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u.s. election 2016

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question from one of his campaign supporters during a campaign rally at the Savannah Center March 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio.John Sommers II/Getty Images

David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of U.S. politics.

Two last stands in the Republican Party. A challenger who won't quit the Democratic race. Rumours of deals and talk of deadlocks in the GOP. The whiff of violence on the campaign trail. Who says American politics is a dull affair?

The greatest reality show on the face of the Earth continues tomorrow with vital contests in the home states of two Republicans who, depending on which polls you read, either are fading (Senator Marco Rubio of Florida) or surging (Governor John Kasich of Ohio) and in three states that Democrats know are vital for any reasonable chance of keeping the White House in 2017 (Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri – the former two essential elements of the original Barack Obama winning formula and the latter won by Senator John McCain, the Republicans' 2008 nominee, by less than half a percentage point).

As the battles for the 2016 nominations reach Tuesday's showdowns, the theme of the moment has turned from immigration to intrigue.

Intrigue over whether Mr. Rubio will withdraw on the eve of his home-state primary, where the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll gives Donald Trump a two-to-one advantage over the Florida lawmaker. The Rubio camp vigorously denied the rumours Sunday, but not so convincingly that they have disappeared.

Intrigue over the prospects of success of the gambit, proffered by the Rubio camp, to have his supporters vote for Mr. Kasich in Ohio in exchange for the Ohio governor's supporters siding with Mr. Rubio in Florida. This manoeuvre – Mr. Rubio as a kind of Rube Goldberg of the political world – was one of multiple complicated schemes cooked up over the weekend to deny Mr. Trump the 99 delegates at stake in Florida and the 66 in Ohio. In all, Mr. Trump has 460 delegates, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has 370, Mr. Rubio has 163 and Mr. Kasich trails with 63.

Intrigue over the origin and motives of the protesters who are showing up in increasing numbers and increasing frequency at Trump events. Saturday night, in Kansas City, Miss., Mr. Trump ascribed the protesters to the campaign of Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described "democratic socialist" whom Mr. Trump referred to as "our Communist friend." Mr. Trump bellowed to security guards to "get them out," describing the protesters as "bad, bad people" and dismissing the Vermont lawmaker as "a lousy senator."

Intrigue over the staying power of Mr. Sanders, who has much more ground to make up against former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in delegates than Mr. Cruz has against Mr. Trump. Even so, Mr. Sanders is persistent and, if the voters of Michigan are an indication, persuasive, particularly among young people. Mr. Sanders captured four-fifths of the vote of those under 29 and more than half the vote of those between 30 and 44 in the Wolverine state.

Intrigue over the origin of the anger that seems to be fuelling the American race. Just before departing Ottawa last week for his Washington meetings and state dinner, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seized on the issue. "If I were an American," he said, "I'd be asking questions right now about why is it that so many people are angry at your politics." That anger has been the oxygen of the Trump and Sanders campaigns, and the question Tuesday, in states such as Illinois and Ohio, commonly referred to as America's Rust Belt, is whether Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump will prevail there.

Intrigue over whether Mr. Trump means it when he says he will try to project a more "presidential" mien in the days and weeks ahead. In the interregnum between Michigan and this week's contests, Mr. Trump has been, alternatively, presidential (his restraint in the debate at the University of Florida on Thursday) and provocative (his taunts at the Kansas City rally on Saturday). He has said he wants to lower the volume, but a voluble candidate like Mr. Trump seems to feed more on passion than on introspection.

Intrigue over whether Mr. Trump can be stopped. That is the fondest hope of the fading Republican Establishment, and even of the Republican rebels, such as Mr. Cruz and to a lesser extent Mr. Rubio, whose own political futures depend on thwarting his drive to the Republican presidential nomination at the Cleveland convention in July. Most mathematical models suggest that the continued presence of three challengers to the Manhattan billionaire all but assures his nomination. Human nature, moreover, dictates that no individual challenger has an incentive to leave the race to help consolidate the opposition against the clear front-runner.

And, finally, intrigue over whether opportunism might change the nature of the opposition to Mr. Trump. If Mr. Rubio does not prevail in Florida, he almost certainly will leave the race. That's the "last stand" aspect of his campaign – and of Mr. Kasich's, in Ohio. Mr. Trump almost certainly can only be beaten if the field narrows. By Wednesday morning, that might be less a matter of intrigue than reality.

No one knows for sure how any of these intrigues will work out, though one thing does seem certain: "To the great credit of their people, Canadians from British Columbia to New Brunswick have so far rejected the idea of building a wall to keep out your southern neighbours," Mr. Obama said at Thursday evening's state dinner for Mr. Trudeau. "We appreciate that." A grateful, and increasingly weary, nation to the south sends its thanks – and girds for Tuesday night's primary results.