Donald Trump has destroyed the presidential ambitions of Marco Rubio, the young Cuban-American senator from Florida, on a night of emphatic victories for both the Republican and Democratic frontrunners.
The Associated Press projected that the New York property mogul, who calls Florida his second home, would take the state that Mr Rubio had needed to win to salvage his moribund campaign for the White House. In Ohio, however, Mr Trump was set for a loss to John Kasich, the state’s governor.
The AP also called Florida, Ohio and North Carolina for Hillary Clinton on a second “Super Tuesday” wave of US primary elections, as the Republican and Democratic candidates each sought to cement their status as frontrunners.
With 70 per cent of Florida’s Republican ballots counted, Mr Trump had 46 per cent support, leaving Mr Rubio a distant second with 27 per cent.
Mrs Clinton won an overwhelming victory in Florida’s Democratic primary, receiving twice as many votes as her opponent, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.
With 81 per cent of Florida’s ballots counted, Mrs Clinton led with 65 per cent of the vote versus just 33 per cent for Mr Sanders. In Ohio, she led Mr Sanders by 66 per cent to 33 per cent with 3 per cent of the votes counted and in North Carolina she had 57 per cent of the vote to Mr Sanders’ 39 per cent with 13 per cent counted.
Mr Trump’s candidacy appeared to be driving strong Republican turnout as he sought to defeat both Mr Rubio and Mr Kasich in their home states.
|Source: AP||Winner bold, %|
The night’s five primaries — in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina — will help draw the contours of the primary races, which have been upset by the populist movements of Mr Trump on the Republican side and Mr Sanders on the Democratic side of the political aisle.
Ohio election officials reported a surge in Republican support as thousands of Democrats and unaffiliated voters switched their affiliation at the polling booth.
In Ohio’s heavily Democratic Mahoning County, election board officials said in several precincts they had seen more Republican ballots cast than there were registered Republicans in the area, forcing them to send out additional Republican ballots to 60 of the county’s 212 precincts.
“Twice as many Republicans are voting in this primary than we’d normally expect — and about half of them are unaffiliated voters or Democrats,” said Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County’s Board of Elections. “I think the lion’s share of what we’re seeing is a pro-Trump thing . . . I call it the ballot box revolution.”
|Source: AP||Winners in bold, %|
While some commentators predicted that the recent violence at Mr Trump’s rallies would work against the billionaire candidate, two-thirds of Republican respondents in Monmouth University polls in Ohio and Florida said the incidents would not affect their vote. Some 22 per cent of Florida respondents and 16 per cent of Ohio respondents said the violence actually made them “more likely” to vote for the Republican frontrunner.
In Ohio, several polls have put Mr Trump behind John Kasich, the state’s sitting governor who has an 80 per cent approval rating. Yet early voting results suggest that Mr Trump has benefited from the support of white, blue-collar Democrats in the state, which could tighten the race.
During early voting, Mr Munroe said he had heard from “a lot of disaffected Democrats” who felt that they were now to the right of the party and saw Mr Trump as an outsider candidate who could fix the economy and the gridlock in Washington. “I hear a lot of them saying, ‘this is not my party any more,” he said.
At a polling station in Castalia, a rural town close to Lake Erie, Cora Freeh, a local minister and supporter of Ted Cruz, said she had watched Mr Trump’s message resonate with many of her friends who viewed the property developer as Republicans’ best shot at the White House.
“They are so fed up with what we have had until now and some believe that Donald Trump is the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton,” she said. “There is a lot of distrust of Hillary.”
Mr Trump’s candidacy has polarised voters, however. One outside a polling booth in Sandusky, Ohio, who would not give her name, said: “I voted for Hillary, but I so badly wanted to switch [party] and vote for Kasich to stop Trump. I like him as a person but what is he going to do to our country? It worries me.”
Vickie Spears, who works at a veterans home, said she voted for Mrs Clinton, citing the former secretary of state’s pledges to stem the flow of US jobs overseas. “I’ve worked and lost jobs at several factories” as employers moved jobs overseas, she said.
Mr Trump remains the clear frontrunner in the GOP race having won 15 out of 25 contests. Yet it will be winner-takes-all primaries in Florida and Ohio which determine his future in the race.
If he wins Florida and Ohio, the real estate tycoon will be well on his way to amassing the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination before the party holds its convention in June. But a loss in either state would make it harder for Mr Trump to win enough delegates to ward off a possible contested convention in Cleveland.
In Florida, polls have put Mr Trump ahead of Mr Rubio, the state’s young Cuban-American senator who is on the brink of a make-or-break moment in his campaign. While Mr Rubio appeared to inherit the mantle of the Republican establishment following the departure of Jeb Bush, he has failed to convert his support from the party into primary wins.
Mr Cruz, the Cuban-American Texas senator who is Mr Trump’s closest rival, has won enough delegates to remain in the Republican field no matter what happens in Tuesday’s primaries.
In the Democratic race, Mrs Clinton’s supporters are bracing for tight races in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, whose outcomes will determine the extent to which she faces a protracted battle for the nomination.
While Mrs Clinton has been seen as the presumptive Democratic nominee for much of the race, she has faced serious competition from Mr Sanders who has notched up primary wins across the country.
Following a surprise win against Mrs Clinton in Michigan last week, Mr Sanders’ campaign hopes he can win Tuesday’s three races in the Midwest as he continues to make inroads among voters in the Rust Belt.
There are also signs that Mr Sanders is starting to draw more support from minority voters. In Michigan, he was backed by a third of African American voters, while in Illinois a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal survey found he was leading among Latinos two to one.
Mrs Clinton campaign has argued that she could lose all three Midwestern states and still walk away with more delegates than Mr Sanders. But a poor showing in Ohio — a key swing state in the general election — would raise questions about her support among white, blue-collar voters who have traditionally been a core demographic of the Democratic base.
In Sandusky, Terry Kaufman said he had voted for Mr Sanders in the hope of slowing Mrs Clinton’s path to the nomination. “I don’t want Hillary to win so I want to try and stop that by voting for Bernie,” he said. “She left marines to die [in Libya]. I’m a Vietnam vet so I take what she did harshly.”
In November, Mr Kaufman said he hoped to vote for the man who he believed would become the Republicans’ eventual nominee: Donald Trump.