WASHINGTON – Donald Trump won primaries in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Vermont on Tuesday as he looked to shut down the Republican presidential contest and turn to the general election fight against Democrats.
But Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won his home state, neighboring Oklahoma and Alaska. In Vermont, Ohio Gov. John Kasich ran a close second to Trump, with 32.7 percent of the vote for Trump and 30.4 percent for Kasich.
In his sole victory of the night and the campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio prevailed in Minnesota.
Hillary Clinton took full command of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination as she rolled to major victories over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Texas, Virginia and across the South and proved for the first time that she could build a national coalition of racially diverse voters that would be crucial in the November election.
Based on initial results from Democratic primaries and caucuses in 11 states, the former secretary of state was strongly positioned to contain Sanders to liberal strongholds such as his home state, Vermont, and, most critically, to hold down his vote totals in predominantly black and Hispanic areas of the South. In somewhat of a surprise, however, Sanders won the Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota contests.
But because the regions where Clinton won had the largest trove of delegates to help propel her to the Democratic nomination, Clinton was expected to build an even bigger lead over Sanders than then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama had over her at this point in the 2008 presidential race.
Trump’s rivals hope they can thwart the billionaire insurgent and keep the GOP race alive as it heads into a series of big-state contests starting next week in Michigan.
The cross-country Super Tuesday balloting, from Vermont to Alaska, marked the single biggest day of the 2016 primary season. At stake were 595 delegates in 11 states, or close to half the number needed to secure the GOP nomination at the party’s convention in July.
Returns showed a disappointing electoral map for Rubio, whose best showing was the Minnesota win and second place in Virginia. Speaking to supporters in Miami, the Florida senator pressed ahead with his case that Trump is a “con artist.”
“We are going to send a message that the party of Lincoln and Reagan and the presidency of the United States will never be held by a con artist,” Rubio said, predicting victory in the March 15 Florida primary.
Once more, signs of an angry electorate abounded.
In Georgia and Alabama, nearly 6 in 10 Republican voters said they felt betrayed by their own party leaders, according to exit poll interviews.
At least half the voters across the 11 states said they believed the next president should be from outside the political establishment, a dynamic that has boosted Trump throughout his improbable presidential run.
The sprawling competition also ushered in a rapid-fire, more expansive phase of the presidential race, with major contests scheduled in the next two weeks in big states including Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina.
With so much ground to cover and so little time, every candidate but Trump – with his command of a national audience – had to make tactical decisions.
Cruz focused mainly on carrying his home state to avoid a campaign-crippling loss in Texas. He finished with 43.7 percent in Texas, followed by 26.8 percent for Trump and Rubio a distant third with 17.7 percent. Cruz had hoped to grab a win in neighboring Arkansas but fell short: there, Trump won with 32.7 percent of the vote, with Cruz a close second at 30.5 percent and Rubio with 25 percent.
Rubio hopscotched among states, picking up Super Tuesday endorsements – from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison, former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty – as he sought to rally the party establishment behind him as the stop-Trump candidate.
Kasich, after briefly eyeing his prospects in Vermont, Massachusetts and other more moderate states, set his sights on hanging on until the March 15 primary in his home state.
The fifth candidate still running, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, was not a serious factor in any of the contests.
Trump, the overwhelming front-runner, campaigned as he has throughout the race, swooping into states for big rallies and dominating the discussion by nabbing his first major endorsements – among them New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions – and targeting his opponents, especially Rubio, with a series of personal attacks.
He also weathered yet another controversy after failing to disavow the endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in a Sunday morning interview on CNN. Trump distanced himself from Duke a day later, saying a “lousy earpiece” kept him from properly hearing the questions on CNN.
None of that seemed to matter to voters like Texan Shelly Wells, who spurned her home-state senator to vote for Trump.
“He can get things done,” said Wells, 59, an accountant with an oil field services company, after casting her ballot in Katy, a Houston suburb hard hit by the recent decline in oil prices.
With candidates fighting for survival, an already harsh campaign assumed an even sharper, meaner and more personal edge. At times, it seemed downright bizarre.
Cruz leveled unsubstantiated charges that Trump had Mafia connections. Trump attacked Rubio over his propensity to perspire. Rubio questioned both Trump’s temperament and bladder control.
But the Florida senator, who began his campaign vowing to be an upbeat messenger, did not seem altogether comfortable slipping into Trump mode. He spent days calling him a con man and hypocrite, mocked his “spray tan” and even made fun of his anatomical attributes.
As for Clinton, she declared, “What a Super Tuesday!” to cheers at a victory rally in Miami. In her recent signature line mocking the slogan of front-running Republican candidate Donald Trump, she said: “America never stopped being great. We have to make America whole – fill in what’s been hollowed out.”
“The rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,” Clinton added. “Trying to divide America between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is wrong, and we’re not going to let it work.”
Tuesday’s contests were well suited to Clinton’s strengths: popularity with minority voters, political kinship with Southern Democrats from her two decades in Arkansas, where she was the state’s first lady, and success in delegate-rich Texas in 2008. She won sizable victories in Arkansas along with Alabama and Tennessee, with especially big margins in counties with many blacks.
Sanders’ advisers, in turn, described Tuesday as their candidate’s most difficult moment on the primary calendar, given the diverse electorate, the relative lack of states with huge liberal populations, and the dearth of caucuses – a format that Sanders believes favors him, even though Clinton won the first two caucus states.
While even the poorest showing would not drive Sanders from the presidential race, his advisers said, Clinton was already looking past her rival Tuesday and toward New York billionaire businessman Trump, saying she was “very disappointed” that Trump initially refused to disavow support from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
“We can’t let organizations and individuals that hold deplorable views about what it means to be an American be given any credence at all,” Clinton told reporters while campaigning at a Minnesota coffee shop. “I’m going to continue to speak out about bigotry wherever I see it or hear about it.”
Later, as news of her victories poured in, Clinton attended a gathering for black women in Florida and said she was thinking about “how can we get away from the insults and really mean-spirited language” in politics.
Sanders, who has also criticized Trump over the Duke endorsement, cast his ballot in the Vermont primary on Tuesday and held an early victory party shortly after he was declared the winner there at 7 p.m. Choosing not to wait and see the results in other states, Sanders sounded defiant at times and philosophical at others as he spoke to a hometown crowd of cheering admirers near Burlington.
“I know Secretary Clinton and many of the establishment people think I’m looking and thinking too big,” Sanders said of his proposals for free public college and Medicare for all. “I don’t think so!”
“By the end of tonight, we are going to win many hundreds of delegates,” he predicted. “We have come a very long way in 10 months.”
Going into the nationwide contests, Clinton held a delegate lead of 91 to 65 over Sanders. About 880 of the 4,765 total delegates were at stake Tuesday; under party rules, they will be awarded proportionally based on vote tallies for each of the candidates, with Democratic-leaning congressional districts and areas assigned the most delegates
In Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, blacks accounted for more than half the population in some districts, while Hispanics dominated many of the Texas Senate districts that allocated delegates Tuesday.
In 2008, Clinton did well with white voters and had success in some states with Hispanics, but she repeatedly lost the black vote to Obama and was unable to attract a winning coalition of racially and ethnically mixed voters nationwide.
In that 2008 race Obama narrowly beat Clinton in delegates on Super Tuesday.
“We’ve always said March was a critical month,” said Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist. “You’ve got more than 20 percent of the delegates decided tonight. Tonight was the night when the delegate count will become more paramount and will continue to be what people focus on going forward.”