The Note: High Stakes Tuesday Is Here

March 15, 2016, 9:35 AM


--WHAT'S AT STAKE TODAY: In the biggest day of voting since Super Tuesday, Americans in five states and one territory head to the polls today to cast their ballots for the presidential nomination. More states and delegates may have been up for grabs on March 1, but now that more 20 states have held contests, candidates are starting to see a clearer path -- or lack thereof -- to the nomination. Here's what's at stake today in Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, courtesy of ABC’s ALANA ABRAMSON:

--TRUMP -- ‘I DON’T THINK I SHOULD BE TONING IT DOWN’: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said this morning that despite some of the recent violence at his rallies, he has no plans to change the script. "Well, I don't think I should be toning it down," he told ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on “Good Morning America.” "We have had very little difficultly." Trump also discussed his request that his team look into the details surrounding a 78-year-old supporter who punched a protester at a Trump rally in North Carolina last week. "I haven't looked at it yet," Trump said. "I don't condone violence; maybe that's why I wouldn't do it," he added, a reference to the possibility of paying for the man's legal fees. "Nobody has asked me for fees and I haven't even seen it, so I never said I would," Trump said.

--ON A CONTESTED CONVENTION: Asked whether he is ready for a contested convention, Trump said: "We're going to have to see how we do today," adding he believed he would "do great in Ohio." Trump will hold a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida tonight, according to ABC’s LISSETTE RODRIGUEZ and JOHN SANTUCCI.

--KASICH -- 'WE HAVE TO WIN' OHIO: Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he has to win and expects to do well in his home state of Ohio among the Republican primaries today, adding he'll also do well in other states, ABC’s BENJAMIN GITTLESON and LISSETTE RODRIGUEZ. "You'll see tonight. We're going to win Ohio," Kasich said in an interview on “Good Morning America.” “We have to win.” He added: "We're going to do better in Illinois that anybody thinks."

--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Of all the complicated delegate-math scenarios to ponder, Tuesday’s voting is frustratingly simple for two of the four candidates: win a home game, or go home. John Kasich and Marco Rubio have long since been forced to abandon any realistic shot of getting a majority of convention delegates. Kasich, of course, is still looking for his first victory, anywhere, and Rubio has consistently failed to meet delegate thresholds in big states. It’s a measure of how quickly and completely Donald Trump has taken over as the dominant force in the Republican Party that he can have a middling night when two of his rivals have their home states voting and still be the overwhelming favorite to finish with the most delegates. But wins by Kasich in Ohio and/or Rubio in Florida could bring about one last stand for the so-called establishment wing of the party, perhaps coalesced behind one of those two men. At this point, the only hope for stopping Trump is delaying his path to clinching. It may be that no day of voting from here holds as much promise on that front as this one.


IN THE NOTE’S INBOX: NEW GOP MEMO ON BILL CLINTON: ‘BUBBA GOES OFF THE RAILS’: The Republican National Committee is releasing a new research piece focusing on Hillary Clinton's favorite campaign surrogate: Her husband. The project titled, "Bubba Goes Off the Rails," which goes live this morning on the RNC site, features a number of Bill Clinton's gaffes on the campaign trail. It argues that the former president is "showcasing his famous penchant for going way off message" and "just like in 2008, Bill Clinton is becoming the sort of off message surrogate that is more of a liability than an asset." FULL MEMO:



--KICKING THE SIDEKICK: Yesterday was rough for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The former Republican presidential candidate turned No. 1 Donald Trump sidekick faced tough criticism from his constituents at home for skipping the burial of a fallen state trooper to instead host an "interview" with Donald Trump at a rally in North Carolina. So, he probably didn’t expect Trump, himself, to tweak Christie for spending time away from his state. After saying Gov. John Kasich spent more time campaigning in New Hampshire than running Ohio, he decided to use his endorser as an example. “Is Chris around? He was there even more than Chris.”

--BONUS DISS: DEM IN NAME ONLY: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, acknowledged during his town hall on MSNBC last night that the only way he believes he ever had a shot at the presidency is if he ran as a Democrat. "In terms of media coverage, you have to run within the Democratic Party,” Sanders said. Sanders, who has found himself at the center of Democratic Party drama since the beginning of his campaign, faced criticism from party elders. “Extremely disgraceful,” tweeted Donna Brazile, the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and an ABC News Contributor.



