Washington (AP) — The front-runners are even farther out front after presidential primary contests March 15 delivered Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton big wins and a hefty cache of delegates, bringing them closer to their party nominations.
Trump won Republican races in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina; Clinton took Democratic contests in Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. The largest prize of the night was Florida for Trump, who collected all 99 GOP delegates in that winner-take-all election and chased home-state Sen. Marco Rubio from the race.
The once-overflowing pack of GOP primary contenders is now down to three. John Kasich, another endangered rival, stayed alive by winning Ohio, where he’s governor, but he has no plausible path to the nomination in what’s left of the primary season. Only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz does, and that’s a distinct longshot. The prime suspense among Republicans now is whether the brutal fight will go all the way to an extraordinary contested convention in the summer.
On her side, Clinton built on her already significant delegate lead, even more lopsided when the party insiders known as superdelegates are added to the equation.
Both races in Missouri remained unsettled early Wednesday.
Florida was Rubio’s last chance to turn the race around, and his loss closed the book on a campaign that had held much promise but repeatedly underperformed. In withdrawing from the race, Rubio said the forces of disaffection that have propelled Trump are a “tsunami” and “we should have seen this coming.”
Republican voters were on board with Trump’s call for a temporary ban on non-U.S.-citizen Muslims coming into the country, according to early surveys of voters as they left polling stations. Two in three GOP voters in all five states supported that position. But majorities in all five said people in the U.S. illegally should be given a chance to stay — not all deported as Trump proposes.
Democratic voters in all five states see Clinton as the candidate with the better chance to beat Trump if he is the Republican nominee, the exit polling found.
— “I’m hoping Trump, with his big rubber lips, will say ‘Look, there’s a way around this.'” — Joe Herzog, a 76-year-old retired carpenter from Boonville, Missouri, who hopes Trump will keep the U.S. out of foreign entanglements. Herzog, a two-time voter for President Barack Obama, voted for Trump.
—”Seems the least evil, I think. Maybe.” John Flynn, a registered Republican and software developer in Raleigh, North Carolina, on why he voted for Ted Cruz.
—”It was very close between them. I just don’t think Bernie has the experience at that top level of government to have as much clout as Hillary. Plus his plan is still a little foggy. He has never really come out and, y’know, his numbers don’t seem to add up all the time.” — James Barber, 46, a car salesman from Boonville, Missouri, on why he backed Clinton.
—”I pray to God that she beats him because I can’t stand him. I will go back to Africa — and I’ve never been.” — Sharon Schaffer, 65, in South Side Chicago, voted for Clinton, hoping she’s the Democrat who can defeat Trump.
FLORIDA (99 GOP delegates, 214 Dem delegates)
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be Rubio and Jeb Bush at the top of the pack in a mighty struggle for their home state’s big delegate prize.
Instead both are gone, and the sun just seems to keep shining on Trump, who won all 99 delegates.
In the Democratic campaign, the stars always appeared aligned for Clinton, with Florida’s older population a counterweight to the youth vote that has propelled Sanders elsewhere. All 2016 Democratic races are proportional — as all Republican ones have been until now — so each candidate will come away with delegates based generally on how well they do.
OHIO (66 GOP delegates, 143 Dem delegates)
A governor winning his home state is ordinarily nothing to roil the waters, but what’s ordinary in 2016?
This is swing-state Ohio, after all, and a state with another big cache of delegates all going to the winner, Kasich.
Looking strong in Florida, Trump added late events in Ohio to try to fend off Kasich and avoid complications on his path to the nomination — namely, a contested convention. Kasich badly trails in the delegate race and his path to the nomination, absent a protracted fight into the convention, remains improbable if not impossible.
Clinton prevailed despite Sanders’ pointed message about the hazards of free trade, which she generally supported in the past.
NORTH CAROLINA (72 GOP delegates, 107 Dem delegates), ILLINOIS (69 GOP, 156 Dem), MISSOURI (52 GOP, 71 Dem)
The candidates divided up the delegates in each of these states. Trump and Clinton got the most in North Carolina and Illinois, but Missouri was too close to call.
Coming into Tuesday, Trump had been winning 43 percent of delegates, thus needing to up his game to clinch a majority before the convention.
Cruz had been winning 34 percent of delegates. His only path to primary-season victory is to have a strong Tuesday night, see the contest turn into a one-on-one against Trump and score commanding victories against him in a hurry.
The melee between Trump supporters and protesters at his aborted rally in Chicago on Friday night and trouble at some events after that have rung louder alarms among Republicans who already saw him as a divisive figure who could not win in November. Said Rubio on CNN, “I think that all the gates of civility have been blown apart.”
Do Trump-leaning voters care?
Time and again they have kept the faith through incendiary turns. Hundreds of thousands had already cast early votes, and the limited amount of opinion polling conducted post-Chicago did not point to a mass defection.