WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump won a decisive victory in Florida's primary Tuesday night, forcing home-state Sen. Marco Rubio to abandon the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The brash billionaire also picked up North Carolina and Illinois, but faltered in Ohio.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich notched his first and only victory of the primary season by carrying his home state, but he has the fewest delegates of anyone still in the running and had virtually no electoral path to the nomination.
Trump, holding forth at his resort Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, urged Republicans to unify in support of him. They are reluctant to do so.
"Millions of people are coming in to vote," Trump said, citing long lines at the polls and Democrats and new voters choosing him. "We have a great opportunity."
Missouri was the fifth state to hold a primary contest Tuesday. The other contender, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is hoping to pick up enough delegates to force a contested national GOP convention in July. Cruz made direct overtures to those who had supported Rubio, saying he stands alone as the last Republican hope of defeating Trump.
"Every Republican has a clear choice," he said. "Do you want a candidate who shares your values? Or do you want a candidate who has spent decades opposing your values?"
As Rubio suspended his campaign, he tried to strike an optimistic note about his party's future, while making a not-so-subtle reference to Trump.
"Do not give in to the fear," Rubio said. "Do not give in to the frustration."
Speaking from Cleveland, Kasich said, "I will not take the low road to the highest office of the land."
Trump's plainspoken — while controversial — appeals have resonated across the country, leaving other candidates reeling for a strategy to topple the unconventional front-runner.
"He will fix everything that is wrong with the economy and immigration," said Alex Perri, a 59-year-old retired firefighter from Margate, Florida, who was campaigning for Trump in the parking lot of an Oakland Park, Florida voting place.
Even as Trump racks up more wins, questions have intensified about whether he is doing enough to stem violence at his raucous rallies.
Trump said Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that his record-setting crowds have had "very, very little difficultly."
The New York real estate mogul backed away from a suggestion that he might cover legal costs for a supporter who punched a protester in the face during a rally last week in North Carolina. He has blamed a larger recent clash in Chicago on Democratic protesters.
In a clear reference to Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, the GOP's top elected leader, declared that all candidates have an obligation to do what they can to provide an atmosphere of harmony at campaign events and not incite violence.
For some voters, Trump's tone has been a turn-off.
"We need to have a man who will speak against things that are wrong," said Cathy Lewis after she cast her vote for Kasich in their shared hometown of Westerville, Ohio.
In recent weeks, Republicans who dislike Trump have banded to wage multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns against him. One political ad highlights Trump's statements that appear to encourage violence.
Trump still leads the race for delegates, with a total of 621 with his gains in Tuesday's contests. Ted Cruz has 396 delegates, Kasich has 138 and Rubio left the race with 168.
It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton rolled up primary victories in four states — Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina — and dealt a severe blow Tuesday to Bernie Sanders' hopes of denying her the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton called the outcome "another Super Tuesday" for her campaign. "We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November," Clinton told cheering supporters in Florida.
Clinton was locked with Sanders in a tight contest in Missouri, the fifth primary of the day, but her string of four triumphs strengthened her already formidable pledged delegate lead, and the former secretary of state said she expected to have a more than 300-delegate edge.
Sanders, addressing supporters in Phoenix, said his campaign had "come a long way" but made no mention of Tuesday's results during an hourlong speech. "You do not have to accept the status quo. We can do better. Don't let people tell you that you can't think big," he said. Clinton and Sanders did not speak on primary night, aides said.
Early Wednesday, Sanders released a statement congratulating Clinton on her victories.
Florida was the biggest delegate prize and Clinton's victories gave her about two-thirds of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
With four wins, Clinton will pick up at least 326 delegates while Sanders will gain 220. Many delegates remain to be allocated pending more complete vote totals.
According to an analysis by The Associated Press, Clinton held 1,561 of total delegates when the count includes superdelegates, who are elected officials and party leaders free to support the candidate of their choice. Sanders has 800 total delegates, including superdelegates.
Looking ahead to the fall, Clinton offered pointed words for businessman Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner: "Our commander-in-chief has to be able to defend our country, not embarrass it." She said for the nation "to be great, we can't be small. We can't lose what made America great in the first place."
