RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina vaults into the national spotlight Tuesday with a primary that has sweeping implications in the race for president.
In the Republican primary, New York businessman Donald Trump is looking to distance himself from a field that still includes Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
A poll by Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling released Feb. 17 gave Trump 29 percent of the likely vote with Cruz following at 19 percent, Rubio at 16 percent and Kasich at 11 percent.
The poll noted that Trump’s supporters tend to be highly committed, and Trump events in the state, such as in Fayetteville, have been enthusiastic and large.
But Trump’s juggernaut has taken some hits as he has closed in on the nomination. Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, delivered a scathing speech about Trump March 3 and called Trump “a fraud.”
“Let me put it very plainly,” Romney said. “If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”
Trump responded by calling Romney “a failed candidate” who should have beaten President Barack Obama.
On the Republican side, a candidate needs 1,237 delegates to win the nomination. Trump has 459 so far, with Cruz second at 360 and Rubio (152) and Kasich (54) trailing.
While Trump is the clear favorite, he enters Tuesday as no guarantee. Both Florida, home to Rubio, and Ohio, home to Kasich, hold winner-take-all primaries Tuesday. So Florida gives all delegates to one person, and the same for Ohio’s 66 delegates.
The best chance for those Republicans, like Romney, who want to see Trump stopped would be if Trump can wrap up the nomination before the convention and then a split convention settles on another candidate.
North Carolina’s 72 delegates are awarded on a proportional basis.
On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton has had problems as well when it comes to shaking off attacks from Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The PPP poll gave Hillary Clinton a substantial lead over Sanders in North Carolina, with 52 percent saying they favored Clinton and 35 percent picking Sanders.
Clinton is especially appealing to women in the Tar Heel state, while the more liberal Sanders has built enthusiasm among younger voters.
But Sanders has been buoyed by a narrow win in the Michigan primary. Clinton has 1,223 delegates already to 574 for Sanders. A candidate needs 2,383 delegates to win the nomination at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.
Sanders also was welcomed by a crowd of thousands in Raleigh Friday.
Clinton is also hoping for a stronger showing in the state after her 2008 defeat here, to Sen. Barack Obama, proved critical in the Democratic outcome. Obama carried 56 percent of the Democratic votes in that primary, then held in May, and Clinton won just 41 percent.