COLUMBUS – With Tuesday's primaries around the corner, Democratic presidential candidates made one last effort on Sunday to appeal to Ohio voters.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke in multiple events in Columbus. Both candidates appeared in a CNN town hall event and the Ohio Democratic Party Legacy Dinner, which were held two days before the March 15 primaries.
Sanders also hosted a rally at the Schottenstein Center before the dinner.
Ohio is important to presidential candidates because it is “a mini version of America,” said David Niven, an assistant professor who teaches American politics at University of Cincinnati.
“If you can appeal to Ohioans, you’re not just winning a state, you’re showing that your message appeals to America,” Niven said.
Clinton is leading the Democratic primary field in Ohio with 52 percent of likely Democratic primary voters while Sanders is in second place with 43 percent, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll.
Despite Clinton’s lead in the polls, the Ohio primary will be a tight race for the two candidates, said Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.
“That means they’re going to redouble their efforts in Ohio,” Beck said.
Beck added that Ohio has historically supported Clinton’s campaign, but Sander’s victory in Michigan last Tuesday proves that he might have a chance of winning the Buckeye state.
About 5 percent of voters remain undecided and 17 percent of voters who have decided on a candidate said they might change their choice, according to the poll.
The four other states holding primaries on March 15 are Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
Speaking to about 3,000 people at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Sanders touched on issues related to the minimum wage, health care, criminal justice system and voting rights.
“This campaign is creating a political revolution,” Sanders said.
Clinton, on the other hand, spoke about job creation, education, trade deals and the Supreme Court.
“We cannot let America have a Republican Congress, a Republican president and a Republican Supreme Court,” Clinton said.
The former first lady is currently leading Sanders 62 - 32 percent in Florida, according to the Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a news release that it is difficult “to see a path to victory for Sanders in the Sunshine State.”
"It is certainly a long shot, but Ohio is potentially a different situation for Sen. Sanders,” Brown said. “With a 52 - 43 percent lead, Secretary Clinton's advantage is impressive, but nowhere as large as the 30 percentage point lead she has in Florida.”
Clinton currently has a clear superdelegate lead against Sanders, but Beck said superdelegates change positions if another candidate gains more popularity with voters.
“They are free to do that,” Beck said. “As Obama did better and better (in the 2008 contests), many of the superdelegates actually moved away from Clinton.”
However, Beck said Sanders might not experience that same support in this upcoming election.
Mary Duffey, a Clinton supporter from Columbus, said she was impressed with how both Democratic candidates spoke about the issues instead of trading insults.
"If it came down to it, I would support either of these over the Republican field," Duffey said.
Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JoshuaLim93.