Americans began voting Tuesday in what is deemed the most pivotal day in the presidential nominating process, with frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hoping to wipe out their rivals.
Voters in a dozen states will take part in “Super Tuesday” a series of primaries and caucuses in states ranging from Alaska to Virginia, with Virginia the first to open its polling stations at 6:00 am (1100 GMT).
If Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump an outspoken billionaire political neophyte who has unexpectedly tapped into a vein of conservative rage at conventional politics win big, it could spell doom for their challengers.
Hours before polls opened, the duo made last-ditch appeals to supporters ahead of a day like few others on the calendar leading up to the November election for the White House.
Trump’s Republican rivals, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were frantically trying to halt the real estate magnate’s march toward nomination, seeking to unite the party against the man they see as a non-conservative political interloper.
Clinton is riding high after thrashing rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina over the weekend, securing an astronomical 86 percent of the African-American vote in her third win in four contests.
Should she win black voters by similar margins in places such as Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, she should dominate there to become once again the inevitable candidate.
That was her status at the start of the campaign before the rise of Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
She was leaving nothing to chance, traveling to multiple states on Monday to urge a strong turnout.
Clinton also took aim at the increasingly hostile campaign rhetoric on the Republican side led by Trump.
– Scapegoating, finger-pointing –
“I really regret the language being used by Republicans. Scapegoating people, finger-pointing, blaming. That is not how we should behave toward one another,” she told hundreds gathered at a university in Fairfax, Virginia.
“We’re going to demonstrate, starting tomorrow on Super Tuesday, there’s a different path that Americans ought to take.”
Trump’s incendiary campaign has infuriated Republican rivals, including mainstream favorite Rubio who has intensified his personal attacks and stressed Trump would have trouble in a general election.
The Florida senator warned supporters in Tennessee that US media and Democratic groups will jump on Trump “like the hounds of hell” if he wins the nomination.
But Trump is clearly in the driver’s seat. He is leading in polls in at least eight of the 11 Super Tuesday states.
And a new CNN/ORC poll shows the billionaire expanding his lead nationally, earning a stunning 49 percent of support compared to second place Rubio, at 16 percent.
Cruz of Texas is third, at 15 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 10 percent and John Kasich at six percent.
Trump punched back against Rubio, calling him “Little Marco,” mocking him for sweating on the campaign trail and warning that he could not stand up to strong men like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, in which he has accused Mexico of sending rapists across the border, mocked women and the disabled and urged a ban on Muslims entering the country, would have been the undoing of a normal candidate.
But the 2016 cycle has been anything but normal, with a furious electorate keen to back an outsider who scorns the political establishment.
“I’m representing a lot of anger out there,” Trump told CNN.
“We’re not angry people, but we’re angry at the way this country’s being run.”
In the latest controversy, Trump came under withering criticism for not immediately disavowing the support of David Duke, who once led the Ku Klux Klan.
Rubio said Trump’s failure to promptly repudiate Duke, who has expressed support for Trump, makes him “unelectable.”
Some conservatives have said they will shun Trump if he is the nominee.
“This is the party of Abraham Lincoln,” said Senator Ben Sasse, accusing Trump of being a non-conservative plotting a “hostile takeover” of the party.
Trump supporters “need to recognize that there are a whole bunch of other people who say, if this becomes the David Duke/Donald Trump party, there are a lot of us who are out,” he told MSNBC.
If Trump sweeps the South, where many of the Super Tuesday races are taking place, it could be lights out for his Republican challengers.
Texas is the largest prize on Tuesday, and Cruz is banking on winning his home state. He trails in nearly all other Super Tuesday states.
595 Republican delegates are up for grabs Tuesday, nearly half the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination.
Some 865 Democratic delegates are at stake, 36 percent of those needed to win.
Sessions, a conservative heavyweight known for his hardline immigration views, backed Trump at a packed rally in a local football stadium here, praising his stance on immigration and trade and calling his campaign a “movement… that must not fade away.”
“The American people are not happy with their government,” Sessions said. “We have an opportunity Tuesday. It may be the last opportunity we have for the people’s voice to be heard.”
The Alabama senator, who has never endorsed a candidate in a Republican presidential primary, repeatedly praised Trump’s position on immigration, which includes his proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and deport illegal immigrants. “You have asked for 30 years, and politicians have promised for 30 years, to fix illegal immigration,” Sessions said. “Donald Trump will do it.”
