CLEVELAND (AP) — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton triumphed Tuesday in Florida’s presidential primaries, capturing the biggest prize on a crucial day of voting and showcasing the strength of the two front-runners. Trump’s victory was a devastating blow to Marco Rubio, ending the Florida senator’s once-promising White House campaign.
Rubio implicitly rebuked Trump throughout a speech announcing he was dropping out of the race, imploring Americans to “not give in to the fear, do not give in to the frustration.”
Rubio, a favorite of Republican leaders, is the latest candidate to fall victim to an unpredictable election cycle and Trump’s unmatched ability to tap into the public’s anger with Washington and frustration with sweeping economic changes.
Clinton also picked up a win in North Carolina, while Trump was locked in a close contest there with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Votes were also being counted in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, but all were too close to call as polls closed.
Republicans were keeping an especially close eye on Ohio, where Trump was locked in a close race with the state’s governor, John Kasich. A victory for the billionaire businessman in Ohio could put him on the clear pathway to the GOP nomination, with few opportunities for his remaining rivals to stop his stunning rise.
In Florida’s winner-take-all Republican primary, he won 99 delegates.
Clinton, too, was looking to pull away from rival Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s contests. While Clinton holds a comfortable lead in the delegate count, Sanders was eager for a burst of momentum from Ohio that could build on his surprising win last week in Michigan.
Reprising a theme that helped propel that victory, Sanders has pounded Clinton’s past support for trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he says has been a job-killer in the U.S.
“When it came down whether you stand with corporate America, the people who wrote these agreements, or whether you stand with the working people of this country, I proudly stood with the workers,” Sanders said during a campaign stop Tuesday in Ohio. “Secretary Clinton stood with the big money interests.”
According to early exit polls, Democratic voters were more likely to describe Sanders as honest, but more likely to describe Clinton’s policies as realistic.
Campaigning Tuesday in North Carolina, Clinton said “the numbers are adding up in my favor.” She signaled an eagerness to move on to a possible general election showdown with Trump, saying he’s laid out a “really dangerous path” for the country.
Trump entered Tuesday’s primaries embroiled in one of the biggest controversies of his contentious campaign. The GOP front-runner has encouraged supporters to confront protesters at his events and is now facing accusations of encouraging violence after skirmishes at a rally last week in Chicago.
The vibe at Trump’s events has deepened the concern over his candidacy in some Republican circles. Rubio and Kasich have suggested they might not be able to support Trump if he’s the nominee, an extraordinary stance for intraparty rivals.
Trump’s closest competition so far has come from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is keeping close to the businessman in the delegate count. Cruz has been urging Rubio and Kasich to step aside and let him get into a one-on-one race.
Even before Tuesday’s results, however, a group of conservatives was planning a meeting to discuss options for stopping Trump, including at a contested convention or by rallying around a third-party candidate. While such no candidate has been identified, the participants in Tuesday’s meeting planned to discuss ballot access issues, including using an existing third party as a vehicle or securing signatures for an independent bid.
A person familiar with the planning confirmed the meeting on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the gathering by name.
If Trump sweeps Tuesday’s contests, he’ll cross an important threshold with more than 50 percent of the delegates awarded so far.
Despite concerns from party leaders, Republican voters continue to back Trump’s most controversial proposals, with two-thirds of those who participated in GOP primaries Tuesday saying they support temporarily banning Muslims from the United States.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
Trump’s Florida victory brought his delegate total to 568. Cruz has 370 delegates, Rubio has 163 and Kasich has 63. It takes 1,237 to win the GOP nomination.
Clinton has at least 1,353 delegates, including the superdelegates who are elected officials and party leaders free to support the candidate of their choice. Sanders has at least 625. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.