Democratic voters in all five states viewed Clinton as the candidate with the better chance to beat Trump if he is the Republican nominee, according to exit polls. In Florida and North Carolina, about 8 in 10 black voters supported her, and she also won support of about 7 in 10 Hispanic voters in Florida.
"She has done it. She has been there. She is the person that should replace Barack Obama," said Eduardo De Jesus, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who voted for Clinton.
Clinton urged Democrats in recent days to unite behind her candidacy so she could focus on Trump, the Republican front-runner. In telling campaign optics, Clinton staged Tuesday's primary night rally in West Palm Beach, a few miles from Mar-a-Lago, where Trump held a news conference at his Palm Beach estate.
Late Tuesday, Sanders held a narrow lead in Missouri and trailed Clinton in Illinois, a state where he hoped his trade-focused message would resonate. It helped him pull off an upset in Michigan last week and he continued to question Clinton's past support for trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Sanders' team said the calendar would be more favorable in the weeks ahead and vowed to go through the Democratic convention. After Tuesday, the campaign shifts westward, with contests in Arizona, Idaho and Utah on March 22. "He wants to take this all the way to Philadelphia," said Sanders adviser Tad Devine.
A closer look at the attitudes of the electorate:
Trump has been a simultaneous front-runner and lightning rod for most of the presidential campaign. And despite his win, Illinois Republicans' unease with him is apparent.
Almost 4 in 10 GOP voters thought Trump would be the best choice as the nation's commander in chief, while 3 in 10 said Cruz would be. But almost as many voters find Trump dishonest as believe him to be honest - while more than half say Cruz is honest, and 4 in 10 say he's dishonest. Seven in 10 voters thought Ohio Gov. John Kasich is honest.
Additionally, more than 4 in 10 say Trump has run the most unfair campaign among contenders, and about half of them voted for Cruz.
INSIDERS V. OUTSIDERS
Seven in 10 Democrats are satisfied with either former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and 6 in 10 found each "about right" on political philosophy. More than half of GOP voters indicated they want an outsider to take over the Oval Office, with nearly seven in 10 of those voters indicating a preference for Trump, according to preliminary results of the survey conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
But even among Democrats, the small proportion who wanted an outsider loomed large, voting overwhelmingly for Sanders
The state of the economy was the most important issue to about half of Democrats, who split their votes between Clinton and Sanders. Almost one-quarter ranked income inequality as their next issue, with almost three-fourths favoring Sanders. Fewer than 2 in 10 said healthcare was the most important issue, while less than 1 in 10 said they worried most about terrorism.
Among GOP voters, almost 4 in 10 said the economy was the most important issue facing the nation, and the same proportion voted for Trump, while 3 in 10 voted for Cruz. Three in 10 were most worked about government spending, and 4 in 10 of them voted for Cruz. Fewer than 2 in 10 cited terrorism as the most important issue, but 4 in 10 of those who did voted for Trump. Fewer than 1 in 10 said immigration was most important.
AGE, SEX, LOCATION
More than half of Democratic men supported Sanders - the same proportion of women siding with Clinton. Sanders took 7 in 10 votes among those under age 45; Clinton claimed more than 3 in 5 of those older. Seven in 10 black voters marked Clinton's name, while almost the same proportion of whites preferred Sanders.
In an election that could catapult the first woman into the Oval Office, 4 in 5 Democrats said gender did not play an important role in their decision - and just over half of them voted for Sanders.
Sanders won the votes of almost 3 in 5 voters in more conservative downstate Illinois - outside the Chicago metropolitan area. Clinton won about as many in heavily Democratic Chicago, but her influence waned the farther from the city the voters were.
One-third of the GOP votes were cast in the five traditionally Republican "collar" counties surrounding Chicago, with half coming from outside the metropolitan area - but none of the candidates held a clear lead in any region.
The survey was conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research as voters left their polling places at 35 randomly selected sites in Illinois. Preliminary results include interviews with 1,510 Democratic primary voters and 1,228 Republican primary voters. The results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for both Democratic and Republican primary voters.