Donald Trump completed a five-state sweep in Tuesday’s Republican presidential primaries, strengthening his shot at avoiding a contested convention – while Hillary Clinton scored convincing victories but was denied the same bragging rights of a primary sweep by a surprise Bernie Sanders win in Rhode Island.
Of the two front-runners, Clinton – who won four states Tuesday – remains closer to clinching the nomination. She now has nearly 90 percent of the delegates needed to secure the party nod, even as Sanders vows to keep fighting.
On the Republican side, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich still can potentially hold Trump under the 1,237 delegates he needs. But the billionaire businessman’s Super Tuesday III run-of-the-table reinforces his aura of invincibility going into the next round.
“I consider myself the presumptive nominee,” Trump said at Trump Tower, with ex-candidate and now-supporter New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie standing behind him. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s over.”
Trump said he has no plans to change his approach right now.
In their victory speeches, both Trump and Clinton clearly were looking ahead to a general election contest each expects will involve the other.
“We will beat Hillary so easily,” Trump said, nicknaming the Democratic front-runner “crooked Hillary” and declaring “the only card she has is the woman’s card.” He continued to taunt his GOP rivals, blasting their alleged “collusion” and asking of Kasich: “Why is he here?”
Clinton likewise kept her remarks Tuesday focused on a general election audience, vowing to “unify our party,” drawing sharp contrasts with Republicans, and taking on Trump.
“The other day, Mr. Trump accused me of playing the quote woman card,” she said in Philadelphia, which hosts the Democratic convention. “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.”
When the dust settled on Tuesday’s contests, Trump was declared the winner in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island, on the heels of his victory in New York state a week ago. His dominant showing in the Northeast gives him significant momentum heading into next week’s primary in Indiana. And he’s on track to win over 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s contests, a feat he has only achieved once before, in New York.
Meanwhile, Kasich was shaping up as the second pick of Northeast Republicans so far, projected to place second in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware – leaving Cruz to finish third.
Clinton, meanwhile, was the projected winner in Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware – while Sanders won Rhode Island.
Overall, Democrats were competing for 384 delegates in Tuesday's contests, while Republicans had 118 up for grabs (not counting 54 unbound delegates in Pennsylvania).
With his five victories Tuesday, Trump will win at least 105 of the 118 delegates. And he has a chance to win a lot more. In Pennsylvania, Trump collected 17 delegates for winning the state. An additional 54 are elected directly by voters -- three in each congressional district. However, their names are listed on the ballot with no information about which presidential candidate they support.
Trump suggested they have a “moral obligation” to back him, though Cruz had worked hard to get allies elected in that group.
Primary front-runners Clinton and Trump both were looking to Tuesday’s contests to bring them closer to clinching the respective nominations, or at least dispiriting the remaining competition.
As of early Wednesday, Clinton had 2,141 delegates to Sanders’ 1,321; it takes 2,383 to win. The total includes so-called “superdelegates” who are not bound to primary results. On the GOP side, Trump had 950 delegates, followed by Cruz at 560 and Kasich at 153.
But on the GOP side, an energized Cruz held out hope that he and Kasich can still hold Trump back from the nomination. Speaking to supporters in Indiana, Cruz claimed the campaign was moving “to more favorable terrain” while calling Trump the media’s “chosen” candidate.
"Donald and Hillary, they are flip-sides of the same coin,” Cruz said.
Kasich’s campaign also vowed to keep going, appealing for donations online and declaring on Twitter: “John Kasich will continue making his supporters proud.”
Whether Cruz and Kasich can prevent Trump from clinching the nomination remains to be seen. Both were also on defense after teaming up to try and hold Trump under that magic number. Kasich agreed to stand aside in Indiana to help Cruz, while Cruz agreed to stand aside in Oregon and New Mexico to help Kasich.
As Trump accused the two of “collusion,” Cruz countered in a radio interview that what they’re doing is “actually coalition-building.”
Still, Kasich appeared Monday to undercut their arrangement by urging voters in Indiana to support him anyway. And the campaign stumbled on a procedural issue in Oregon, missing the March deadline to submit information for a voter pamphlet the state distributes ahead of the May primary.
Kasich spokesman Chris Schrimpf stressed that Kasich nevertheless is on the ballot in Oregon.
Cruz’s best chances to undercut Trump might be in Indiana, which votes next week, and California, which votes in June.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., cast doubt Tuesday on whether a Cruz-Kasich alliance would do much good in his home state. Asked about their partnership, McCarthy told reporters he’s “not convinced” it will help in California.
On the Democratic side, Sanders also vowed Tuesday night to keep fighting, casting himself as the candidate best-positioned to take on Trump or any Republican rival.
“This campaign is doing as well as it is with the extraordinary energy and enthusiasm we are generating across the country,” Sanders told a crowd in West Virginia, which votes May 10.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.