Sessions is the first sitting U.S. senator to formally endorse Trump, and his decision to back the real estate mogul and former reality-show star is a major blow to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of Sessions’ closest allies in Washington, who had lobbied for his support.
Still Sessions hinted that he didn’t entirely agree with all of Trump’s views. “You know, nobody is perfect. We can’t have everything,” he told the crowd here. But, he added, “I think at this time, in my opinion, my best judgment, at this time in America’s history, we need to make America great again.”
His endorsement came just days after Trump won the backing of his former rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“I am becoming mainstream! All these people are endorsing me!” Trump gleefully declared after the Alabama senator announced his support. “But Sessions… that’s a biggie.”
The endorsements came as Trump heads into Super Tuesday with what seems to be unstoppable momentum. According to polls, the businessman leads in all 10 states voting on Tuesday — except for Texas, where he narrowly trails Cruz. The Trump camp is so confident heading into Super Tuesday that the candidate is spending most of that day campaigning in states such as Ohio and Florida, home turf of his rivals John Kasich and Marco Rubio, where Republicans will vote later this month.
Still, much of the Trump rally here was dedicated to trashing Rubio, who has spent the last three days furiously attacking the GOP frontrunner in a bid to consolidate the anti-Trump wing of the party. Before the candidate took the stage, he was preceded by a string of speakers, attacking Rubio as soft on immigration and protecting American workers. At the podium, Trump spent more than half his speech trashing the Florida senator, whom he referred to again and again as “Little Marco.”
“He’s not cool. He sweats too much. And I don’t want him negotiating for us,” Trump said. “We don’t need a guy who is sweaty and scared.”
Clinton leaves the state with a growing delegate lead that she is increasingly unlikely to ever surrender. Bernie Sanders leaves with neither momentum nor math on his side, and without a clear path to capturing the nomination.
“Tomorrow, this campaign goes national,” Clinton said tonight in her victory speech.
Indeed, she’s better positioned for a national campaign. She also has a regional advantage that’s likely to become evident on Super Tuesday, where seven of the 11 states with Democratic contests are in the South.
The first four contests give Clinton three wins and one lopsided loss. They also answer some of the broadest questions about her ability to turn out Barack Obama’s old base answers that are starting to break in Clinton’s favor.
African-American voters constituted a larger share of the electorate in South Carolina this year than they did in 2008, despite the obvious historic nature of Obama’s candidacy. Clinton carried black voters by more than 70 percentage points on Saturday, a week after winning African-Americans in Nevada by north of 50 points.
Just days before the Super Tuesday “SEC” Democratic contents, Hillary Clinton holds at least a 20-point lead in three of the key states Georgia, Texas, and Virginia. Majorities of Democratic primary voters in these states have made up their minds as to whom to vote for.
As the race shifts to the South, the Democratic contest will now feature states with larger percentages of African American voters especially in Georgia, where they made up just over half of those voting in the Democratic primary in 2008. This year, while white voters are somewhat divided between Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders in these three states, three in four black voters are supporting Clinton.
Sanders maintains his a large lead among voters under thirty, but Clinton is beating him among voters between 30 and 44 in all three states, an age group that Sanders won easily in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Clinton has an even larger lead among voters 45 and older. Men are divided between the two candidates, but Clinton has a strong lead among women.
Most voters think both candidates understand people like them, but they have more confidence in Sanders when it comes to favouring regular people over big donors, and Sanders is generally seen as the more principled candidate. Honesty is an even bigger concern when it comes to Hillary Clinton: though two-thirds of Democratic voters say Sanders is honest, just over a third of voters say the same for Clinton. Even among black voters, less than half describe her as honest.
But Clinton is generally seen as more qualified to be president — particularly in Georgia, where less than half of Democratic voters view Sanders as qualified. As a result, Clinton is seen as better able to handle a number of issues, including improving race relations in America, gun policy, being commander-in-chief, health care, and standing up on to a Republican Congress. In Texas and Virginia, Sanders does better on fixing income inequality, but in Georgia with its higher proportion of black voters Clinton wins on this issue as well.
Clinton and Sanders supporters have different priorities: most Clinton supporters are backing her because they think she gives the Democrats a good chance to win in November, while Sanders supporters are more concerned with accomplishing a progressive agenda. Clinton supporters tend to want to continue the policies of Barack Obama, while Sanders supporters overwhelmingly want to switch to more progressive policies than that of the current administration.
Looking ahead to the general election, Clinton may have some trouble garnering the enthusiasm of Sanders supporters should she win the nomination. Sanders supporters are more likely than Clinton supporters to say the Democratic Party doesn’t represent them, and less than half of Sanders supporters are even somewhat enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, though most would still vote for her.
