RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina all vote today. The biggest presidential primary prizes are Ohio and Florida, from which David Greene and Steve Inskeep are reporting.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And let's learn the political landscape of both states. We'll hear from a Republican strategist here in Florida in just a moment.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
But let's begin here in Cleveland, Ohio, with David B. Cohen, who teaches political science at the University of Akron. He is sitting to my right here in the studio. Professor, thanks for coming in.
DAVID B. COHEN: Thanks for having me.
GREENE: You and I were just talking before we went on the air here about the importance of this primary. You described it potentially as a firewall. What do you mean by that?
COHEN: Absolutely. I mean, I think if Donald Trump is able to essentially sweep the electoral landscape today and especially win Florida and Ohio, I don't think there's any stopping him. So really the Never-Trump folks are really counting on John Kasich stopping Trump in Ohio. It's really the last hope.
GREENE: The last hope for people who do not want Trump to get the nomination we should say.
GREENE: Governor John Kasich you mention - a name that not all that familiar to people outside Ohio, though it's becoming more so as he's been sort of beating Trump in polls here. Can you tell us about him? I mean, are there things that people outside of Ohio don't know about John Kasich?
COHEN: Sure. Kasich is a very popular governor of a very important state in the scheme of things. And he is a traditional conservative. But in today's landscape, really more of a centrist center-right Republican compassionate conservative. He's a little bit more lenient on those social issues than many Republicans really like today. And he's somebody I think that you could look at his policies and kind of take it back to Ronald Reagan.
GREENE: Which is something that he might be able to use, that legacy, that Reagan legacy's so powerful within the party - I mean, if things do go forward, if he wins Ohio and he can sort of make a stand against Trump, a legacy he could sort of turn back to.
COHEN: Absolutely. I think out of the candidates that are left on the Republican side, without a doubt in my mind would make the most - would make the best general election candidate going up against the Democrats and appeal really to those important swing voters in the general election.
GREENE: Let me just ask you a final question. The fact that he is so competitive right now in his home state with Donald Trump, if Trump does go forward and get the Republican nomination, does that suggest that Donald Trump could struggle in a general in this very important state, a state that's even more important to general elections, we should say, than primaries usually?
COHEN: I think so. I think that Ohioans, if they don't select Trump this time, especially being the front-runner, I think that's a real message that come the general election that many Ohioans, especially some of those not so conservative Republicans, would maybe sit out the election or even vote Democrat.
GREENE: OK, and Steve I'm sitting here with David Cohen who teaches political science at the University of Akron. And, David, thank you very much.
COHEN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And, David, here in Tampa I'm joined by Adam Goodman of the Republican strategy firm Victory Group. He's in our studios here at WUSF. Welcome to you, sir.
ADAM GOODMAN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: And we should mention you're not working for any of the presidential candidates, right?
GOODMAN: Not at this point.
INSKEEP: Oh, OK, not at this point. Who knows what might happen?
GOODMAN: (Laughter) All options ahead.
INSKEEP: OK. I just want to mention a reality that must be on your mind. The electorate changes every election. It may reveal its change through this primary process. What are you learning about the state of Florida right now?
GOODMAN: Well, the state of Florida is - will be about six weeks downstream from the Iowa caucuses. And six weeks has felt like six years, Steve, as the American - as all of America has learned lots of things along the trail. I was just at the Trump event in Tampa yesterday where, among other things, Attorney General Pam Bondi weighed in on the eve of the election and endorsed...
INSKEEP: The Florida attorney general endorsed Donald Trump.
GOODMAN: Correct, and that was kind of - you know, this whole thing recently seems to be about stopping Trump as opposed to what does Trump really represent?
And I think what he has embodied right now - and in Florida you can feel it - is a reaction against a system that people feel has let them down. And he's bringing it. And as much as Bernie Sanders, I think, has created momentum and movement on the left, Donald Trump has as well. So I was just listening to the interview from Ohio...
GOODMAN: To make any predictions about how Donald Trump would do against anybody is hazardous at best. And I can tell you that Hillary Clinton, if she's the nominee and Trump on the other side, if it comes down to that, I think all bets are off.
INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking about our correspondent Mara Liasson who pointed out that Donald Trump may bring a white voter into the Republican Party. But at the same time he may be driving away suburban white women and he may be energizing a bunch of Latinos. Is this - the party actually gaining in the transaction here?
GOODMAN: I think it's shorthand, and it's easy to get to that shorthand before we really get into the fight. Hillary Clinton if - she has never experienced a candidate like Donald Trump. Though, I have to say, if she survives, if she is the president of the United States, she should credit Bernie Sanders 'cause in a way Bernie Sanders on the left and Trump on the right are on parallel paths.
They're both again taking on the system and the establishment. But here in Florida, I think, you know, today it's all about whether or not Marco Rubio, a hometown kid, can survive.
INSKEEP: Are you surprised that Marco Rubio has not made a bigger impression?
GOODMAN: Not really for this reason - there were a lot of Jeb Bush supporters who were with Jeb all the way until of course Jeb decided not to go all the way after South Carolina. It wasn't an easy transition. It wasn't like, OK, well, now the one hometown hero is done. We're going to go for the other. It's a different crowd, you might say.
And Marco I think at one point - I think it's very clear - lost his voice. He lost the voice that we had heard all these years. He started to engage Trump in ways we had never seen before from Marco. And I think he lost ground. And you can see it in the eyes of Republicans all over the state. Gosh, you know, I hope he does well, but I think maybe this just isn't the year.
INSKEEP: You know, let me just ask you about an issue - to identify an issue. People came out of the Michigan primary, for example, on the Democratic side and saying, wow, it's all about trade.
They've looked at other primaries on the Republican side and said that. Florida's voting today - going to vote again in November. What do you think is an overriding concern that people face here?
GOODMAN: Well, I think the economy is still a major issue in the state of Florida even though the economy has come back pretty nicely over the last couple years. But Florida is probably the ultimate melting pot in American politics. You know, the words the I-4 corridor are pretty well-known among political types because they know that's a swing area that can swing a presidential election.
INSKEEP: With incredible diversity, all kinds of people in there.
GOODMAN: Yeah, and coming from all walks of America. Florida is one of the major test markets actually in the country for everything - for new ideas, new products. Why would it not be the test market for new candidates?
INSKEEP: There you go. Adam Goodman, thanks very much.
GOODMAN: Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: Adam Goodman is a Republican political consultant. He's with the strategy firm The Victory Group. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.