WASHINGTON — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton were solidly on course Wednesday for their party's presidential nomination for the November general election after convincing wins in the latest batch of U.S. primary elections.
Trump won three states Tuesday, including the big prize Florida, but lost Ohio to that state's governor, John Kasich. Clinton won at least four states, dealing a blow to Bernie Sanders' bid to slow her march toward the Democratic prize.
With her wins, Clinton put herself in a commanding position to become the first woman in U.S. history to win a major party nomination.
The impact of Tuesday's outcome, however, may be diminished as President Barack Obama announced Wednesday morning he would announce his nomination of a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacant seat of the conservative Antonin Scalia, who died last month.
The court nomination has raised a controversy because the Republican-held U.S. Senate, which must approve the nominee, has vowed to not even consider the question until Obama leaves office in January. Scalia was part of a five-member conservative majority on the nine-member court.
In Tuesday's primary votes in five states, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who staked his once-promising campaign on winning in his home state, dropped out of the race shortly after the polls closed. That leaves Kasich as the last true establishment candidate running against Trump and arch-conservative Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Trump, the brash and controversial businessman and reality TV star, has upended Republican politics by winning most of the state-by-state competitions for delegates who will choose the party's nominee. He has seized on Americans' anger with Washington politicians, discomfort with immigration and fears of terrorism, attracting voters with his blunt talk and promise to make America "great again."
The Tuesday outcome was seen as pivotal for Republicans because, for the first time, two states — Ohio and Florida — had winner-take-all contests. A Trump sweep could have given him an insurmountable lead in the delegate count.
Trump won the biggest prize — all 99 Florida delegates — as well North Carolina and Illinois, and was locked in a tight race with Cruz in Missouri. He told a victory rally in Florida, "This was an amazing night."
Both the Republican and Democratic primaries in Missouri were too close to call Wednesday morning.
Kasich's win, capturing all of Ohio's 66 delegates, was crucial to keeping alive the hopes of mainstream Republicans trying to stop Trump. But while Kasich could benefit from Rubio dropping out, he remains an extreme longshot for the nomination, though he could help keep Trump below the 50 per cent threshold.
While Trump has amassed the most delegates, he's winning just 46 per cent of the delegates that have been awarded so far. If that pace continues, he would fall short of the majority needed to assure him the nomination at the party's convention in July. The result could be a contested convention, creating an unpredictable outcome.
Trump said "we'd have riots" if the party tried to deny him the nomination if he went to the convention with close to the majority of delegates needed.
"I think you would have problems like you've never seen before," Trump said on CNN.
Trump now has 621 delegates. Cruz has 396 and Kasich 138. Rubio left the race with 168 delegates. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination.
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 hoped to take the industrial states of Ohio and Illinois, both of which Clinton won.
Sanders is unlikely to overtake Clinton in the delegate count, but his victory last week in Michigan underscored the unease that many Democratic voters have about her candidacy.
Overall, Clinton has at least 1,561 total delegates including superdelegates, who are elected officials and party leaders free to support the candidate of their choice. Sanders has at least 800 delegates when the count includes superdelegates. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.
In Missouri, the margins between Trump and Cruz and between Clinton and Sanders, were less than one-half of 1 percentage point, meaning the losing candidate can request a recount. The Associated Press did not call either race.
By Steven R. Hurst, The Associated Press