Clinton closes in on Dem crown

Getty Images

Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonEmbattled pharma CEO endorses Trump RNC launches ad against 'Crooked Hillary' Sanders wins over W.Va. superdelegate MORE took a huge step toward clinching the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday with big victories in the swing states of Florida and Ohio.

Tuesday’s results also made a November showdown between Clinton and Republican front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump encourages Rubio to reclaim Senate seat Embattled pharma CEO endorses Trump RNC launches ad against 'Crooked Hillary' MORE more likely after the businessman won Florida’s winner-take-all GOP primary.

ADVERTISEMENT
The blemish for Trump was a loss in Ohio, where the state’s governor, John Kasich, won his first victory of the 2016 campaign — a win he desperately needed.

Still, Trump took home all 99 of Florida’s GOP delegates and in the process ended rival Marco RubioMarco RubioTrump encourages Rubio to reclaim Senate seat The Trail 2016: Interleague play Rubio: I'd speak on Trump's behalf at convention MORE’s presidential campaign in his home state. The senator suspended his campaign shortly after 8 p.m., telling his supporters that it “is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever.”

But the biggest victories went to Clinton. The former secretary of State’s defeat of Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders wins over W.Va. superdelegate Boxer: Sanders appeals to young voters with grandpa effect The Trail 2016: Interleague play MORE in Florida was widely expected, but her prize in Ohio was far from a sure thing.

“This was another super Tuesday for our campaign,” Clinton told cheering supporters in Florida. “Thank you, Florida, thank you, North Carolina and thank you, Ohio.”

Clinton then pivoted to Trump, criticizing his call for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, his proposed ban on Muslims entering the country and his call for the use of torture against suspected terrorists.

“When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, when he embraces torture, that doesn’t make him strong, it makes him wrong,” Clinton said.

“We should be bringing down barriers, not building walls,” she added. “You know, to be great, we can’t be small. We can’t lose what made America great in the first place.”

In Florida, Clinton won 65 percent of the vote compared to 33 percent for Sanders, with 99 percent of precincts counted.

The Sunshine State was the biggest prize of the night for Democrats, awarding 214 pledged delegates, and Clinton’s win means she will pad her already substantial delegate lead.

The Sanders campaign upset Clinton last week in Michigan and had hoped to steal another state away in Ohio with its anti-trade, anti-Wall Street message.

The results in the two swing states will do much to calm Democrats who have been unnerved by Sanders’s successes against Clinton, which had given ammunition to critics calling her a flawed candidate.

Clinton on Tuesday also added a victory in North Carolina, continuing a sweep of the South built on her popularity among African-American voters. She won in Illinois as well.

The wins move Clinton closer to winning the 2,383 delegates she needs to win the Democratic race, and could put her all but out of reach for the Vermont senator.

By late Tuesday evening, Clinton had 1,410 delegates, according to The Associated Press, which includes unbound superdelegates, and she was likely to add to that tally by the end of the night by winning delegates in the Missouri primary, which remained too close to call.

Things weren’t quite as clear-cut on the Republican side, though Trump underlined his status as the party’s front-runner with a significant win in Florida and victories in North Carolina and Illinois.

Trump won about 46 percent of the Florida vote, compared to 27 percent for Rubio. Ted CruzTed CruzFiorina returns to attack Clinton's 'lust for power' Trump clinches GOP nomination Eleven states sue Obama over transgender bathroom directive MORE had 17 percent.

"We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party the biggest political story anywhere in the world," the celebrity billionaire said in Palm Beach, Fla.
 
"Millions of people are coming out to vote. ... I think we're going to have a great victory."

The Florida result was a stunning defeat for Rubio that will raise questions about his political future. The senator decided against running for reelection to pursue his White House bid and will now return to the upper chamber as a lame duck.

In his speech to supporters but without naming Trump, Rubio decried the nasty rhetoric and personal insults that have dominated Republicans’ 2016 campaign.

“While this may not have been the year for a hopeful or optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America,” he said. “I ask the American people, do not give in to fear. Do not give into frustration.”

Missouri also hosted a GOP contest Tuesday but remained too close to call definitively with nearly 100 percent of the vote in on both sides. Both Clinton and Trump were ahead by less than 1 percentage point. Sanders and Cruz, who was right behind Trump, could both call for recounts. 

Kasich’s win in Ohio was good news for those who want to prevent Trump from clinching the nomination before the party’s national convention this July in Cleveland.

Trump would need to win about 60 percent of the remaining delegates to get to the 1,237 he needs.

Cruz has been calling for the other candidates to drop out of the race to give him an opportunity to go after Trump one-on-one. 

On Tuesday, it appeared he would have to wait longer for such a scenario after Kasich’s win in Ohio.

Updated at 1:44 a.m.