The utterly unpredictable 2016 presidential campaign delivered new surprises Tuesday night.
Shortly after Donald Trump seized victory in Florida — knocking native son Marco Rubio from the presidential race — Ohio Gov. John Kasich stormed to a win in his home state, keeping alive slim GOP establishment dreams of forcing a contested convention in Cleveland.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton dealt a devastating blow to Bernie Sanders. Clinton not only proved she could win in the ur-swing-states of Florida and Ohio — she had a clean sweep, with victories in North Carolina, Illinois and (by the narrowest of margins) Missouri. The Democratic contest is all but over.
Here’s what you need to know.
So Marco Rubio is out?
Following tense days marred by violence on the campaign trail, Donald Trump won in a landslide in Florida — taking a nearly 20-point victory over the state’s one-time favorite, Rubio. In the Republican contest, Florida is a winner-take-all state; Trump seized 99 delegates.
The big Trump win immediately swept Rubio out of the presidential race. With an eye toward rehabilitating his brand for 2020, Rubio uncorked one of the best speeches of the campaign cycle. Returning to the sunny optimism that had defined his campaign — at least until he injected dick-size into the public debate with a joke about Trump’s tiny hands — Rubio offered a parting message: “I ask the American people: Do not give in to the fear.” (In a similar vein, he said in response to a heckler in the crowd, “Don’t worry, you won’t get beat up at our event.) He then bowed to the political reality of the moment. “While we are on the right side,” he said, “we will not be on the winning side” — and he announced he was suspending his campaign.
But WTF happened in Ohio?
The moment the Kasich campaign has been touting — dreaming about — finally came true Tuesday night. Kasich won his home state, another winner-take-all contest, securing him 66 delegates.
The Kasich strategy — ride out early losses to finally win a big, centrist state — has been around for a long time. The playbook is a gravy train for the consultant class. And it never works. Just ask Rudy Giuliani.
But running a patient, relatively cheap race, Kasich kept himself alive long enough — in an election just weird enough — to give him a chance to run a victory lap in the most important swing state in the land.
Republican turnout was massive. And Kasich beat Trump by more than 10 points — thanks to his strength with college-educated Ohio voters, a group he took from Trump by a margin of 55-to-29.
In his first victory speech of the 2016 contest, Kasich took a dig at his vulgar rival, declaring, “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.” And he vowed to stay in the race “all the way to Cleveland.”
Does Ohio really matter?
It does — but not in the sense that Kasich now has a viable path to the nomination. He needs more delegates than are still left on the table to secure that prize outright.
Instead, the Kasich victory may put a contested convention scenario in play. Without Ohio’s delegates, it is no longer a lock that Trump will be able to corral the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination outright. If he cannot reach that magic number, the Republicans may need riot gear inside Quicken Loans Arena as they battle for the party’s heart and soul in Cleveland this summer.
Wouldn’t blocking Trump tear the party apart?
Exit polls show the GOP is already a house bitterly divided: 37 percent of Republican voters said they would “seriously” consider voting for a third-party candidate in the event of a Trump-Clinton matchup. Thirty percent of Republican primary voters in Ohio said they would not vote for Trump in November. Twenty-two percent of Florida Republicans said the same.
If the GOP can’t swallow Trump, does that leave… Ted Cruz?
Cruz has nearly three times Kasich’s delegate haul, and remains the only Republican in the race with a mathematical shot of overtaking Trump. But Cruz did himself and the #NeverTrump crowd no favors Tuesday night by not scoring a single victory. The other three states that voted — North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri — all tipped into Trump’s column.
They were dancing at campaign headquarters in Brooklyn Tuesday night. It’s Hillary.
Just like that, the race is over?
Clinton ran the table, going five-for-five in some of the most delegate-rich states in the nation. She romped in Florida by more than 30 points, won by 14 points in both North Carolina and Ohio, edged out a two-point victory in Illinois and took Missouri in a squeaker.
Sanders’ post-Michigan momentum is broken. His campaign’s narrative — about Clinton being a “regional candidate” who can carry the South but can’t win in the industrial heartland — has been disproven. Clinton’s delegate lead was already formidable; it now looks insurmountable.
So what happened to Sanders’ revival?
In short: Ohio happened.
Clinton was expected to win Florida and North Carolina. Ohio was the state where Sanders’ Michigan miracle needed to repeat if he were to stay relevant. (If he won there, Illinois and Missouri would likely also swing his way.)
Instead, Sanders lost Ohio by double digits. Why? The electorate skewed older: 62 percent of voters were 45 or older; they swung for Clinton 70-to-29. Sanders did well among independents, but they made up a smaller share of the pie than in Michigan. And Clinton crushed Sanders among Democrats, winning by a margin of 30 points.
Ultimately, Ohio voters were also more convinced of Clinton’s electability; 65 percent saw her as the stronger candidate against Trump.
Did Clinton take aim at Trump?
Clinton’s victory speech marked a pronounced pivot toward the general election, drawing repeated contrasts to the Donald.
Clinton highlighted her toughness: “Our commander has to be able to defend our country,” she said, “not embarrass it.” And she dismissed Trump as a candidate of “bluster and bigotry,” declaring, “When he embraces torture, that doesn’t make him strong — it makes him wrong.”
In a week marred by hate and simmering violence, Clinton also brought a message of healing, calling on Americans to “reach out to treat each other with respect, kindness — and even love.”
The latest head-to-head poll shows her leading Trump 51-to-38.Watch highlights of Donald Trump’s speech after Tuesday’s primaries.