Billionaire Donald Trump has been projected to win Republican primaries in at least seven states, and Sen. Ted Cruz has been projected to win in two, on a “Super Tuesday” that has showcased Trump’s dominance over a crowded GOP field.
Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) has also been projected as the winner in one state: Minnesota, his first victory of the 2016 primary season.
Trump has been projected as the winner in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia, according to Edison Media Research. In several states, his lead was in double digits, and his share of the GOP vote neared 50 percent. With those wins, Trump has more than doubled his victory total in this GOP primary season.
Cruz was projected to win both Oklahoma and his own home state of Texas just after 9 p.m. These are the second and third states Cruz has won in this race – he also won the Iowa caucuses, the first contest of all. The win in Texas, in particular, was vital: It saved Cruz from a humiliating home-state defeat, and gave him part of the largest slate of delegates that was up for grabs Tuesday.
But this was not the Super Tuesday Cruz had hoped for months ago: He had campaigned hard in Southern states, hoping to dominate among evangelicals and very conservative voters. Instead, in state after state, he saw those voters flock to Trump.
For Rubio, the Minnesota win was a boost he sorely needed: Earlier in the night, Trump had mocked him for not winning any states so far. But overall, Tuesday was a disappointment for Rubio: He had attacked Trump sharply in the past few days, and shifted some late-deciding voters into his camp. But outside of Minnesota, it wasn’t enough.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich came a close second to Trump in Vermont.
The despair among the party establishment – which has put its last hopes in Rubio – was strong and growing after Trump’s Tuesday victories. Even Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), an outspoken critic of Cruz, said on TV: “We may be in a position to have to rally around Ted Cruz to stop Donald Trump … I can’t believe I would say yes” to that idea, Graham said.
Cruz addressed his supporters at a venue called the Redneck Country Club in Stafford, Tex. He sought not-so-subtly to convince Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to drop out of the race, saying that a divided field was allowing Trump to succeed.
“So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump’s path to the nomination remains more likely. And that would be a disaster … for conservatives, and for the nation. And after tonight, we have seen that our campaign is the only campaign that has beaten, that can beat, and that will beat Donald Trump,” Cruz said. He spoke to primary voters in future states: “We must come together.”
Rubio, the establishment candidate who had sharply attacked Trump in the past few days, ran close to Trump in Virginia, boosted by support among college-educated voters and Republicans in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. But he fell short, with Trump piling up large margins in the state’s rural South and West.
Still, exit polls showed some good news for Rubio: In several states, he did well among voters who decided late, according to media reports. That could be taken as proof that Rubio’s late attacks on Trump worked — and it could encourage Rubio to continue them, hoping to win more primaries in the coming weeks.
“Just five days ago, we began to unmask the true nature of the front-runner so far in this race. Five days ago, we began to explain to the American people that Donald Trump is a con artist. And in just five days, we have seen the impact it is having all across the country,” Rubio told supporters in Miami. “We are seeing, in state after state, his numbers coming down. Our numbers going up.”
He looked ahead to the Republican primary in Florida on March 15, a “winner-take-all” contest that could vault Rubio back into contention – or, if he loses, doom him.
Rubio’s campaign has sought to position him as the top alternative to Trump: the one who’d be waiting and ready when voters – or delegates, at a fractious GOP convention — finally turned on the front-runner. But Tuesday’s results showed that isn’t exactly true. In six of the nine states where polls have closed, in fact, Rubio was running third.
Trump spoke to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., in an ornate ballroom. In his speech, he mocked Rubio, calling him “the little senator” and reminding his crowd that “[Rubio] didn’t win anything. He hasn’t won anything, period.”
Trump also called his campaign “a movement,” and sought to look ahead to a general election contest against former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
“I am a unifier. When we get all of this finished, I’m going to go after one person, Hillary Clinton,” Trump said. He rejected suggestions that his comments — about Mexican immigrants, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and a ban on Muslim foreigners entering the country — had divided his party.
“We are going to be a much finer party. We’re going to be a unified party,” Trump said. “I mean, to be honest with you. And we are going to be a much bigger party. Our party is expanding.”
