Clinton builds on her lead

The Democratic party moved a lot closer to choosing its nominee on Tuesday night. The Republican par

The Democratic party moved a lot closer to choosing its nominee on Tuesday night. The Republican party moved a little closer to chaos.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has won at least three of the five states where Democrats voted on Tuesday, with victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. She also held leads over Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) in early returns from the two other states, Missouri and Illinois. Clinton’s staff said they expected to increase their lead in the race for Democratic convention delegates by about 300 — requiring Sanders to stage a near-miraculous comeback in the coming states.

“We are moving closer to securing the Democratic party nomination and winning this election in November,” Clinton told supporters in West Palm Beach, Florida. Sounding hoarse, she seemed to be offering an olive branch to Sanders —who, so far, has shown little inclination to get out of a race that has given him an unprecedented national following.

“I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for the vigorous campaign he’s waging,” Clinton said, giving it a try anyway. She has now won 15 states, as compared with nine wins for Sanders.

On the Republican side, GOP front-runner Donald Trump won a key contest in Florida — a lopsided victory on the home turf of rival Sen. Marco Rubio, which caused Rubio to declare he was suspending his campaign. That brought Trump all of Florida’s 99 Republican delegates, the biggest prize awarded in any state so far.

Trump has also been projected as the winner in Illinois and North Carolina, two states with 141 delegates between them. But, because those are not “winner-take-all” states, Trump will likely have to split some of those 141 with other candidates. The GOP race in Missouri remains too close to call between Sen. Ted Cruz and Trump.

But Trump was denied a victory in another key winner-take-all state, Ohio, which was won by its own sitting governor, John Kasich. That victory doesn’t make Kasich a likely nominee: He has now won a grand total of one state. But, without Ohio’s 66 delegates, Trump now faces a difficult path to reach the majority of delegates he needs to avoid a “contested” GOP convention, in which no candidate enters with a majority of delegates locked up. In that chaotic situation — not seen in the GOP since 1976–delegates could choose one of the candidates who ran, or someone else entirely. If their choice is not Trump, the party may have to face strong anger from his supporters, or even a third-party candidacy from Trump himself.

Trump spoke to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he savored his victory over Rubio in Florida, despite a barrage of anti-Trump advertising. “Nobody has ever, ever, in the history of politics, received the kind of negative advertising that I have … vicious, horrible,” Trump said. But then, he said: “You explain it to me, because I can’t: My numbers went up.”

He told supporters that he’d seen anti-Trump commercials during a broadcast of a golf tournament from Trump’s own club, and tried to distract attendees at the tournament from watching.

Trump repeated his promise to bring the Republican Party together: “We have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together. We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story anywhere in the world.”

But he also, more than before, seemed to show signs of fatigue at the long grind of a campaign. Trump spoke of missing his youngest son, Baron, while he’s been out on the trail: “Baron. I never see my Baron,” Trump said. “He said, ‘When are you going to come home, Daddy? When are you coming home?’ ”

Kasich’s win in Ohio was celebrated by GOP operatives who launched a last-ditch campaign to thwart Trump’s march to the nomination.

“You’re not the nominee until you get 1,237 delegates, and I don’t see how Trump gets there,” said Katie Packer, the strategist helping lead Our Principles PAC, which has spent nearly $13 million on a barrage of hard-hitting ads attacking the billionaire real estate developer. “Our goal was always to deprive him of Ohio and Florida, and the fact that we got halfway, we consider a win for the American people and the Republican party and certainly us.”

Kasich has largely abstained from attacking Trump so far, but on Tuesday night — with the race narrowing, and his position improving — Kasich took a brief swipe at the front-runner. “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” Kasich said. He took a remarkably different tone than the bombastic front-runner, who focuses on international trade and business deals. Kasich told his audience to make the world better in smaller ways, working harder at their jobs, and being kind to neighbors. At times, he did not seem to be speaking about a political campaign at all.

“We’re all part of a giant mosaic. A snapshot in time. All of us here,” Kasich said, saying that every person in the audience had a purpose from God. “Our job … is to dig down and understand that purpose, and never underestimate our ability to change the world in which we live.”

Rubio, a first-term senator, had launched his campaign with a message of youth and optimism — but was unable to escape his support for a 2013 effort at immigration reform, which many conservatives believed was too lenient on undocumented immigrants. And he was unable to escape Trump, who hectored him as “Little Marco,” a tool of big donors.

“After tonight, it is clear that–while we are on the right side–this year we will not be on the winning side,” Rubio said on Tuesday.

Rubio eventually fired back, trying to fight on Trump’s level with insults about the front-runner’s tan and his fingers. He also called Trump a “con artist” for his involvement in a “university” that many students said defrauded them. But Rubio undercut his own message by saying that he would still vote for Trump, were he the nominee.

That odd, mismatched strategy seemed to turn off voters.

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