- Florida senator staked campaign on winning his home state
- Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina also up for grabs in primaries
Trump will win Florida, according to CNN and MSNBC. The state awards its delegates on a winner-take-all basis, meaning the New York billionaire will collect all 99 at stake there. Rubio has vowed to keep fighting, although his donor network is likely to dry up.
Polls closed in Ohio and North Carolina, but the races there are too close to call.
The Florida outcome came as voting is drawing to a close on a day that could answer whether the billionaire is unstoppable in his quest to win the nomination, or can be denied a clear path to securing the delegates needed for victory.
Rubio once was viewed as one of the party’s rising stars, after winning his seat in Florida in 2010 as part of a Tea Party surge that year. Polling often showed him as a popular second-choice candidate for Republican primary voters, yet he struggled to record any wins in the early states. He finished fifth in New Hampshire’s primary.
After finishing second in South Carolina and Nevada, he went after Trump more directly, first on the debate stage and then in a series of campaign stops. He questioned Trump’s manhood, called the front-runner a “con artist” and mocked his “spray tan.” Rubio has since said he regretted that change in his tone.
For a brief time, after Rubio’s one-time mentor Jeb Bush dropped out, establishment Republicans viewed him as the best hope to stop the rise of Trump. Yet his mainstream positions, and relative youth as a one-term senator, were no match for the bombastic billionaire, who took to calling him "Little Marco" during debates.
It was in those debates that Rubio often shined, but he never could translate that into votes on the campaign trail. He won just three contests: Minnesota, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The four other large states voting today, in what could prove to be the most consequential primary balloting yet, are Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri. A Trump win in Ohio would make it almost impossible to stop his drive to the nomination, while also essentially ending the bid of Ohio Governor John Kasich.
The five states will allocate more delegates than on any other day on the nomination calendar, except for Super Tuesday two weeks ago. The voting also could go a long way to determining whether Trump will cruise to the nomination, or whether the party is headed for a potentially chaotic national convention in Cleveland in July.
The voting is the first tangible measure of Trump’s standing since a melee broke out Friday night in Chicago after the real estate mogul abruptly canceled a rally because of protests inside and outside the arena. The incident further heightened unease among establishment Republicans desperately seeking a way to stop him.
State wins will be closely watched on both sides of the race, but just as important are the number of delegates the candidates will secure. Like Florida, Ohio has a greater importance there, too, because it also awards delegates on a winner-take-all basis.
Even if the number of candidates shrinks following Tuesday’s voting, Trump could be hard to stop, in part because of the sped-up nomination calendar that has allowed to him to already amass a substantial delegate lead.
Heading into Tuesday’s balloting, Trump had 460 of the 1,237 delegates needed to win, according to Associated Press estimates. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas had 370, followed by Rubio at 163 and Kasich at 63.
As he did on Super Tuesday, Trump has called a news conference for 9 p.m. at his Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.
Rubio and Kasich have both outlined campaign schedules beyond Tuesday’s voting, although the governor has said he’ll drop out of the race if he doesn’t win Ohio.