HILLARY, BERNIE AND THE BATTLE FOR ILLINOIS. Yesterday Hillary Clinton started her day in Chicago and that’s where Bernie Sanders ended his. Both candidates’ decision to be in Illinois -- one of five states voting today -- highlights the importance of the state at this point in the contest. The story of this Democratic campaign is who will take up the mantle of President Barack Obama. As such, winning Obama’s home state -- rich with Democratic Party history, labor unions, and progressive grassroots organizations -- has become symbolic as well as vital for final delegate count. Both Clinton and Sanders have connections to the state. ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS and LIZ KREUTZ have more.

WHY OHIO IS MAKE-OR-BREAK FOR GOP CANDIDATES. Florida may have more delegates at stake, but the competition in Ohio appears to be neck-and-neck between Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The state has a history of being a contentious battleground in recent general elections and the fight between the Republican presidential candidates in the Buckeye State started earlier this year. ABC’S MEGHAN KENEALLY and BEN GITTLESON have more on why Ohio is so important.

PALIN SAYS TRUMP PROTESTERS ENGAGING IN ‘PUNK A-- LITTLE THUGGERY’. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who endorsed Trump back in January, let loose on the protesters who have been interrupting the real estate mogul's rallies, ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI notes. "Time is our most valuable resource," said Palin in Tampa, Florida yesterday shortly after announcing her husband Todd had been hospitalized due to a snow machine accident. "It makes me appreciate the time that we have to spend and doing something so worthy and that’s to get Donald J. Trump elected president. And what we don't have time for is all that petty punk-a-- little thuggery stuff that's been going on with these quote, unquote protesters who are doing nothing but wasting your time and trying to take away your First Amendment rights -- your rights to assemble peacefully."

NOTED: TRUMP RALLY IN NORTH CAROLINA INTERRUPTED BY PROTESTERS. Protesters disrupted Donald Trump's rally yesterday afternoon in North Carolina several times. One sustained interruption broke out here at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory as Trump discussed his plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Protesters ripped off the Trump paraphernalia they had been wearing, chanting, “Stop the Hate!” ABC’s JORDYN PHELPS and CANDACE SMITH report, supporters of the Republican front-runner booed the protest and chanted to drown out the interruption.

CRUZ VOWS TO SUPPORT TRUMP -- UNLESS HE ACTUALLY SHOOTS SOMEONE. Sen. Ted Cruz has vowed to support GOP front-runner Donald Trump if he secures the Republican nomination -- but he has one condition, ABC’S VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ report. "I can give you one example where I would no longer support Donald Trump. If for example, he were to go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, I would not be willing to support Donald Trump," Cruz said yesterday at a press conference in Rockford, Illinois.

HAS DONALD TRUMP REALLY DRIVEN MORE PEOPLE TO THE POLLS? One of Donald Trump’s frequent talking points is that he has helped expand the Republican Party by bringing new voters to the polls, but it's unclear if his candidacy is really the cause. "We’re getting millions and millions of additional people. People that the Republican Party has never had before," Trump said at a recent press conference. So, has he? ABC’s MEGHAN KENEALLY takes a closer look:



CLINTON ONCE CITED NY BANKS AS ‘BIGGEST WINNERS’ IN WALL STREET BAILOUT. Speaking at a Democratic Party dinner in Ohio Sunday, Hillary Clinton said she voted in 2009 for the second wave of funds to be used for the bank bailout because President Obama asked Senate Democrats to do so and because the package included money to help the beleaguered U.S. automobile industry. “There was a bill that mixed money for the auto rescue and money for other bailouts,” Clinton said in Columbus, Ohio, Sunday night, ABC’s MARYALICE PARKS reports.



@GlennThrush: Sources: Trump staff tried to oust CM Lewandowski - for being a foul-mouthed, heavy-handed, strategy-challenged lout …

@mckaycoppins: Want to volunteer at the Trump Tower phone bank? You'll have to sign a NDA and submit to a background check. …

@nickconfessore: How much free media coverage has Donald Trump gotten? Almost $2 *billion*. Our story: …

@robportman: Rob and Jane just voted - make sure you get out and vote! #ohsen

@marcorubio: This campaign is about our children -- and what kind of America they are going to inherit. 

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