Fresh from an endorsement by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump accelerated his political slug fest with opponent Marco Rubio on Saturday just days before the delegate-rich Super Tuesday contests.
With dueling appearances in Arkansas and Georgia, the billionaire businessman and U.S. senator from Florida continued an onslaught of personal insults that began on a debate stage on Thursday and looks likely to continue for months.
“The majority of Republican voters do not want Donald Trump to be our nominee, and … they are going to support whoever is left standing that is fighting against him to ensure that we do not nominate a con artist,” Rubio told reporters in Georgia.
Trump, speaking in front of his private plane in Arkansas, along with Christie, whose endorsement on Friday shocked Republican leaders anxious about his likelihood of winning the nomination, belittled Rubio and accused him of being fresh.
“I watched this lightweight Rubio, total lightweight, little mouth on him, ‘bing, bing, bing’ … and his new attack is he calls me a con artist,” Trump said. “The last thing I am is a con man.”
Their back and forth came while voters went to the polls in South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, taking place a week after South Carolina’s Republican primary.
A big win would give Clinton added momentum ahead of Tuesday, when roughly a dozen U.S. states make their choices for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.
With hundreds of delegates at stake in Tuesday’s contests, the day could be a critical turning point for candidates in both parties.
Nominations in both parties are contingent on winning a majority of the votes by the delegates sent to the party conventions in July.
The Tuesday contests could upend the Republican race further if underperforming candidates drop out. Ted Cruz, the U.S. senator from Texas who won the Iowa nominating contest, must do well in his home state on Tuesday to regain momentum. Texas will send 155 delegates to the Republican National Convention, more than 10 percent of the 1,237 delegate votes needed for the party’s nomination.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is behind in the polls, said his state’s contest on March 15 would determine whether he stays in the race.
With the high-profile exception of Christie, many “establishment” Republicans have coalesced around Rubio in the hope of stopping Trump from gaining their party’s mantle in the general election.
Rubio stopped short of calling on his fellow candidates to drop out on Saturday.
“When voters have a clear choice between two people, that’s when Donald Trump starts to lose, so the sooner that happens, the better off we’re going to be as a party,” he said.
Rubio, who has criticized Trump for resisting releasing his tax returns, had not released his own by Saturday afternoon. He said Trump did not want his to be made public because they might reveal him to be less wealthy than believed.
“I think part of it is he’s not as rich as he says he is,” Rubio said.
At a campaign rally in Georgia, Cruz said a Trump victory would doom the party’s chances of winning the White House.
The problem may be that it took 10 debates and three Trump victories to get Rubio fired up.
Rubio, along with most of the other GOP presidential candidates, has treated Trump with kid-gloves for months, tiptoeing around glaring questions about the real estate mogul’s business record, political ideology, brash temperament and ambiguous policy proposals.
Only now, with Trump threatening to pull away from the field, did Rubio aggressively and brutally try to dismantle the billionaire businessman’s grip on the Republican race, with occasional help from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Rubio accused Trump of shifting his position on deportation and staffing his hotels and other businesses with foreign workers instead of Americans. He also punched holes in the real estate mogul’s vague proposal for replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“What is your plan, Mr. Trump? What is your plan on health care?” Rubio pressed.
The senator also gleefully pointed out Trump’s propensity for repeating talking points over and over again, the same criticism that tripped up Rubio in a debate earlier this month.
“Now he’s repeating himself!” Rubio exclaimed.
Rubio’s assertive posture was sure to be cheered by the crush of Republican officials who have rallied around his campaign in recent days, desperate for the senator to become a viable alternative to Trump. But privately, many were likely wondering why it took so long for Rubio to make his move and whether his strong showing came too late.
Next week’s Super Tuesday contests mark the biggest single-day delegate haul of the nomination contests. A strong showing by Trump could put the nomination within his grasp, raising the stakes for his rivals to stop him.
Rubio was sometimes joined by Cruz in tag-team attacks on Trump. It was a tactical shift for two senators who had trained their fire on each other in recent weeks, both betting that the best strategy was to clear the field of other rivals before moving on to Trump.
But Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses clearly changed their calculus. Trump dominated that contest, beating second-place Rubio by more than 20 points, and pulling ahead significantly in the early delegate count after victories in South Carolina and New Hampshire as well.