Later, Trump responded to a question by saying he’d been watching all the big cable-TV news networks, and liked them all. “See, I’m becoming diplomatic,” he said.
In a wide-ranging news conference that followed Trump’s wide-ranging speech, Trump issued a kind of threat to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who – before Trump came on the scene – had a claim to being the most popular figure in the GOP.
“Paul Ryan, I don’t know him well,” Trump said. “I’m sure I’ll get along with him. And if I don’t? He’ll have to pay a big price.”
Trump concluded with a message that the party should unite behind him.
“I am a unifier,” he said. “When we unify, there’s nobody, nobody that’s going to beat us.”
It seemed possible, given Tuesday’s results, that Rubio, Cruz and Kasich could find a reason to remain in the race. So even where Trump lost Tuesday night, he may have won — reaping the benefits of a crowded field of candidates and splitting the anti-Trump vote into pieces.
In the last hours before polls closed, Rubio and his campaign had been buoyant about their chances, according to media reports. Rubio began launching attacks on Trump in the past few days — backed up by TV ads by allied super PACs. The thrust of the attacks was that Trump was a con artist who was selling voters on policy changes he could never deliver.
“We’re going to have a lot of delegates after tonight and you’re going to see very clearly after tonight that Donald Trump has no chance of ever getting the delegates he needs to be the nominee,” Rubio said Tuesday, according to Bloomberg.
Exit polls reported by Fox News also showed that late-deciding voters had been swayed by this argument, and by Trump’s struggles to deal with questions about his support from white supremacists. Those late deciders went for Rubio in Virginia, Georgia and Oklahoma, Fox News reported.
In the Democratic race, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was the projected winner of the Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia Democratic primaries, based on exit polls and early returns, as she looks to dramatically widen her lead in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders chalked up two victories: He was the projected winner in his home state of Vermont, as well as in Oklahoma, Minnesota and Colorado.
Each party had a slightly different slate of contests Tuesday: In Colorado, Democrats are caucusing, but Republicans are not. In Alaska, Republicans are voting, but not Democrats.
In the other 10 states, both parties’ voters were choosing. It was unlikely that Super Tuesday would end either party’s race — but it could seriously reshape it, if Trump and Clinton are able to build huge new leads in the count of delegates to the parties’ conventions. That could make it harder for their rivals to convince donors, or voters, that they have a path to victory.
Faced with a massive day of voting across nearly a dozen states, candidates made their pitches to Americans on air and in photo ops at polling spots in areas poised to support them.
Many voters — including in Virginia, where voting began at 6 a.m. — were noticeably unenthusiastic about their choices on the presidential primary ballot, even as they felt obligated to turn out.
In Arlington, Va., one defense contractor, Nick Bryant, said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the only one on the GOP ballot looking for the middle ground.
“Out of the options, he’s the better one, but I wish he had more experience,” said Bryant, 54. “If both parties dig in their heels and stick to their guns, how do we govern? I really like Kasich, I like his calm and even tone, his demeanor. But you have to get ratings now, and he hasn’t.”
In suburban Richmond, where a tea party unknown named Dave Brat unseated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary two years ago, some voters were still in a throw-the-bums-out mood.
“The establishment had its turn and didn’t get the job done,” said Ben Alred, a 52-year-old middle school history teacher who cast his ballot for Trump at Maybeury Elementary School in Henrico County.
“My feeling is, we need someone who can make definitive decisions and has no ties to the infrastructure in Washington,” he said. “He’s definitely someone who’s not aligned with any party too deeply.”
Elsewhere in the country, voters confronted each other, an extension of the name-calling that has taken place among several of the candidates themselves.
At a polling place in Houston where Cruz cast his vote Tuesday, Francisco Valle, 74, held a sign depicting Trump with a Hitler-style mustache and his right hand raised; it read, “absolutely no Mexicans.” Valle also hung a sign with the letter T and word “Trump” in the shape of a swastika with “STOP” written beneath.
