ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We are now in the final hours of voting on the biggest day of the 2016 primary cycle. It is Super Tuesday with contests in about a dozen states. Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are looking to solidify their standings at the front of the race. We're going to check in now on the Republican side where Trump's opponents hope to trip him up tonight. NPR's Don Gonyea is following the campaign of Marco Rubio. Don is in Miami. Hey there.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: And NPR's Sarah McCammon is following Donald Trump. She joins us from Palm Beach, Fla. Hey, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Let's start with you. You've been traveling with the Trump campaign for several days. He's obviously optimistic that he'll do well tonight. What's he been saying lately?
MCCAMMON: Yeah. He's been hopping all over this - the place - the Super Tuesday states - Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia in the last couple of days. You know, last night in Georgia, he was sounding really confident and telling voters there that he wants them to lead the way. Now, that's the second-biggest prize today in terms of delegates. Texas is the biggest delegate prize. Trump hopes to pick up delegates there too. He would love to knock Cruz off his game in his home state, but we'll see if that happens.
SHAPIRO: And Ted Cruz actually talked about that this morning after voting at his own polling place in Houston, Texas. Let's listen to a bit of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TED CRUZ: It's going to be up to Texas to make their decision, but there is no doubt that any candidate who cannot win his home state has real problems.
SHAPIRO: So Don Gonyea, it sounds like even Ted Cruz there is saying this is do or die tonight.
GONYEA: He sure is. He's giving it a cold, hard assessment there. But Ari, he does expect to win Texas. He's popular among the hard-core GOP faithful in the state. Those are primary voters. The current governor, Greg Abbott, has endorsed him, as has the former Governor Rick Perry. Polls show Cruz with a lead. In some polls, it's big. In some polls, it's smaller. But simply put, he does need to win Texas, or he just can't justify his campaign going forward.
SHAPIRO: At the same time, Don, Ted Cruz has been pointing out that Marco Rubio has not won in any primary states or as, at least, Cruz won Iowa. Is it possible that tonight Rubio can change that?
GONYEA: Well, Rubio sure hopes tonight things change along those lines. Boy, could he use a win. So far, though, with the exception of New Hampshire where he fell flat - and that's a big exception - but he's generally been exceeding expectations, and he's used that to become the most prominent, you know, call him mainstream, or call him establishment. He's the most prominent candidate to fit that description.
But at some point, you do have to get a win. Today, that could happen in Minnesota where he actually, in some polls, has had a lead, maybe in Virginia if it's a really good night for him. Either would allow him to keep making the argument for himself and to keep doing what he's been doing for the past week on the stump, which is just, you know, tearing into Donald Trump.
SHAPIRO: OK, so as we've been saying, this is a huge night - about a dozen states, including some really big ones, voting. Both of you are in Florida which is not voting tonight (laughter). Florida votes in two weeks. Sarah, what's going on?
MCCAMMON: Well, the candidates are looking ahead to Florida, which is the next big prize on March 15. If you win here on that day, you get all 99 delegates, and that's new starting March 15. Trump's press conference here tonight in Palm Beach is going to be at 9 Eastern Time, and Ari, that is the same time that Texas polls close. So there is the potential there for him to step on Cruz's victory in his home state.
SHAPIRO: And Don, this is also Marco Rubio's home state, Florida.
GONYEA: Yeah, and if Donald Trump wants to step on Cruz's victory in his home state with a press conference, he just wants to step on Marco Rubio in his home state tonight. Remember back so long ago when we would look ahead to Florida and say, oh, that's where we're going to see which of the Florida candidates survives and maybe goes on to the nomination - Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, again, both home-state candidates.
Rubio has the big showdown, but it's with Trump. He's going to be spending a lot of time here for the next two weeks. And again, just like with Cruz - Cruz having to win Texas, Rubio absolutely has to win in Florida, or it's hard to see how he justifies his campaign at that point.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Don Gonyea and Sarah McCammon both out on the campaign trail this Super Tuesday. We will hear from the Democratic side of the race elsewhere in the program. Thanks to both of you.
MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.