Republican frontrunner Donald Trump won a commanding victory Tuesday in Florida’s GOP primary, defeating Sen. Marco Rubio in his home state. But he failed to score a knockout blow against Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who scored a win in his backyard that allowed him to stay in the race.
Trump’s resounding win over Rubio forced the Florida senator out of the race and delivered Trump all 99 of the Sunshine State’s delegates in the first winner-take-all contest of the Republican presidential race. He also picked up victories in Illinois and North Carolina.
“We have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together,” said Trump, depicting himself as the only contender who can consolidate the GOP.
The billionaire has built a hefty, though not insurmountable, delegate lead over Rubio, Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. His three rivals have struggled to halt his path to the Republican nomination, and the best chance for his critics after Tuesday’s votes could be a delegate fight at the Republican National Convention.
Rubio bowed out of the race, saying he and other Republicans should have seen the anti-establishment furor coming. He tried to position himself as the mainstream alternative to Trump, but only managed to win the caucuses in Minnesota and the votes in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico after a string of second- and third-place finishes.
He blamed the GOP furor on a Washington establishment that “looked down at conservatives as simple-minded people,” but said he resisted the urge to play to voters’ fears.
“I chose a different route and I’m proud of that. That would have been, in a year like this, the easiest way to win. But that is not what’s best for America,” he said. “The politics of resentment against other people will not only leave us as a fractured party, it will leave us as a fractured nation.”
Trump claimed victory in Florida before the polls were closed, calling his win “massive.” At his resort in Palm Beach, he told supporters that the Paris terror attacks gave the race a “whole new meaning” and vowed to eradicate the Islamic State.
“We’re going to go forward. And we’re going to win. We’re going to win, win, win for the country,” he said. “And we’re not going to stop.”
Kasich, meanwhile, picked up his first win of the Republican primary contest in his home state. He’s relied on a sunny, positive message throughout his campaign and an appeal to moderates and independents. Since his second-place finish in New Hampshire, though, he had failed to gain much traction in the race.
With his victory over Trump in Ohio and Rubio’s departure from the race, Kasich becomes the establishment’s last hope to stave off Trump or Cruz. He said at his campaign rally in Berea, Ohio that he’ll be a consensus-builder who can fix the nation’s problems.
“You want to believe again that we can have job security. You want to believe that wages can rise. You want to believe that our children can ultimately have a better America than we got from our mothers and fathers,” said Kasich.
“I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” he added.
Voters in five major states cast ballots on Elimination Tuesday, which is shaping up to be the most pivotal day in the primary calendar. Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri held primaries, and hundreds of delegates are up for grabs. It’s also the first time huge troves of delegates are at stake in winner-take-all Republicans contests.
More: Marco Rubio bows out