WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and John Kasich scored major victories Tuesday that significantly reshaped the presidential race while a big loss in Florida prompted Marco Rubio to drop his White House bid.
Clinton took big strides towards the Democratic nomination by winning Florida and North Carolina. And in a crucial victory, she stopped Bernie Sanders in his tracks in the industrial Midwest by taking Ohio.
The Republican Party, meanwhile, veered closer to a historic contested convention after Kasich, the Ohio governor, held his own state and deprived Trump of its 66 delegates. That makes it more difficult for the billionaire to reach the 1,237 delegates he needs to capture the GOP prize.
Trump did, however, prevail in the biggest contest of the night, taking all off Florida’s 99 delegates. That resounding win helped force Rubio out of the race after failing to win his own state and to unite the Republican establishment against Trump. The real estate tycoon also won primaries in Illinois and North Carolina.
“This was a great evening,” he said. “This was an amazing evening.”
Trump urged party unity amid growing speculation about the potential of a convention fight.
“We have to bring our party together,” he said. “We have to bring it together.”
GOP leaders may now look to Kasich as their final chance to unite behind a candidate who could challenge Trump in the event of a contested convention. But it remains unclear how a contender who has won only won state and has been laboring in obscurity for much of the race can overtake Trump, who has won 18 states and is far ahead of him in the delegate race.
“We are all very, very happy,” Kasich told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a telephone interview.
On the Democratic side, Clinton has won the Florida and Ohio primaries — crucial victories that bolster Clinton’s claim that she is her party’s only candidate who can win diverse states that will be pivotal in the November general election.
She is also projected to win the North Carolina primary. That completes her sweep of Southern states, where she has enjoyed strong support from African-American voters.
“We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November,” Clinton said in a victory speech in West Palm Beach, Florida.
She said that by the end of the night she would have two million more votes than Sanders, and hold a lead of more than 300 in the delegate count.
Clinton’s victory in Ohio follows her surprise loss in Michigan last week, which raised fresh questions about her campaign strategy and provided a lift to Sanders that he hoped would help him sweep the Midwest.
Clinton unveiled a retooled message in her victory speech Tuesday that simultaneously rationalized her campaign against Sanders and foreshadowed a general election duel with Trump, as she stressed repeatedly she would create jobs as president and stand up for the middle class.
“We are going to stand up for American workers and make sure no one takes advantage of us, not China — not Wall Street, not overpaid corporate executives,” she said.
Votes are still being counted in the Democratic primaries in Missouri and Illinois and the Republican race in Missouri.
Rubio drops out
With Rubio’s decision to drop out, three Republican candidates remain in the White House race — Trump, Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
In a speech that served as a thinly-veiled rebuke of Trump’s campaign tactics, Rubio warned that the politics of division will leave America a “fractured nation.”
“America is in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami and we should have seen this coming,” Rubio said. “While we are on the right side,” he said, “this year, we will not be on the winning side.”
Rubio spent the final weeks of his campaign in an often bitter fight with Trump. But on Tuesday night, Trump congratulated the Florida senator “for having run a tough campaign.”
“He is tough,” Trump said. “He is smart and he has got a great future.”