Chaotic campaigning as candidates head into Super Tuesday

Hillary Clinton poses for a selfie with attendees to her campaign rally at George Mason University in Virginia on Feb 29, 2016.
Hillary Clinton poses for a selfie with attendees to her campaign rally at George Mason University in Virginia on Feb 29, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters on Feb 29, 2016.
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters on Feb 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of Super Tuesday on Feb 29, 2016.
Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign rally on the eve of Super Tuesday on Feb 29, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Ted Cruz speaks at a rally at Galley's Dallas the day before Super Tuesday on February 29, 2016.
Ted Cruz speaks at a rally at Galley's Dallas the day before Super Tuesday on February 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

FAIRFAX, Virginia - Campaigning for Super Tuesday (March 1) came to a chaotic, often ill-tempered end  as candidates and volunteers  made final preparations for what is the single biggest day of voting in the American  election primary season.

Some 13 states will hold primaries and caucuses, with results expected to have a big impact on the direction of the presidential nomination for both Republican and Democratic parties.

As has become the norm in this election season, much of the drama on Monday (Feb 29) came from Republican front runner Donald Trump. Though various candidates had faced hecklers and protester at rallies, none had encountered the same amount of disruption as Mr Trump had in Radford, Virginia.

He had to interrupt his speech on three different occasions to ask security personnel to escort protesters out of the jam-packed university auditorium.

"Get them out please. Get them out, get them out,"  Mr Trump said from the podium during one interruption. "Right smack in the middle of my punchline."

In a sign of how tension has spiked as the stakes in the race increase, some Trump supporters yelled abuse at protesters that were being evicted.

A 15-year-old high school student who attended the rally told The Straits Times that she did not feel safe.

"It was crazy inside. I have to say that I didn't feel very safe inside the event. People were shouting profanities at others and I was nervous the entire time. I think I'm just lucky that I happened to sit in a more neutral row of people," saidMs Emilia Scarpa-Friedman.

She added that she participated in a silent protest that involved reading a book while Mr Trump was speaking.

Protesters for different causes appeared to have targeted the rally, though the loudest group was the one representing "Black Lives Matter" - a movement opposing police violence against the black community.

The group linked arms and chanted "Black Lives Matter" even as those around them responded with a chorus of "All Lives Matter".

As they were being escorted out, a Time magazine photographer was reportedly shoved to the ground by security personnel.

Four hours away in Fairfax, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was able to finish her speech in George Mason University uninterrupted but her rally saw its fair share of drama.

A handful of protesters turned up  as people queued to get into the venue. Mr Jason Dukakis, a 21-year-old  college student, held up a sign that read : "Unsecured emails sink corrupt females."

He said he would be voting for Mr Trump as the business man "was the best leader with the best solutions for the country's problems".

"He's the best Republican candidate. (Senator) Marco Rubio is damaged goods and (Senator) Ted Cruz is a liar," he added.

That the turnout at the two rallies was in the thousands despite them being held in the middle of a working day showed the significant interest in the current presidential race.

Both Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton currently lead the polls for the states that vote on Super Tuesday. A good performance by Mrs Clinton would reaffirm her position as the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party . She is riding high after a dominant victory over Senator Bernie Sanders in South Carolina.

 For Mr Trump, the results will be watched for whether the urgent effort by the Republican Party establishment to stop him is bearing fruit.

Nearly all observers expect him to do well, but are looking to see if the other candidates can chip away at the lead.

Mr Rubio and Mr Cruz spent Monday continuing their attacks on Mr Trump's changing views and shady business practices.They also attacked him for his failure to disavow the endorsement of a white supremacist group in one interview.

 Mr Cruz campaigned across his home state of Texas, knowing that a loss to Mr Trump there could spell the end of his campaign. 

Mr Rubio is targeting states where he hopes to be able to pick up some delegates. He made four stops in Virginia on Sunday, believing the state to be the best opportunity he has to put in a strong showing.

The senator has strong support from Republicans living in northern Virginia suburbs that are near Washington DC and he hopes it will be enough to overturn Mr Trump's edge in the more conservative southern part of the state.

At his field office in Leesburg, a dozen volunteers spent their dinner poring over voter lists, calling each one to encourage them to vote on Super Tuesday.

Said one volunteer, 36-year-old Nikhil Verma who works in sales: "I've been doing this for a few months and people I call now are certainly paying more attention than before. Hopefully, we will get a big surge."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg