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Tillis endorses Rubio as primary race heats up in NC

“@marcorubio represents a bright future for the GOP & America. He’ll draw new people into the party, crucial in a swing state like NC,” Tillis tweeted from his official Twitter account.

Rubio’s campaign website posted that Tillis is an important addition to the team ahead of the March 15 primary.

But David McLennan, a political analyst and visiting professor of political science at Meredith College, said in an email that endorsements generally only have a small impact on voters’ decisions.

“In the Republican field, Marco Rubio is piling up an impressive list of prominent Republicans who have endorsed him,” he said. “The endorsement of Rubio by Thom Tillis is important because it is another establishment Republican that is endorsing Rubio and not Ted Cruz.”

McLennan said Tillis’ endorsement points to the Republican Party lining Rubio up to be Trump’s main challenger.

But with almost three weeks to the March 15 primaries, a Public Policy Polling report revealed nearly half of likely voters in the state said they could change their minds.

The Feb. 17 poll showed real estate mogul Donald Trump leading the other Republican candidates, with the support of 29 percent of likely North Carolina conservative voters. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, showed support from 19 percent of respondents while Rubio, was backed by 16 percent.

The race should begin to get closer, and primaries in other states before North Carolina’s will have a significant effect on the state’s voters, he said.

This includes the 12 Republican presidential primaries and caucuses on March 1, also known as Super Tuesday.

“If Donald Trump sweeps the March 1 primaries, this could solidify his position as the frontrunner for the nomination,” McLennan said. “If Cruz or Rubio could pick off one or more of the March 1 primary states, then North Carolina could further tighten.”

Of the candidates, Public Policy Polling reports Trump has the most committed supporters — with 68 percent claiming they will definitely vote for him in the North Carolina primary. No other candidate has more than half of their supporters who express the same commitment.

The survey also asked who North Carolina voters would support in a hypothetical three candidate field.

“In a three candidate field, Trump holds on to a double-digit advantage as well, getting 37 percent to 26 percent each for Rubio and Cruz,” the polling company said in its survey results.

The race is tighter in potential one-on-one contests, where Trump only leads Cruz 43 to 42 and trails Rubio 49 to 43.

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