A pitched battle for the White House between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton moved closer to becoming reality as both leapt further ahead in the battleground states of a marathon Super Tuesday.
On the most important night of the presidential race so far, Clinton was grinding down the challenge from Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. She beat him in seven of the 11 states contested, including the delegate-rich prizes of Texas, Georgia, Massachusetts and Virginia.
Sanders, who won in his home state of Vermont, finished the night strongly, with wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma. He has made clear he has a big war chest and insists he will fight all the way to the July Democratic convention.
In the Republican race, with 10 of the 11 states declared,Trump had won seven of them, taking a commanding lead in the bitterly fought race for the Republican nomination.
Maverick Texas senator Ted Cruz won his home state and Oklahoma whilst the establishment’s last, fading hope, Marco Rubio, was left substantially adrift, although he did belatedly record his first win of 2016 in Minnesota.
By midnight EST, the Associated Press had declared that Clinton and Trump had each won seven states, cementing their status as frontrunners on what could prove to be a defining night in the 2016 contest.
Clinton swept the south, winning in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, then narrowly won in Massachusetts, her first New England victory.
Trump won the first five Republican results of the night – Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia, and later added Arkansas and narrowly held off Ohio governor John Kasich in Vermont. The late-finishing Alaska was still outstanding.
A hoarse-sounding Clinton appeared shortly before 9pm EST, at a noisy victory rally in Miami, and shouted: “What a super Tuesday!”
Looking ahead to New Orleans, Detroit and the looming contests in Louisiana and Michigan, she said: “Now this campaign goes forward to the Crescent City, the Motor City and beyond.”
And looking farther down the road to a potential head-to-head with Trump, she said: “I’m going to keep saying it: I believe what we need in America today is more love and kindness.
“The stakes have never been higher,” she said, “the rhetoric we are hearing on the other side has never been lower.”
Sanders won resoundingly in his home state of Vermont. However, his campaign team and his wife, Jane, had conceded earlier that the day ahead looked difficult. “It’s a rough map for us,” said the senator’s wife, as the campaign team returned to their home in Burlington after clocking up a 6,200-mile trip to eight states in three days.
Clinton swept convincingly through the southern states of Virginia and Georgia – called by the AP the moment the polls closed at 7pm EST – and an hour later in Alabama and Tennessee. It appeared that black voters had once again rallied for her , leaving her 74-year-old rival facing the uncomfortable truth that his political revolution had failed to catch alight away from predominantly whiter states and college campuses.
Virginia went to Clinton 64%-35%. In Georgia the margin was 71-28 with 92% of the votes counted.
“It’s good to be home,” said a tired-sounding Sanders as he celebrated his thumping win in Vermont, by a margin of 86-13 with 84% of votes counted.
“I am so proud to bring Vermont values all across this country. Tonight you are going to see a lot of election results come in … but remember this is not a general election, this is not winner takes all. By the end of tonight we are going to win many hundreds of delegates,” he added.
“Let me assure you, we are going to take our fight … to every one of the states.”
As the night went on, the Sanders campaign’s hopes of causing an upset in Colorado came to pass, although he lost Massachusetts by a 50-48 margin.
Sanders has already indicated that he intends to fight on until the Democratic convention in July. However, whilst he has the funds to do so, he is slipping behind Clinton, leaving his campaign to function mostly as a vehicle for keeping the spotlight on his core issues of inequality, corporate greed, free healthcare and college education.
Clinton was assured of gaining more than 334 delegates from Super Tuesday, with Sanders getting more than 145. When superdelegates, the Democratic insiders who are free to choose any candidate are taken into account , Clinton now has more than 882 delegates, with more than 232 for Sanders. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.
In the Republican race, the AP declared Trump the winner in Georgia at 7.39 EST, followed quickly by Alabama, Massachusetts and Tennessee. He was pushed hard by Rubio in Virginia, but prevailed. Shortly after 9pm EST, Cruz won two states: Oklahoma and his home state of Texas.
In Vermont, Trump eventually won in a much closer contest with Kasich, mirroring last month’ s result in New Hampshire .
With final votes still being tallied, Trump had won at least 139 Super Tuesday delegates, while Cruz picked up at least 52. Overall, Trump leads the Republican field with 221 delegates. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the nomination.
Trump’s successful run of results has owed as much to the fractured nature of the Republican field as to his own brutish determination to tap into the mood of anger at large in the US.
But speaking at his victory party in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump claimed: “I am a unifier.”
He said: “This has been an amazing evening … We’ve already won five, it looks like we can win six or seven or eight or nine.”
Insisting he would make the Republicans “a finer, unified party”, Trump said: “We’re gonna make America great again, folks … We’re gonna make America great.”
Clinton, Trump start sizing up one another
Like Clinton, Trump ended the night with a rally in Florida, the clearest indication they were both pushing past Super Tuesday to the next contests – and already sizing up one another. Florida is in play on 15 March in the primaries and will be key to the hopes of both parties in the presidential run-off in November.
Trump derided Clinton’s desire to make America whole again and citing the controversy over her use of personal email, he said: “I’m going to be going after Hillary Clinton – if she is allowed to run.”
He added: “What she did was a criminal act. If she is allowed to run, honestly, it will be a sad day for this country.”
Within the Republican hierarchy, however, there was little enthusiasm for a Trump candidacy. Earlier in the day, House speaker Paul Ryan expressed grave concern that Trump had still not unequivocally disavowed the support of Ku Klux Klan chied David Duke. Ryan warned: “If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican party … they must reject any group or cause that is built on bigotry.”
Ted Cruz, last of the main candidates to speak on the night, was in bullish form after his victories. Trump, he said, would be “a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation … Our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, can beat and will beat Donald Trump.”
In the Republican field, down to a final five, Rubio is still yet to win a race but clings on. He struck a defiant tone despite a dismal showing in which the senator failed to rack up a single win – and appeared short of the 20% threshold in certain states to secure any delegates.
Speaking in his hometown of Miami, Rubio said it would be up to Florida to shift the direction of the race. “Two weeks from tonight, right here in Florida, we are going to send a message loud and clear,” Rubio said. “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 could theoretically start to close the gap in states such as Ohio and Florida, which operate a “winner takes all” approach to allocating the delegates who need to be amassed before the Republican convention in July. But he has so little momentum, his chances appear almost nonexistent.
Meanwhile Kasich has indicated he will stick around until his home state votes on 15 March, while soft-spoken outsider Ben Carson has also shown no appetite for removing himself from the race.
While still leaving a mathematical chance that Trump and Clinton can be caught, the Super Tuesday results suggest that voters in November’s general election will be presented with one of the starkest electoral choices in a generation: the first woman president or a brash billionaire whose remarkable success has been forged by rejecting all the rules of modern politics. – © Guardian News and Media 2016