In Tennessee, a new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll found Trump getting 40 percent of support from likely GOP primary voters, while Cruz followed with 22 percent support, then Rubio with 19 percent. In Texas, Cruz gets 39 percent support followed by Trump at 26 percent. Rubio was third with 16 percent support.

--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Donald Trump’s first endorsement from a US senator captured Sunday buzz. But an anti-endorsement from a different sitting senator could have more significant ramifications. Sen. Ben Sasse, a freshman Nebraska Republican who’s campaigned on behalf of both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, announced in a lengthy and thoughtful Facebook post that he “can’t support Donald Trump.” “Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation,” Sasse wrote. “I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option.” It’s those last few words that are most intriguing, given the exigencies of the voting calendar. Plus, a new CNN poll out Monday morning that shows Trump with 49 percent support among GOP voters, tantalizingly close to the majority Trump was never supposed to approach. Any “third option” movement would need establishment as well as grass-roots support. Functionally, Republican senators, governors, and House members would have to vouch for a third-party run for it to gain legitimacy and traction. But perhaps the most relevant question to ask at this stage is the one asked Monday morning by Joe Scarborough, who’s taken heat for his past defenses of Trump: “So is this how the party of Abraham Lincoln dies?”

--AMID CALLS FOR HIS EXIT, KASICH LOOKS TO TWO-PERSON RACE: As an increasing number of establishment Republicans coalesce around one of his rivals for the Republican nomination for president, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has set his sights on March 15, a day when his campaign argues that the GOP field will be narrowed to just two contenders, ABC’s BEN GITTLESON reports. That day, Kasich aims to finish first in Ohio's GOP primary, becoming just the second person not named Donald Trump to win a statewide GOP nominating race -- unless Ted Cruz places first in his home state of Texas on Tuesday. That same Tuesday, his campaign expects fellow candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who has drawn the support of more and more elected GOP figures, to flounder in his home state of Florida.



ALABAMA SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ENDORSES TRUMP. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions endorsed Donald Trump yesterday at a rally in Madison, Alabama. "We are nearing fast the point of no return. The people are hurting. Their wages are declining. Their schools are overburdened. Their hospitals are stretched past the breaking point. Crime is up, and community confidence is down," Sessions said, according a statement release by the Trump campaign. "Americans of all backgrounds and ethnicities, immigrant and US-born, are crying out for leadership that puts their needs first, that takes care of those living and dreaming here today, leadership that understands that there is no constituency other than the American constituency. Mr. Trump is that leader."

CRUZ SPECULATES TRUMP'S TAXES COULD SHOW MAFIA TIES. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz speculated Donald Trump doesn't want to disclose his tax filings because he may have business ties to the mafia and donated to left-leaning organizations like Planned Parenthood, according to ABC’s ANDREA GONZALES. "There have been multiple media reports about Donald's business dealings with the mob, with the mafia," Cruz said Sunday on ABC's "This Week." "Maybe his tax returns show that those business dealings are a lot more extensive than reported. We don't know." Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio released summary pages of their recent tax filings Saturday. Trump has said he will release the filings once the IRS finishes auditing his returns. Cruz pointed to S&A Concrete, which built Trump Tower, and other media reports linking the billionaire businessman to the mafia.

SANDERS CLAIMS MOMENTUM DESPITE BEING ‘DECIMATED’ IN SOUTH CAROLINA. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders believes his campaign still has the momentum to win the Democratic presidential nomination despite being “decimated” by Hillary Clinton in the party's South Carolina primary, ABC’s ADRIENNE SALAZAR writes. “I think it's going to be a tough fight,” Sanders told ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS Sunday on "This Week." “I think we can win this thing.” Sanders, who finished with a mere 26 percent of the vote, found a silver lining in results in the voting of one demographic of the South Carolina electorate. “We got decimated. The only positive thing was for us is we won the 29 years of age and younger vote,” he said. “But we got killed.”

NOTED: DNC VICE CHAIR TULSI GABBARD RESIGNS TO ENDORSE BERNIE SANDERS. U.S. congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard resigned from her post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president Sunday, ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS reports. “As vice chairman of the DNC I am required to stay neutral in Democratic primaries, but I cannot remain neutral any longer. The stakes are too high,” she said in a prepared statement and video released by the Sanders campaign.

