Candidates make final push in Ohio before Election Day

With high stakes and tight contests on both sides, Ohio was the venue for an extraordinary rush of campaigning over the weekend and into Monday. After a rally in Dayton on Saturday and a town hall in West Chester on Sunday, Donald Trump closed his Ohio tour with a rally before thousands of people at an airport hanger in Youngstown Monday night.

And after a jammed schedule on Sunday that had Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appear at a rally on the campus of Ohio State University, a Democratic Party dinner in downtown Columbus and a televised town hall on CNN held on the OSU campus, he was at it again Monday with several appearances in northeastern Ohio. Hillary Clinton was in Ohio over the weekend but campaigned in Illinois on Monday.

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Special report from our Ohio Politics political team

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With Trump threatening to steal a win in Kasich’s home state, the Ohio governor enlisted help from high-profile figures in the sports, entertainment and political world: former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former California governor and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger and five past and present Ohio State Buckeye football coaches: Earl Bruce, John Cooper, Luke Fickell, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer.

Kasich also has the giant political machinery of the Ohio Republican Party behind him.

At the Westerville rally, Romney urged supporters to come out and vote. “We got to turn out tomorrow and send a signal loud and clear that a man of integrity, a man with a clear track record, a man who has shown what he can do to get the state to turn around to do the same thing for the country,” he said.

But it’s not clear if the push will be enough to hold off the real estate tycoon and reality TV star, who has tapped into voter anger and angst to vault into front-runner status in the race for the Republican nomination.

The stakes are huge. The Republican who finishes first in Ohio takes all 66 delegates. Kasich has said he must win Ohio to continue his presidential bid.

That means Tuesday could mark the last election of Kasich’s political career, which started in 1978 when he ran for state senate as a young upstart full of gumption and ambition. Or it could mean that Tuesday will signal a moment when Kasich’s long-shot presidential dreams finally get some traction.

The Westerville crowd applauded wildly when he pledged to keep his campaign positive. “I will never take a low road to the highest office in the land,” he said. “I will not do it.”

Kasich lamented the raucous, at times violent, nature of Trump’s campaign rallies and the negative tone.

“America is incredible,” he said. “It’s great.”

An independent poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University shows both contests up for grabs.

The Republicans Kasich and Trump are tied at 38 percent each with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas trailing with 16 percent and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida coming in last with 3 percent. Other polls in recent days have shown the race within the margin or error or with Kasich slightly ahead.

The Quinnipiac survey had Clinton leading Sanders 51-46 in Ohio.

Kasich campaign senior policy advisor John Weaver said a Kasich win in Ohio will block Trump’s ability to get the required 1,237 GOP delegates to capture the nomination.

“He knows it. That’s why he doubled down on Ohio,” Weaver said.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges noted that the state party has been pursuing absentee voters — sending a slate card to everyone who requested an absentee ballot as well as one to every registered Republican in the state.

“It could be the decisive factor,” he said. “I don’t know that it will be, but it’s one-third of the vote.”

By 2 p.m. Monday, 417,537 voters had cast early ballots, which is up from 2012 — when only the Republicans had a contested primary — but below the 557,686 that cast early ballots during the 2008 presidential primary.

Trump probably is responsible for at least some of the early turnout this year. An informal survey of Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections found Republicans had turned in 222,927 early ballots compared to 187,570 for Democrats, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Although early voting is now closed, those who took out absentee ballots can hand-deliver them to their county board of election office until the polls close at 7:30 this evening.

Staff writer Jack Torry contributed to this report.

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