Trump appeared rattled at times as he faced the most sustained, face-to-face attacks of the campaign. Before Thursday, only Jeb Bush had made a real effort to tangle with Trump on the debate stage, though it did little to help the former Florida governor. Bush ended his campaign last week after disappointing showings in early primaries and a fundraising drought.
Rubio appeared to have taken lessons from Bush’s exchanges with Trump. The senator was prepared for Trump’s frequent habit of interrupting and almost willfully refused to back down when the businessman tried to talk over him. He also took a page out of Trump’s own playbook, lacing his more substantive critiques with some sharply personal attacks.
During a particularly biting exchange, Rubio said that if Trump hadn’t inherited family money, he would be “selling watches in Manhattan.”
Trump punched back with trademark insults.
After Rubio criticized his hiring practices, the businessman said, “You haven’t hired one person, you liar.” And when Cruz challenged Trump’s conservative credentials by suggesting he’s been too cozy with Democrats, the front-runner ripped the senator for being loathed by many of his Senate colleagues.
“You get along with nobody,” Trump said. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
At times, the three-way fight between Trump, Rubio and Cruz devolved into a shouting match, with each struggling to be heard, let alone make a substantive policy point. The debate moderators were virtually helpless, as were the two other candidates on stage, John Kasich and Ben Carson.
For Rubio, the squabbling was a long way from the uplifting calls for a generational change in American politics and heavy focus on his family’s moving immigrant story that have been the cornerstone of his campaign. Those were the messages that have set Democrats on edge about the prospect of their eventual nominee, likely Hillary Clinton, facing the telegenic, 44-year-old Cuban-American in the general election.
Rubio’s next challenge beyond topping Trump in at least some of the upcoming primaries, will be infusing that more optimistic message into his critique of Trump. He’s also likely to face the full force of Trump’s attacks for the first time in the campaign.
Even before the debate was over, Trump suggested he was eager to keep up the fight.
“This is a lot of fun up here, I have to tell you,” Trump said.
Outside Challenger Donald Trump’s grasp on the Republican presidential nomination growing increasingly stronger, the billionaire businessman’s rivals get one more chance to challenge the GOP front-runner on the debate stage before next week’s slate of Super Tuesday contests.
The situation is likely more dire for the other GOP candidates than they’d like voters to believe. Yet Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have so far shown little willingness to take on the former reality television star when the national spotlight shines brightest.
That could change Thursday night in Houston.
“The vast and overwhelming majority of Republicans do not want Donald Trump to be our nominee,” Rubio told NBC, suggesting that Trump is winning only because the other candidates are splitting up the majority of the electorate.
For his part, the New York billionaire predicted the relative civility between Rubio and himself is about to disappear. The ninth Republican debate of the presidential campaign will take place just a few days before 11 states hold GOP elections that will either cement Trump’s dominance, or let his rivals slow his march to his party’s presidential nomination.
Both Cruz and Rubio know full-well that the strategy of ignoring the front-runner is not working. How they tackle Trump remains to be seen, to date, Trump has proved largely immune to traditional political attacks, something he reveled in on Wednesday. “I seem to have a very good track record when to do go after me,” the New York real estate mogul told NBC.
The task is made more complicated by the shift from single-state campaigns to a new phase of the race, where the candidates must compete across several states at the same time. Next Tuesday features voting in a mix of states that include Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Virginia, with more to come in the weeks after.
Trump won Nevada’s presidential caucuses on Tuesday with more than 45 percent of the vote, scoring his third consecutive primary victory in dominant fashion. Rubio edged out Cruz for runner-up for the second consecutive race, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson far off the pace.
As they seek to become the Trump alternative, Cruz and Rubio have significant liabilities of their own.
Cruz comes into the debate at the weakest point of his presidential campaign after a staff shakeup and three consecutive third-place finishes.
The Texas senator ousted a senior aide on Monday after the aide promoted an inaccurate news report that Rubio had condemned the Bible during a chance encounter with Cruz’s father. The aide’s dismissal helps legitimize Trump and Rubio charges that Cruz has been running an unethical campaign.
Even while vulnerable, Cruz signaled an aggressive stance heading into the debate. He lashed out at Trump and Rubio as “Washington dealmakers” while talking to reporters in Houston on Wednesday. Rubio, Cruz said, had worked with Democrats to craft an immigration overhaul, while Trump has given money to Democrats and backed their priorities at times in recent years.
“I don’t think the people of Texas and I don’t think the people of this country want another Washington dealmaker to go and surrender more to the Democrats, giving in to the failed liberal agenda,” Cruz said.
