Trump, Kasich in tight battle as Polls close at 8 p.m. ET in all five states

Republican presidential candidates John Kasich and Donald Trump are locked in a tight race for late-deciders in several Super Tuesday III primary contests, according to early exit polls.

While the billionaire businessman front-runner for weeks has been the clear favorite in the five states voting Tuesday, exit polls show Ohio Gov. Kasich faring well at least among voters who made up their minds in the last week.

In Connecticut, 39 percent of late-deciders were going for Kasich. Thirty-five percent were going for Trump and just 16 percent were breaking for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

The race for that group also was close in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Aside from those three states, Delaware and Rhode Island also were voting Tuesday.

Polls close at 8 p.m. ET in all five states.

Democrats are competing for 384 delegates in Tuesday’s contests, while Republicans have 118 up for grabs (not counting the 54 unbound delegates in Pennsylvania).

thevote_small Trump, Kasich in tight battle as Polls close at 8 p.m. ET in all five states

On the Democratic side, early exit polls show Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders doing well among voting blocs that often support them. The former secretary of state was doing well among seniors and black voters, while the Vermont senator was doing well among young people and independents.  

Despite the mixed messages from exit polls, primary front-runners Clinton and Trump both are looking to Tuesday’s contests to bring them closer to clinching the respective nominations, or at least dispiriting the remaining competition.

Clinton, for her part, is looking to further isolate Sanders as the Vermont senator struggles to translate his enthusiastic base of support into actual delegates. And Trump likewise is eyeing a potential primary sweep across the Northeast, looking to dramatically extend his delegate lead.

It won’t be enough for either to clinch the nomination, but a strong performance for the front-runners would further complicate the path to victory for the rest of the field — especially Sanders.

On the Republican side, though, Cruz and Kasich sought Tuesday to defend their newly announced bid to work together toward denying Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the July convention. Kasich agreed to stand aside in Indiana to help Cruz, while Cruz agreed to stand aside in Oregon and New Mexico to help Kasich.

On Fox News’ “Hannity,” Trump accused the two of “collusion,” saying: “In business, you go to jail for that.”

But in a radio interview Tuesday morning with an Indianapolis station, Cruz countered what they’re doing is “actually coalition-building.”

Still, Kasich appeared Monday to undercut their arrangement by urging voters in Indiana to support him anyway.

And the campaign stumbled on a procedural issue in Oregon, complicating the pair’s efforts in that state. The Kasich campaign missed the March deadline to submit information for a voter pamphlet the state distributes ahead of the May primary.

The pamphlets typically contain the candidates’ biographies along with a photo and other information. This year, the pamphlet includes Kasich’s name followed by an asterisk indicating that he didn’t submit any information. Cruz and Trump, meanwhile, each get a full column explaining their positions and personal histories.

Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf stressed that Kasich nevertheless is on the ballot in Oregon, and said the campaign will work to “educate voters about why they should vote for him” in the election.

Like Cruz, Kasich also defended their arrangement.

“The fact is, I don’t have unlimited resources,” Kasich said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today,” downplaying the collaboration as the logical step if he is to win the nomination in a contested convention.

Whether Cruz and Kasich can prevent Trump from clinching the nomination remains to be seen.

Trump’s path to the nomination remains narrow, requiring him to win 58 percent of the remaining delegates to reach the magic number by the end of the primaries. He’s hoping for a solid victory in Pennsylvania, though the state’s unique ballot could make it hard for any candidate to win a big majority.

While the statewide Republican winner gets 17 delegates, the other 54 are directly elected by voters and can support any candidate at a convention. Their names are listed on the ballot with no information about which hopeful they support.

Clinton is on solid footing in the Democratic race and enters Tuesday’s contests having accumulated 82 percent of the delegates needed to win her party’s nomination. While she can’t win enough delegates to officially knock Sanders out of the race this week, she can erase any lingering doubts about her standing.

Including superdelegates, Clinton now leads Sanders 1,946 to 1,192. On the GOP side, Trump has 845 delegates, followed by Cruz at 559 and Kasich at 148.

Cruz’s best chances to undercut Trump might be in Indiana, which votes next week, and California, which votes in June.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., cast doubt Tuesday on whether a Cruz-Kasich alliance would do much good in his home state. Asked about their partnership, McCarthy told reporters he’s “not convinced” it will help in California.