- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

With Super Tuesday behind them, the GOP presidential field moves into a rapid-fire sequence of 16 contests over the span of 15 days that are expected to test whether any of the remaining candidates can hang with front-runner Donald Trump.

Also on the calendar this week is the Conservative Political Action Conference in the Washington suburbs, which will give grass-roots leaders a chance to assess whether they can stomach the billionaire businessman.

While Tuesday was the biggest single day on the calendar, the next two weeks will have even more delegates up for grabs — and it remains to be seen whether anti-Trump forces will unify to block him.

“The field has dramatically narrowed and in my judgment there are still a lot of people casting about for a viable scenario to stave off Donald Trump,” said Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist. “If you look at the situation as it now stands, you have to conclude that Trump is clearly in the lead. If all the things that he has said and done until now haven’t derailed him, what is going to happen in the next two or three weeks that will?”

The marquee races are the March 15 winner-take-all contests in Florida and Ohio, which are the respective homes of Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich.

“What helps the ‘Not Trumps’ are those winner-take-all states on March 15,” said Josh Putnam, of the Frontloading HQ blog that focuses on campaigns and elections. “The 165 delegates that Florida and Ohio offer — not to mention the symbolism of two of the candidates’ home states — carries a lot of weight.”

“If Trump wins both, it is over,” he said.

Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich have their work cut out for them, according to Paul A. Beck, political science professor at Ohio State University, who said they will have to prove to voters before then that they are still viable candidates.

“There are a lot of voters in home states of particular candidates who don’t want to throw their votes away,” Mr. Beck said. “That is a problem that both Kasich, in Ohio, and Rubio, in Florida, face.”

Recent polls show that Mr. Trump leading the field in Ohio and Florida, which hold their contests on March 15, along with Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Those primaries will follow March 5 contests in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maine. Puerto Rico will have its say on March 6. From there the race will jump to contests on March 8 in Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi, and March 12 in Washington D.C.

Mr. Trump appeared poised Tuesday to expand his delegate lead in the 12 Super Tuesday contests, and close in on the level of support that 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney enjoyed at this point in the race four years ago.

The angst about a Trump win surfaced this week when Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, who is not seeking re-election, warned fellow Republicans against supporting Mr. Trump, saying his candidacy would significantly damage the party’s image.

Others panicked by Mr. Trump have bandied about the idea that Republicans could push Mr. Romney or House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to consider running as a third-party candidate, or steer the nomination toward one of them during a brokered convention.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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