Washington: Donald Trump scored a decisive win Tuesday in Florida, but lost Ohio to the state's governor, John Kasich, as the billionaire's rivals desperately tried to stop his march to the party's presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton padded her lead over Bernie Sanders with victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.
Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who staked his once-promising campaign on winning in his home state, dropped out of the presidential race shortly after the polls closed. That leaves Kasich as the last true establishment candidate running against Trump and arch-conservative Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Trump looked for wins in Tuesday's five primaries to help build an insurmountable lead in the all-important delegate count. Florida was the biggest prize — the first winner-take-all contest decided — with all 99 delegates going to Trump.
The brash and controversial reality TV star has upended the political establishment by winning most of the state-by-state competitions for delegates who will choose the Republican nominee. He has seized on Americans' anger with Washington politicians, winning over voters with his simply worded promise to make America great again.
Kasich's win, capturing all of Ohio's 66 delegates, was crucial to slowing Trump's momentum. While Trump has amassed the most delegates going into Tuesday, he's won fewer than 50 percent of them. If that pace continues, he would fall short of the majority that he would need to assure him the nomination at the party's convention in July. The result could be a contested convention, creating an unpredictable outcome.
This is the first victory for Kasich, whose upbeat message and long record of government service has had little resonance as his rivals seized on voter's anxiety and disdain for Washington. While he could benefit from Rubio dropping out, he is unlikely to overtake Trump, though he could help keep Trump below the 50 percent threshold.
With Trump's win in Florida, he now has 568 delegates. Cruz has 370, Kasich 129 and Rubio left the race with 163. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
In the Democratic race, Clinton's victories in Florida and North Carolina were expected, but Sanders, a Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist, had hopes of taking the industrial state of Ohio. He has criticised the former secretary of state for her past support for trade deals. Sanders is unlikely to overtake Clinton in the delegate count, but his victory last week in Michigan underscored the unease that many party voters have about her candidacy.
At her victory rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, Clinton declared her eagerness to move on to a possible general election showdown with Trump.
"We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November," she told cheering supporters.
Trump has alienated many Republicans and Democrats alike with his disparaging remarks about Mexicans, Muslims and women among others. He entered Tuesday's primaries embroiled in one of the biggest controversies of his contentious campaign. He 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 that he ended up cancelling.
"I don't think I should be toning it down because I've had the biggest rallies of anybody probably ever," Trump said Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America. ''We have had very, very little difficulty."
Rubio and Kasich have suggested they might not be able to support Trump if he's the nominee, an extraordinary stance for intraparty rivals. All of the candidates had earlier pledged to support the nominee.
Rubio implicitly rebuked Trump throughout a speech in Miami announcing he was dropping out of the race, imploring Americans to "not give in to the fear, do not give in to the frustration."
Kasich vowed never to take the "low road" to the "highest office in the land" in his victory speech to cheering supporters in Berea, Ohio.
Alluding to Trump, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was dismayed by "vulgar and divisive rhetoric" directed at women and minorities as well as the violence that has occurred in the campaign.
Trump has been the target of millions of dollars in negative advertising in recent weeks, including one ad campaign that highlights his statements that appear to encourage violence — among them, "I'd like to punch him in the face."
Clinton earned at least 175 delegates Tuesday. Sanders will win at least 73. Clinton now has a total of at least 1,410, while Sanders has at least 653. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.