By Niall Stanage - 03/16/16 01:49 AM EDT
Tuesday brought another round of crucial presidential primaries, as voters from both parties in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina went to the polls.
For Republicans, Florida and Ohio were particularly important, since they award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. But the day was a vital one for candidates in both parties.
Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump gives Lester Holt a C grade for debate Congress departs for recess until after Election Day House approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown MORE (D)
The biggest winner of the night, Clinton won at least four of five states and might yet sweep all of Tuesday’s contests.
Clinton romped home in Florida and North Carolina by commanding margins, beating rival candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Finance: Congress poised to avoid shutdown | Yellen defends Fed from Trump | Why Obama needs PhRMA on trade Trump mocks Clinton for stumbling while sick with pneumonia Brent Budowsky: Sanders and Warren shine MORE by around two-to-one in the Sunshine State.
Clinton was also quickly declared the winner in Ohio, where the polls had been less emphatically in her favor. At around 12:30 a.m. EDT, she was projected by several news organizations to add Illinois to her list of wins, and about an hour later she had moved into a sliver of a lead in Missouri.
At least four wins out of five — and the extent of her victory in Florida, in particular — ensure Clinton will expand her already significant delegate lead over Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont.
Clinton had been more than 200 pledged delegates ahead when voting began on Tuesday. That margin is set to rise to about 320, according to a New York Times estimate. Clinton holds an even bigger advantage among the party’s superdelegates.
The wins also break any sense of momentum for Sanders after he upset Clinton in Michigan a week ago.
“We are moving closer to securing the Democratic nomination,” Clinton told supporters in her primary night speech. It was a plain statement of fact.
Businessman Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump gives Lester Holt a C grade for debate Trump camp talking points: Mention Monica Lewinsky Trump floats theory that Google suppresses negative news on Clinton MORE (R)
Trump won at least three of the five states on offer, including the biggest prize of all — Florida and its winner-take-all haul of 99 delegates.
By 1:30 a.m. EDT, Trump was still locked in a squeaker of a race in Missouri with Texas Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzHouse approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Could Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? MORE. His only sizable loss came in Ohio, where he was thwarted by the state’s governor, John Kasich.
Even the Ohio defeat came with a significant silver lining for Trump. If Kasich had lost, he would almost certainly have exited the race. Now he will stay in, which postpones the day when Cruz can get Trump into a head-to-head battle. A three-horse race should make it easier for Trump to roll up more victories, even if he still ends up short of an overall majority of GOP delegates.
Trump is now well over 200 delegates clear of Cruz. He is also more than halfway toward the 1,237 delegates that would give him the nomination outright.
His strong performance on Tuesday came in the face of a barrage of negative advertising and amid concerns over rising tensions — and occasional scuffles — at Trump rallies.
Trump’s critics within the GOP continue to hold out hope that he can be stopped at the Republican National Convention in July. But that scenario requires a belief that it is possible to take the nomination away from a man who is clearly the favorite of a plurality of Republicans voters.
“We have to bring our party together,” Trump insisted during his victory speech in Florida.
Will more GOP office-holders now coalesce behind him?
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R)
Kasich did what he had to do. His victory in his home state of Ohio was comfortable in the end: He bested Trump by around 10 points.
The importance of Kasich’s win shouldn’t be overstated. He has won no other state so far, and it is not immediately clear where he can hope to do so again. Even his 66-delegate haul from Ohio won’t be enough to overtake the now-defunct campaign of Florida Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioLanny Davis: Clinton a clear winner, with or without sound Could Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Koch-linked veterans group launches ads in Senate battlegrounds MORE for third place.
Kasich could, theoretically, accumulate delegates over the rest of the process, deny Trump an outright majority and make his case before the convention. But the idea that Nominee Kasich emerges from that scenario stretches credulity to breaking point.
None of that, however, changes the fact that Kasich accomplished his goal on Tuesday.
He also used his victory speech to highlight his differences with Trump.
“It’s about pulling us together, not pulling us apart,” Kasich said. “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
It’s all over for Rubio after he was humiliated in his home state by Trump.
Trump beat Rubio by almost 20 points in Florida. The polls had predicted a drubbing on that scale, leaving Rubio and his aides banking on a miracle that never came.
It’s a dispiriting outcome for the candidate who was praised inside the Beltway as the GOP’s strongest candidate in a general election but who never picked up traction with Republican voters.
Rubio won just three contests over the course of his campaign. His biggest success was vanquishing his fellow Floridian and mentor, Jeb Bush. His campaign’s most memorable moment was a disastrous one: a debate malfunction while under fire from Chris Christie that doomed him to fifth place in the New Hampshire primary.
Rubio took several verbal shots at Trump as he dropped out of the race. But his most revealing remark was less aggressive and more wistful:
“America’s in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami, and we should have seen this coming,” he said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sanders supporters had picked up a new scent of optimism a week ago, when he won the Michigan primary in the face of polls that had predicted a comfortable Clinton victory.
But those hopes took a serious battering on Tuesday, as he lost at least four of the five states up for grabs. He was defeated handily by Clinton in Ohio, a state with demographic similarities to Michigan.
Sanders is now trailing badly in delegates. He has had any sense of momentum stopped stone-cold. And the theory that his skepticism about free trade deals would be a silver bullet in the industrial Midwest has been disproved.
The Vermont senator may well decide that continuing his campaign will keep his ideals and causes at the forefront of debate within the Democratic Party. But the halcyon days when he rolled over Clinton in the New Hampshire primary are a fading memory.
He is no longer a real threat to her march to the nomination.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Cruz did not suffer anything like as bad a night as Rubio or Sanders. He may yet emerge with a win from one state, Missouri.
But it was a tough night for the Texas senator all the same. He came in third in Florida and Ohio and, more to the point, won few delegates. Meanwhile, he will have been irked by Kasich’s Ohio win, which ensures a three-man race for some time to come.
The map ahead is also challenging for Cruz. His Southern heartland has already voted, whereas more difficult territory in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions looms.
Cruz is still Trump’s biggest threat, but the businessman had a much, much better night on Tuesday.