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Candidates Eye Michigan As Pivotal State In Nomination Race


Voters are going to the polls today in Michigan and Mississippi. Republicans are also voting in Idaho and Hawaii. Michigan has a whopping 59 Republican delegates and 130 Democratic delegates. That's why it's pivotal for both parties. Here to talk more about the current state of the race is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Welcome back to the studio, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: After this weekend, some are wondering whether Trump's momentum has reached its peak. Is tonight going to answer that question for us?

LIASSON: Well, tonight will give us some more evidence. If Trump's momentum is actually slowing, then Cruz should have a good night tonight just like he had a good weekend when he won Kansas and Maine and kept very close to Trump in Louisiana and Kentucky. So Trump's margin in Mississippi and Michigan is really important because we've seen late-deciding voters all along vote against Trump. Since the anti-Trump ad onslaught began, the late deciders have broken against him by larger margins, and that's what - we're looking to see if that happens tonight.

SHAPIRO: It seems like Ted Cruz may do well in Mississippi. John Kasich may do well in Michigan. What are poll suggesting right now?

LIASSON: Well, at one time, Cruz thought that Mississippi would be part of his Southern domination strategy. Remember; he was going to unite conservatives, the Tea Party, libertarians and evangelicals, but that was before the Trump storm broke over the country as a whole. And Trump started winning Southern states because evangelicals started voting for him, a man who'd been divorced three times, uses profanity and said he's never asked God for forgiveness. So we learned evangelicals are not that different from other base Republican voters.

But if Trump is stalling out a bit, this could be a chance in Mississippi for some revenge from Cruz because he's only 85 delegates behind Trump now, and Mississippi has 40 delegates. So it's a pretty big prize. As for Michigan, polls have been all over the place. Some have shown Kasich gaining on Trump. Others have shown him in third place. But Michigan is a neighboring state to Kasich's own Ohio. It's a similar state, so he should do well there. And of course, he's looking, most importantly, to Ohio next week.

SHAPIRO: What about Marco Rubio? Where does he fit in to all of this?

LIASSON: Marco Rubio really has been caught in a crossfire in a number of ways. He's been squeezed between Cruz and Trump, between Trump and Kasich. He's been squeezed between the high-road strategy he started with and then the low-road strategy that he took to fight back against Trump.


LIASSON: And he's been shut out of a couple contests because he didn't get a big enough percentage of the vote to win any delegates at all. And Michigan should be a good state for him. It's filled with highly educated suburban Republicans who are not super angry - his kind of voters. But Kasich is also appealing to those kind of voters. Now, that being said, his campaign is not raising expectations. For tonight, they're looking to next week when Florida votes. That's Rubio's home state, and he has to win there.

SHAPIRO: On the Democratic side, both candidates have spent a lot of energy on Flint, Mich., and the water poisoning issue there. Is that paying off for Bernie Sanders?

LIASSON: Well, Michigan is an opportunity for Sanders. At some point, he has to cut into Clinton's delegate lead, and Michigan, because the primary electorate balance between black and white voters is more like the nation as a whole, should give him an opportunity. It's also a state with a lot of college towns, where many people feel they've been hurt by trade deals. That should help Sanders. But he has been trailing behind Clinton in the polls, and he won't be able to make much of the delegate gap in Mississippi if he performs like he has in other Southern states.

But the problem is, he has to win outright in Michigan, not just get close, if he wants to put a dent in her lead. Here is the brutal math. Clinton is now 195 delegates ahead, so Sanders needs 53 percent of all the remaining delegates in order to beat her. If you count the superdelegates, he needs 60 percent of all the remaining delegates. That's a very big hill to climb.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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