HAGERSTOWN — — The leading Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns put a heavy emphasis on Maryland on Sunday as both sought to reinforce their frontrunner status here and across the nation ahead of Tuesday's primary elections.
Donald Trump, who polls show has a significant advantage in the state, rallied thousands of supporters in a massive aircraft hangar in Hagerstown. Former President Bill Clinton took to the pulpit at African-American churches in Baltimore on behalf of his wife.
The five states voting Tuesday — Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware — have the potential to shape an election that has remained competitive longer than most anticipated. If Trump and Clinton sweep on Tuesday, as polls predict, it will advance the sense of inevitability both long have sought to project.
"We're going to beat Hillary Clinton," Trump told an audience that roared in response, just as the crowd at a similar rally on the Eastern Shore did last week. "She's easier to beat than many of the people that we have systematically beat."
Bill Clinton attended services at two churches on Baltimore's west side — Bethel AME in Upton, and Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ in Hollins Market — before visiting Southern Baptist Church in Broadway East. He noted the one-year anniversary of the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old Baltimore man who died after suffering injuries in police custody.
"Here in Baltimore as you honor the life and mourn the loss of a young man who should not have died, you know that in the end, we can only make it if we have more neighbors," he said. "We can only make it if we have more trust."
It was the former president's second visit to the state in recent weeks. Hillary Clinton visited on April 10. Daughter Chelsea Clinton came last week.
In advertisements, the Clinton and Trump campaigns have begun to target each other broadly with an eye to November's general election. Behind them, their rivals are still taking aim at the front-runners, in an effort to gain ground before the primary season spirals further out of their control.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is planning to make his third visit to Maryland on Monday, with a town hall in Rockville. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has appeared in the state twice, but now appears to have shifted much his focus to Indiana, which will vote May 3. The two campaigns said Sunday they are collaborating to deprive Trump the delegates he needs.
Polls suggest that voters in Pennsylvania, the biggest prize of Tuesday primaries, and Maryland, which offers the second-largest number of delegates, are lining up behind Clinton and Trump, much as voters did in New York last week — in big numbers.
But Cruz, Kasich and Democrat Bernie Sanders, who campaigned in Baltimore on Saturday, have given no sign that they intend to leave the race before the last primaries in June.
Losses on Tuesday would be another blow to the underdogs, both in momentum and in the battle for delegates.
Trump campaigned Sunday within a mile of the Pennsylvania border, allowing him to reach voters in both states. Rural Western Maryland is a part of the state in which the New York businessman is expected to do well.
About 5,000 people packed into the hangar to see him, according to the state fire marshal.
His visit came days after an anti-Trump super PAC called Our Principles began running a television ad in the Baltimore media market reciting some of Trump's quotes about women.
Though his national campaign is now focusing more on the general election, Trump on the ground is still heavily concerned with the primary.
He barely mentioned Clinton during the first 20 minutes of his address here. He chose instead to focus his ire at Cruz and establishment Republicans he says are hoping to block him at the party's convention.
He launched into a lengthy discussion about delegates — he needs 1,237 to clinch the nomination — as well as the arcane balloting process that could unfold in Cleveland if he fails to reach that number by June.
"I think we get the 1,237 — I'm pretty sure," Trump said. "I'm only interested in the first ballot. I'm really interested in winning it early — and that's it."
Bill Clinton took a dig at Trump, without using his name, and others who advocate for "walls, walls, walls, walls." Speaking at a Sunday service in the city, he said that Jesus commands Christians to love their neighbors, not exile them.
Clinton emphasized spiritual themes, to the applause of the church crowds. He used the parable of the Good Samaritan to make his case for his wife's candidacy.
As president, he said, Hillary Clinton would tear down racial and economic barriers, and continue President Barack Obama's efforts to expand health care to all Americans.
Clinton spoke of ills plaguing the nation's cities, including drugs and violence. He thanked a group of anti-violence advocates, mothers whose children have been killed, for attending one of the services.
"[They] know what this week means to Baltimore, a very important one-year anniversary," Clinton said. "I want to say, first and foremost, I honor these mothers because they have decided to redeem their loss and give more meaning to their children's lives by being a force to protect other children from the same fate."
The Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this story.