Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton moved closer toward securing their parties’ presidential nominations Tuesday, easily winning a series of crucial votes that further clarified the direction of what has been an unlikely primary election campaign.
By winning the delegate-rich states of Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, ex-Secretary of State Clinton was able to reverse the momentum of her opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who had come away with a surprise win in Michigan last week.
More importantly, it gives Clinton a commanding, and some say now almost insurmountable, lead in the count of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
“This inches Clinton even closer to being the certain Democratic nominee,” said Michael D. Martinez, a political science professor at the University of Florida. “Is it a knockout blow? Maybe not. But it’s probably an eight-count.”
At a victory speech from his luxurious south Florida resort, Trump appeared confident, but also stressed the need for unity in the badly fractured Republican Party.
“We have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together,” said Trump.
Trump, the billionaire businessman, won big in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois, further cementing his status as the Republican front-runner.
However, Trump hit a roadblock in Ohio, where the state’s governor, John Kasich, secured a big win.
If Trump had won both Florida and Ohio, his path to the nomination would have likely been unstoppable, according to many analysts, because those states award all their delegates to the winner, rather than assign them proportionally.
Trump’s loss in the Buckeye State now makes it possible that Trump will not win the nomination outright, forcing a dramatic showdown at the Republican convention in July, said Paul Beck, professor emeritus at Ohio State University.
“If things play out as one might expect, it probably means [Trump is] not going to have a majority of delegates coming into that Cleveland convention in July. And given that, it could be quite a fight in that convention,” Beck said in an interview with VOA.
Party is split
The Grand Old Party, or GOP, is split between those who support the New York billionaire and those who are working to stop him at any cost.
One of Trump’s fiercest critics is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who on Tuesday dropped out of the GOP race following a disappointing performance in his home state.
In a concession speech in Miami, Rubio tried to appear upbeat, even while conceding that “it is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever.”
Rubio, who was once seen as a favorite of the Republican establishment, also appealed to the Republican Party to not give in to feelings of fear.
“America needs a vibrant conservative movement, but one that’s built on principles and on ideas, not on fear, not on anger, not on preying on people’s frustrations,” he said.
Down to three
Kasich, who along with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, is now one of only three candidates left in the GOP race, also used his speech to focus on the need for civility.
“I want you to know that it’s my intention to make you proud,” Kasich told a crowd of supporters in Ohio. “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”
Cruz tried to portray the Republican race as a two-man battle, saying no candidate except himself and Trump “has any mathematical possibility whatsoever” of winning the nomination.
“Only one campaign has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over again. Not once, not twice, not three times, but nine times all across the country from Alaska to Maine,” Cruz said.
But there was little doubt that the two big winners Tuesday were the two front-runners, Trump and Clinton, who analysts say now appear more likely than ever to face each other in the general election in November.
At a victory speech in West Palm Beach, Florida, Clinton expressed confidence she was “moving closer” toward becoming the Democratic nominee.
“Tonight it’s clearer than ever that this may be one of the most consequential campaigns of our lifetimes,” Clinton said.
“Our commander in chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it,” she added, in an implicit criticism of Trump.
Sanders, meanwhile, also took aim at Trump.
“The reason that Donald Trump will never be elected president is the American people will not accept insults to Mexicans, to Muslims, or women,” Sanders said.
But voters across the U.S. continue to show that Trump is quite popular.
Nowhere was that more evident Tuesday than in Florida, where the ex-reality television star won by a stunning 19 percent margin.
“I’d say [Trump] is the strongest candidate I’ve felt this passionate about in a long time,” said David Small from Victoria Park, Florida, who was holding a Trump “Make America Great Again” sign outside a polling center.
‘The right time’
“I just feel like he’s come at the right time. And he’s somebody we can believe in. He’s somebody who’s going to bring jobs back, and he’ll build a wall,” Small said, referring to a wall Trump promises on the U.S.- Mexico border.
Other Florida voters, including Irene Check from Fort Lauderdale, were not so enamored of the Republican front-runner.
“I don’t like Donald Trump, because he’s a narcissist and a racist and he brings out the worst in Americans,” Check said.