MIAMI (AP) — Donald Trump claimed the first five Republican victories on Super Tuesday as the New York businessman extended his dominance in the 2016 primary. Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma.
Marco Rubio struggled without a win so far, a setback to his effort to emerge as the Trump alternative.
Contests in Vermont and Arkansas were too close to call as the first polls closed, while voting continued across four other states.
Trump’s first five victories came as the GOP front-runner looked for a sweep on a Super Tuesday marked by panic from Republican leaders.
Fearing Trump may build an insurmountable delegate lead, top Republican officials lashed out at the billionaire businessman’s command of the issues and “seeming ambivalence” over white supremacists as voting began. But having won three consecutive primary elections before Tuesday, Trump tightened his grip on the GOP nomination in primary elections across the country.
“These are challenging times for the Republican Party,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who wanted to stay neutral in the GOP primary but endorsed Rubio last week.
Early results of exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks showed large majorities of Republican primary voters in six states said they support Trump’s proposal to temporarily ban all non-citizen Muslims from entering the United States.
The results followed a wild prelude to Super Tuesday that featured a dispute over the Klu Klux Klan and extraordinary criticism from several Republican governors and senators who refused to say whether they would support their party’s front-runner should Trump win the nomination.
A confident Trump brushed off his critics early Tuesday, suggesting that he’s growing the party and even attracting Democrats to the GOP.
“We’re getting people into the party that they’ve never had before,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” ”I can tell you the one person Hillary Clinton doesn’t want to run against is me.”
A Trump sweep across much of the South would be a massive blow for Cruz. The Texas senator long expected the South to be his firewall.
Rubio’s goal on Super Tuesday was more modest — to stay competitive in the delegate count while eyeing a win in his home state of Florida on March 15. Republican officials have rallied behind Rubio over the last week, but he’s failed to win a single state so far.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson remain in the race, but neither is expected to be a major factor on Super Tuesday.
Trump jumped to a big delegate lead on Tuesday. He won 100 delegates on the night so far, with Rubio winning 12 and Cruz just five. There are 595 Republican delegates at stake in 11 states on Super Tuesday.
Overall, Trump leads with 182 delegates. Rubio has 28, Cruz has 22, John Kasich has six and Ben Carson has five.
It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blasted Trump’s “seeming ambivalence about David Duke and the KKK,” joining House Speaker Paul Ryan’s earlier call for the Republican front-runner to reject racism.
Tyler Murphy, a 26-year-old Boston resident who works as a project manager for a construction company, said he voted for Trump.
For better or for worse, he said, the controversial candidate is the “wake-up call” the country needs.
Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Stephen Ohlemacher in Washington, Bob Salsberg and Phillip Marcelo in Boston contributed to this report.
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