Donald Trump took another step closer to the Republican nomination on Tuesday night with crushing victories in Florida and Illinois, and a narrower victory in North Carolina – cementing his GOP front-runner status and knocking Marco Rubio out of the race.
In Missouri, the race went down to the wire between Cruz and Trump, with The Donald only 1,726 votes ahead (0.18 per cent) out of 762,000 when counting stopped early on Wednesday.
The state was judged too close to call, and the tiny margin of less than one per cent means second-place Cruz could challenge the result if it stands.
Florida Sen. Rubio suspended his White House campaign after surrendering his home state to Trump, who won 45% of the vote to his 27%. Trump tipped his hat to the man 25 years his junior, and then slammed him for spending so much money to try to defeat him.
‘I want to congratulate Marco Rubio on having run a really tough campaign,’ Trump told a crowd of socialites and journalists at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach. ‘He’s tough. He’s smart, and he’s got a great future.
‘But I have to say, nobody has ever, ever in the history of politics, received the amount of negative advertising I have,’ Trump carped.
Most of it, he claimed, was ‘false, vicious, horrible’.
‘It added up to over $40million’ in Florida alone, Trump said. ‘And you explain it to me, because I can’t. My numbers went up!’
‘We’re going to do a lot of trips over the next month,’ he pledged. ‘And we’re going to have a lot of great victories.’
Ohio Gov. John Kasich won in his home state, offsetting what might otherwise have been a devastating night for the rest of the GOP field. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – like Rubio – won no primaries all night.
In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton struck a devastating blow against Bernie Sanders by winning Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri.
Florida’s winner-take-all rules, shared by Ohio’s Tuesday primary matchup, translate to a windfall of 99 convention delegates for The Donald, and signaled the end of Rubio’s run.
While Florida was a Trump-friendly bloodbath, Ohio’s 66-delegate race ended as a rare defeat for him – and the only one so far at Kasich’s hands.
Trump’s appearance was billed as a ‘press conference’ like the others he has hosted on primary election nights. He delivered brief remarks on stage, accompanied by his senior staffers and a few family members, but took no questions from the people he referred to as ‘disgusting reporters’ who write ‘lies, deceit, viciousness’.
‘Some are nice. [There are] some really disgusting people back there,’ he jabbed.
Journalists and camera crews were kept behind nearly 500 chairs set up for Mar-a-Lago members and Trump’s other high-society friends.
Election watchers called the Florida race for Trump at 8pm once polls in the state’s panhandle region – in a separate time zone – closed for the night.
With 98 per cent of votes counted, Trump had collected 45.7 per cent in the Sunshine State – a gargantuan lead of more than 440,000 votes over home-state-senator Rubio, who was supported by just 27 per cent.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was in third place with 17.1 per cent. Kasich brought up the rear with 6.8 per cent.
Cruz pushed for relevance despite coming up empty in the first four races of the night, insisting that the Republican nomination fight was now a head-to-head competition.
‘Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination, ours and Donald Trump’s,’ he told supporters. Nobody else has any mathematical possibility whatsoever.
‘The choice is straightforward,’ he insisted: ‘”Do you want a candidate who shares your values, or a candidate who has spent decades opposing your values?
‘The mainstream media, the network suits who makes the decisions, want Donald Trump as the nominee. That’s why they’ve given him hundreds of millions in free advertising – because they are partisan Democrats “ready for Hillary”‘ in November.’
In Florida, Rubio won only his home county, Miami-Dade. His margin there was decisive – more than 70,000 votes – but a drop in the bucket compared with the rest of Florida’s urge to jump on the Trump train.
Trump was his usual overstated self on Twitter, writing: ‘Word is that, despite a record amount spent on negative and phony ads, I had a massive victory in Florida.
The result was a knockout blow for Rubio, whose communications team told newspapers on Monday that he would campaign later in the week in Utah – the site of a March 22 primary – but wouldn’t commit to any times or places.
‘After tonight it is clear that while we are on the right side, this year we will not be on the winning side,’ Rubio told supporters in Miami.
By officially ‘suspending’ his campaign instead of folding it permanently, Rubio sent a signal that he’s maintaining control over the 164 delegates who are pledged to him so far.
Those could give him leverage at the Republican National Convention in July if no one arrives with enough delegates to win the nomination.
‘While it is not God’s plan that I be president in 2016, or maybe ever,’ he told supporters, ‘and while today my campaign is suspended, the fact that I have even come this far is evidence of how special America truly is, and all the reason more why we must do all we can to ensure that this nation remains a special place.’
This article originally appeared on the Daily Mail.