WASHINGTON — With five convincing victories in hand, Donald Trump strengthened his grip on the Republican primary race and pushed tantalizingly close to a general election showdown with Hillary Clinton. The Democratic front-runner is now 90 per cent of the way to her party’s nomination after four solid victories of her own Tuesday.
The Republican race now turns to Indiana, where next week’s primary marks one of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s last chances to slow Trump and push the race toward a contested convention. While Trump does need to keep winning in order to stay on his narrow path to the GOP nomination, he declared himself the party’s “presumptive nominee” after Tuesday’s results rolled in.
“It’s over. As far as I’m concerned it’s over,” he declared. The real estate mogul now has 77 per cent of the delegates he needs.
Trump was headed to Indiana Wednesday after delivering a foreign policy speech in Washington. The address at a downtown hotel is the first in a series of speeches the Republican front-runner is expected to give in the coming weeks, all with the goal of easing Americans’ concerns about his readiness for the presidency.
Likewise, Clinton was eager to turn her attention to Trump. While Clinton advisers say they won’t underestimate Trump, as many of his vanquished Republican rivals did, her campaign sees opportunities to not only energize Democrats in an effort to keep him out of the White House but also appeal to Republicans turned off by the brash billionaire.
“If you are a Democrat, an independent or a thoughtful Republican, you know that their approach is not going to build an America where we increase opportunity or decrease inequality,” Clinton said of the GOP candidates.
Trump’s victories came in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Clinton ceded only Rhode Island to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, in an interview with The Associated Press, conceded he has a “very narrow path and we’re going to have to win some big victories.”
In the Republican race, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are desperately trying to force a convention fight. The challengers have even taken the rare step of announcing plans to co-ordinate in upcoming contests to try to minimize Trump’s delegate totals.
But that effort did little to stop Trump from a big showing in the Northeast, where he picked up at least 105 of the 118 delegates up for grabs. He now has 950 of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination.
Cruz spent Tuesday in Indiana, where Kasich’s campaign has withdrawn in an attempt to give the Texas senator a clear path.
“Tonight this campaign moves back to more favourable terrain,” Cruz said during an evening rally in Knightstown, Indiana. His event was held at the “Hoosier gym,” where some scenes were filmed for the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” about a small-town Indiana basketball team that wins the state championship.
Trump has railed against his rivals’ co-ordination, panning it as a “faulty deal,” and has also cast efforts to push the nomination fight to the convention as evidence of a rigged process that favours political insiders.
Yet there’s no doubt the GOP is deeply divided by his candidacy. In Pennsylvania, exit polls showed nearly 4 in 10 GOP voters said they would be excited by Trump becoming president, but the prospect of the real estate mogul in the White House scared a quarter of those who cast ballots in the state’s Republican primary.
In another potential general election warning sign for Republicans, 6 in 10 GOP voters in Pennsylvania said the Republican campaign has divided the party — a sharp contrast to the 7 in 10 Democratic voters in the state who said the race between Clinton and Sanders has energized their party.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
Democrats award delegates proportionally, which allowed Clinton to maintain her lead over Sanders even as he rattled off a string of wins in recent contests. According to the AP count, Clinton now has 2,141 delegates while Sanders has 1,321.
That count includes delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates _ party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice, regardless of how their state votes.
Sanders has vowed to stay in the race until voting wraps up in June. He continues to raise millions of dollars and attract big crowds, including Tuesday night in West Virginia, where he urged his supporters to recognize that they are “powerful people if you choose to exercise that power.”
Clinton’s advisers are eager for the Vermont senator to tone down his attacks on the former secretary of state. She’s been reminding voters of the 2008 Democratic primary, when she endorsed Barack Obama after a tough campaign and urged her supporters to rally around her former rival.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey in Philadelphia, Michael Rubinkam in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, and Ken Thomas, Laurie Kellman, Chad Day, Stephen Ohlemacher and Hope Yen in Washington contributed to this report.