WASHINGTON/PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – Marco Rubio ended his campaign on Tuesday for the Republican presidential nomination after failing to translate support from the party’s establishment into victories in primary states, including his home state of Florida, which rival Donald Trump took in stride.
“While this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America,” he told supporters in his home state of Florida following his projected loss there to Trump.
The decision also came after poor performances last week in Michigan and Mississippi where he attracted only single-digit support in the polls.
Trump scored a crucial win in the Florida primary on Tuesday, dealing a fatal blow to Rubio’s campaign and moving closer to securing the party’s nomination as five U.S. states voted.
Trump was aiming to sweep all five states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri and Illinois, and deal another setback to establishment Republicans who fear his rowdy campaign will lead the party to defeat in November.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 68, also captured the Florida primary and won North Carolina as she aimed to put some distance between herself and rival Bernie Sanders, 74, a U.S. senator from Vermont, in primaries in the same states.
Trump, the 69-year-old billionaire businessman, was aiming to knock out his two mainstream rivals, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida, who both probably needed to win their home states to keep their campaigns alive.
“While we are on the right side this year, we will not be on the winning side,” Rubio told supporters in Miami.
Trump’s closest challenger nationally is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, 45, a favorite of the conservative tea party.
A Trump loss in any of the five states would give new hope to Republicans battling to deny the brash New Yorker the nomination and block him from capturing the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination at the party’s July convention.
But victories in all five could put Trump — who has vowed to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, impose protectionist trade policies and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country — on course to being his party’s candidate in November. That seemed inconceivable only last year.
Trump said on Tuesday that his momentum was already drawing in establishment Republicans who had previously balked at his candidacy but now see him as the likely nominee.
“They’re already calling,” he told NBC’s “Today” show, without naming names. “The biggest people in the party are calling.”
By capturing Florida, Trump will win all 99 of the state’s delegates, giving him a huge lift in his drive to the nomination.
Rubio’s withdrawal leaves Kasich and Cruz as Trump’s last opponents. Kasich had a slight lead in early returns in Ohio, but has not won another state so far. Cruz has struggled to build support beyond his base of evangelical Christians and Republican Southerners.
Although Trump scored a decisive win Tuesday in Florida, he lost Ohio to the state’s governor, John Kasich, as the billionaire’s rivals desperately tried to stop his march to the party’s presidential nomination. Clinton padded her lead over Sanders with victories in Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.
Trump looked for wins in Tuesday’s five primaries to help build an insurmountable lead in the all-important delegate count. Florida was the biggest prize — the first winner-take-all contest decided — with all 99 delegates going to Trump.
The brash and controversial reality TV star has upended the political establishment by winning most of the state-by-state competitions for delegates who will choose the Republican nominee. He has seized on Americans’ anger with Washington politicians, winning over voters with his simply worded promise to make America great again.
Kasich’s win, capturing all of Ohio’s 66 delegates, was crucial to slowing Trump’s momentum. While Trump has amassed the most delegates going into Tuesday, he’s won fewer than 50 percent of them. If that pace continues, he would fall short of the majority that he would need to assure him the nomination at the party’s convention in July. The result could be a contested convention, creating an unpredictable outcome.
This is the first victory for Kasich, whose upbeat message and long record of government service has had little resonance as his rivals seized on voter’s anxiety and disdain for Washington. While he could benefit from Rubio dropping out, he is unlikely to overtake Trump, though he could help keep Trump below the 50 percent threshold.
With Trump’s win in Florida, he now has 568 delegates. Cruz has 370, Rubio 163 and Kasich 129. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
In the Democratic race, Clinton’s victories in Florida and North Carolina were expected, but Sanders, a Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist, had hopes of taking the industrial state of Ohio. He has criticized the former secretary of state for her past support for trade deals. Sanders is unlikely to overtake Clinton in the delegate count, but his victory last week in Michigan underscored the unease that many party voters have about her candidacy.