“I am here because I want to make awareness of a movement that is very dangerous to all the minorities, because Hitler started the same way,” said Valle, who is Mexican American. “He blamed the Jews for all the problems, and now Trump is blaming the Mexicans for the problems.”
At one point — before Cruz arrived — another voter, William Bruso, interrupted Valle when he answered questions for members of the Spanish-language media.
“Since most of us here speak English, can you repeat what you just said in English for everyone to understand, sir?” said Bruso, who was wearing a Cruz sticker and said he was half-Hispanic. “This is America, you know.”
And in some states, Democrats decided to vote for Rubio as a way of embarrassing Trump.
Tom Paquin, a resident of Cambridge, Mass., said in an email that his decision to back the Florida senator “might be the only Republican vote in this part of town.”
“Given Trump’s support in my state among the Neanderthals in western Massachusetts, I doubt it’ll make much of a difference,” Paquin added. “But I’m hopeful enough common-sense conservatives will rally behind the establishment choice, as vague a choice as it is with such a diluted field.”
Meanwhile, a handful of candidates gave interviews with morning anchors in an effort to sway undecided voters. In a telephone interview with the Fox News Channel, Trump called on Rubio to drop out of the race.
Calling him “Little Marco Rubio” — a phrase he has taken up, along with “Lying Ted Cruz” — he said of the Florida senator: “I think he has to get out. You know, he hasn’t won anything, and Ted Cruz very rightly points out, you know, Marco has not won.”
In a separate phone interview,George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “Good Morning America” asked the GOP front-runner whether he categorically rejects the support of all white supremacists, a controversy that erupted over the weekend when Trump did not immediately disavow former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke during a CNN interview.
“Of course I am. Of course I am,” he responded. “I mean, there’s nobody that has done so much for equality as I have. You take a look at Palm Beach, Florida, I built the Mar-a-Lago Club, totally open to everybody. A club that, frankly, set a new standard — a new standard in clubs and a new standard in Palm Beach — and I’ve got great credit for it. That is totally open to everybody.”
Trump also suggested that he is expanding the GOP’s base of support by appealing to Democrats and independents, even though some say he is alienating some traditional Republican backers.
“We have tremendous numbers of people coming in, and the Republican Party is growing larger,” he said. If it fails to do that, he added, “it’s not going to win.”
While voting results could give Trump a critical boost over his closest rivals, a well-funded super PAC is ramping up its effort to discredit the New York businessman with a new television advertisement that portrays him as a predatory huckster who scammed working- and middle-class Americans.
The 60-second ad, which will begin airing Wednesday on stations across the country at a cost of more than $1 million, centers on Trump University, the billionaire mogul’s for-profit enterprise that promised to teach students the tricks of the real estate trade and is now defunct and the subject of a fraud suit.
The attack echoes themes that Rubio, who is trying to unite the GOP’s anti-Trump forces under his own banner, has advanced as he has addressed swelling crowds in suburban areas.
Cruz, who has been partly overshadowed by Rubio in recent days, arrived with his wife and two daughters at a polling place at a Houston community center Tuesday morning. Speaking to reporters before voting, he told reporters that the overall delegate count Wednesday will send a clear signal as to who can halt the billionaire’s rise.
“Tomorrow morning, what is likely to happen is Donald Trump is likely to have a whole bunch of delegates. We’re likely to have a whole bunch of delegates, and I think there will be a big, big dropoff for the rest of the field,” he said. “I believe it would be an enormous mistake to nominate Donald Trump, so I speak to unity for Republicans.”
Wagner reported from Burlington, Vt.; Eilperin from Washington. Katie Zezima in Houston; Patricia Sullivan in Arlington, Va.; Laura Vozzella in Richmond, Va.; Abby Phillip in Minneapolis, Minn.; Scott Clement, Anne Gearan and Paul Kane in Washington; Robert Costa in Atlanta; Jose A. DelReal in Nashville; Fenit Nirappil in Norfolk, Va.; Ed O’Keefe in Alcoa, Tenn.; and David Weigel in Castleton, Vt., contributed to this report.