Businessman Donald Trump has won the Republican primary in Florida, a stunning defeat for Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) on Rubio’s home turf.
In the Democratic race, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has been projected as the winner of her party’s Florida primary.
The Associated Press projected Trump as the winner just after the last polls in Florida’s western panhandle closed at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Under the rules of Florida’s “winner-take-all” GOP primary, Trump will get all 99 of the state’s delegates to the GOP convention — his biggest victory of the campaign so far.
For Rubio — the first-term senator who had become the vessel for the GOP establishment’s hopes to stop Trump — the loss is devastating. It effectively ends his hopes of gaining a majority of delegates before the GOP convention. It may end his candidacy outright.
Among the Democrats, Clinton’s win in Florida is not as decisive: the state’s Democratic delegates will be split between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), not awarded to the winner en masse. Still, even before a vote was cast on Tuesday, Clinton already held a commanding lead over Sanders in the delegate race. So far, Tuesday’s results have extended it.
Polls have now closed in all but one of the five states that held presidential primaries on Tuesday. In Ohio, a judge has ordered that polls remain open in four counties until 8:30 p.m., apparently because of heavy traffic in the area.
In North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, both the Democratic and Republican primary races remain too close to call.
In preelection polling, Clinton was leading the Democratic race in both North Carolina and Ohio, though her lead over Sanders had narrowed in Ohio.
In the Republican races, Trump was leading in preelection polls in North Carolina, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich held a thin lead over Trump in his home state’s winner-take-all primary.
In the first returns from states that closed earlier in the evening, Kasich was leading Trump in Ohio, and Trump was leading Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) in North Carolina. On the Democratic side, Clinton was ahead in Ohio and North Carolina. Her lead in Florida exceeded 30 points.
Rubio, who had long seen Florida as the linchpin of his presidential campaign, showed little signs of optimism. News reports indicated that Rubio had rented a Florida basketball arena for his caucus-night party, but had chosen to hold the event in a far smaller space: the arena’s concourse hallway.
Trump faces close races in Ohio — another winner-take-all state where he’s running against a sitting governor, Kasich — and in Missouri, where he’s facing a challenge from Cruz.
Trump holds a relatively narrow lead in the overall race for GOP delegates, and needs a very good showing across all five states in order to take a commanding position. If he falters on Tuesday night, that would raise the odds of a “contested” GOP convention, where Trump’s rivals in the GOP could try to hand the nomination to someone less bombastic, antagonistic and popular.
Clinton’s lead in delegates is far more commanding, and the Democrats’ system of apportioning delegates makes it very difficult for Sanders to catch up. But Clinton’s goal is now to move beyond the primary race, and gather her party behind her for the general election.
If she loses several states to Sanders on Tuesday, that could mean a prolonged race — in which Sanders will likely continue his harsh attacks on Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street and support for free-trade measures.
In early exit polls reported by ABC News, Democratic primary voters had a split view of the two candidates: they tended to see Clinton as far more electable — but see Sanders as more honest. By a roughly 2 to 1 margin, Democratic voters said Clinton had a better chance than Sanders of beating Trump in a general election matchup across Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Illinois and Missouri.
But roughly 8 in 10 said Sanders was honest and trustworthy, compared with about 6 in 10 for Clinton. Sanders has dominated among honesty-focused voters all year while Clinton has won those focused on electability by a wide margin.
According to those same early exit polls reported, large majorities of Democrats in Tuesday’s primaries would be satisfied with either Clinton or Sanders winning the Democratic nomination. At least 7 in 10 voters across primary voting states would be satisfied with each candidate becoming the party’s nominee, with slightly more satisfied with Clinton than Sanders.
Among Republican primary voters, by contrast, preliminary exit polls showed unusual hesitancy about the prospect of Trump as the nominee. Across all of Tuesday’s states, a little more than half of GOP voters said they would be satisfied with Trump as the Republican nominee against Clinton, according to early exit polls from ABC News.
Just under 4 in 10 Republican voters across Tuesday’s contests said they would consider a third-party candidate if Trump and Clinton were the nominees. Looking specifically at non-Trump supporters, ABC reported 6 in 10 would consider backing a third-party candidate if Trump became the party’s nominee.
Campaigning at a North Carolina polling place at midday, Clinton urged her supporters to come out to vote, despite polls showing her leading in a number of races. Sanders, meanwhile, told reporters at a breakfast campaign event that he believes the campaign map tilts in his favor after Tuesday.
On the GOP side, Cruz hoped to pick up delegates in contests in Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri and retain his position as Trump’s chief Republican rival.
Trump scored an early win Tuesday morning, swamping the tiny vote in a Republican caucus held in the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a tweet from the executive director of the GOP in the U.S. territory.
The win earned Trump nine delegates, only a tiny sliver of the 367 delegates at stake Tuesday. But should the chaotic Republican race lead to a contested national convention in July, the win could prove important because of arcane party rules that require candidates to have won a majority of delegates in at least eight states or territories. The win was Trump’s eighth of the nominating season.
© 2016 The Washington Post