Rubio, meanwhile, is just one debate removed from a primetime meltdown. The Florida senator repeated himself several times in a New Hampshire debate less than three weeks ago, triggering what he now calls “the New Hampshire disappointment.” He avoided a similar mistake in the subsequent debate, but critics in both parties will be laser-focused on anything that suggests the 44-year-old legislator isn’t sufficiently prepared to move into the White House.
But Rubio, who has been reluctant to publicly talk about Trump by name, stepped up his aggressiveness Wednesday.
In an appearance in Houston, he criticized Trump for what Rubio said was a failure to strongly oppose the federal health care law derided by critics as “Obamacare.”
The Florida senator also said “the front-runner in this race, Donald Trump, has said he’s not going to take sides on Israel versus the Palestinians because he wants to be an honest broker.”
Rubio said there was no such thing “because the Palestinian Authority, which has strong links to terror, they teach little kids, 5-year-olds, that it’s a glorious thing to kill Jews.” He also named Trump in accusing him of thinking “parts of Obamacare are pretty good” drawing boos.
Emboldened by the recent departure of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush from the race, Rubio has fresh momentum after two consecutive second-place finishes. His team is convinced they must dispatch with Cruz before turning their full attention to taking down Trump.
Rubio also said that he’d respond to Trump and Cruz if attacked in Thursday’s debate, but that, “I didn’t run for office to tear up other Republicans.”
And after eight debates, it’s unclear what sort of attacks could work against Trump. As his resume would suggest, he’s proven to be a master showman on primetime television.
Businessman Donald Trump inched closer to the U.S. Republican presidential nomination after easily outdistancing his rivals in the Nevada caucuses Tuesday, giving him his third win in four early nominating contests.
Broadcast networks called the state for Trump almost immediately after voting ended, with the state Republican Party confirming the victory soon after.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was in second place, with Ted Cruz, a U.S. Senator from Texas, coming in third.
Trump’s decisive win is likely to further frustrate Republican establishment figures who, less than a month ago, were hoping that the outspoken billionaire’s insurgent candidacy was stalled after he lost the opening nominating contest in Iowa to Cruz.
But since then, Trump has tallied wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and now Nevada, with a suite of southern states ahead on March 1, so-called Super Tuesday.
“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas.
Polls suggest Trump will do well in many of those Super Tuesday states, placing further pressure on Cruz, Rubio, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, another presidential candidate who was not a factor in Nevada, to come up with counter-measures quickly.
In the run-up to Nevada, most of Trump’s rivals left him alone, preferring to tussle with each other in a bid to be the last surviving challenger to the front-runner.
Not long after Trump’s win was certified in Nevada, Cruz’s campaign released a statement criticizing Rubio for not winning the state, but did not mention Trump at all.
Rubio, who has emerged as the Republican establishment’s favorite to derail Trump’s progress, can take some solace in finishing second. But that also has to be viewed as somewhat of a setback considering that he had frequently campaigned in Nevada, having lived there for years as a child. A Cuban-American, he had attempted to rally the support of the state’s large Latino population.
Rubio had also benefited from the departure Saturday of Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, from the race. That brought an influx of new funds, a bevy of endorsements, and a wealth of media attention. But none of it was enough to overtake Trump.
As for Cruz, he is facing mounting questions about the viability of his campaign. After Cruz’s Iowa win, Trump has made serious inroads among his core base of conservative supporters, draining anti-government hardliners and evangelicals.
Cruz attempted to appeal to Nevada’s fierce libertarian wing, appealing directly to those who supported local rancher Cliven Bundy’s armed protest against the federal government in 2014 and a similar more recent one staged by Bundy’s sons at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. But that, too, was not enough.
The upcoming March 1 primary in his home state of Texas is looming as a make-or-break moment for him.
Despite early reports on social media of procedural irregularities at many Nevada caucus sites, the Republican National Committee and the party’s state chapter said voting ran smoothly. Higher-than-normal turnout was reported, although historically, few of the state’s citizens participate in the Republican caucus.
Nevada’s contest had been viewed as a test of whether Trump had organizational might to match his star power. Unlike primaries, caucuses are more dependent on the abilities of campaigns to motivate supporters to participate. Trump’s failure to do that in Iowa was viewed as contributing to his defeat there.
He had no such problems in Nevada. And he is expected to win the bulk of Nevada’s 30 delegates, That would give him more than 80 before February ends, dwarfing the tallies of Cruz and Rubio.
While more than 1,200 are needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination, Trump has built a formidable head start.