ANALYSIS: HILLARY CLINTON TAKES CONTROL OF DEMOCRATIC RACE FOR PRESIDENT. Hillary Clinton is now in firm command of the Democratic race for president after a loud statement of a victory in South Carolina over the weekend, ABC’s RICK KLEIN notes. Clinton left the state with a growing delegate lead that she is increasingly unlikely to ever surrender. Bernie Sanders leaves with neither momentum nor math on his side, and without a clear path to capturing the nomination. “Tomorrow, this campaign goes national,” Clinton said Saturday night in her victory speech. Indeed, she’s better positioned for a national campaign. She also has a regional advantage that’s likely to become evident on Super Tuesday, where seven of the 11 states with Democratic contests are in the South. The first four contests give Clinton three wins and one lopsided loss. They also answer some of the broadest questions about her ability to turn out Barack Obama’s old base – answers that are starting to break in Clinton’s favor.

DESPITE ENDORSEMENT, CHRISTIE STILL DISAGREES WITH SOME OF TRUMP'S POLICIES. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie admitted he still disagrees with Donald Trump on some of his policy proposals despite endorsing his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination this week, ABC’s NICKI ROSSOLL notes. "I ran against the guy, so of course there's things that I disagree with him on," Christie told ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS in an exclusive interview Sunday on "This Week". Christie reiterated he was supporting Trump because he believes the real estate mogul is the only candidate who can defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in the general election. "This is now a choice, and of the candidates remaining on that stage, he is the best person to beat Hillary Clinton, which is job one for Republicans," Christie said. "He is the best person to beat her and he is the best person to help keep America safe."

IS THE TRUMP ENDORSEMENT CHRISTIE’S BIGGEST FLIP-FLOP? As a candidate, Chris Christie ridiculed Donald Trump for having a “make-believe” campaign that amounted to little more than reality TV and sought to remind voters that they aren’t electing an “entertainer-in-chief.” “He has not the first idea of how to run a government, not the first idea,” Christie said of Trump on Feb. 7 in Hampton, New Hampshire, when he urged voters to “get off the Trump train before it’s too late.” ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS has more:

NOTED: SOUTH CAROLINA GOV. NIKKI HALEY DOESN'T UNDERSTAND WHY CHRISTIE ENDORSED TRUMP. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley doesn't understand why her New Jersey counterpart Chris Christie endorsed his former rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump, ABC’s ANDREA GONZALES reports. "Chris is a dear friend, but none of us understand why he did this," Haley said Sunday in an exclusive interview on ABC's "This Week." "What I will tell you is Donald Trump can't beat Hillary Clinton." Haley, who endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio before Trump won her state's Republican primary last weekend, said it would be impossible for Trump to win a general election because he is capped at 35 percent support.



BILL CLINTON ADDRESSES CONFRONTATION WITH BENGHAZI PROTESTERS AT RALLY. Yesterday on the stump in Miami Gardens, Florida, former President Bill Clinton addressed the two Benghazi protesters who repeatedly interrupted him during a speech the day before the South Carolina Democratic Primary, ABC’s MATTHEW CLAIBORNE notes. “We’ve got to quit screaming at each other. It’s like that debate,” said Clinton. “I got interrupted twice on the day before the election, and the police almost tried to shut the people up. I said no, let them talk.” The president regularly engages with protesters, and Friday’s event was no different. However, when local law enforcement tried to intervene, the protesters engaged in a shouting match with Clinton, who eventually told them to “shut up” so that he could address their concerns.



@mateagold: Exclusive: Mike Murphy shares how much he really made running Right to Rise 

@DraperRobert: Trump has expanded his base--MA being one good example. Smart analysis by @EricFehrn: … via @BostonGlobe

@washingtonpost: The Republican Party's implosion over Donald Trump’s candidacy has arrived 

@MaxBoot: Better a broken party than a party unified behind a fascist demagogue. #NeverTrump

@stuartpstevens: Trump endorsed Romney not other way around. @HillaryClinton refuses to return or donate his $100k. She should.