Donald J. Trump crushed his Republican opponents in Pennsylvania, Maryland and three other states Tuesday, a sweep that put him considerably closer to capturing the party’s presidential nomination outright, while Hillary Clinton won Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Connecticut and was battling to amass enough delegates to put the Democratic nomination within her reach as early as mid-May.
Although Trump was widely expected to dominate the primaries, his margins of victory intensified the aura of inevitability around his bid to lead the Republicans and created urgent new challenges for his rivals. More significantly, they increased his chances of avoiding a fight on the floor of the party’s convention in July and of claiming the nomination on the delegates’ first ballot.
The other Republican candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, fared so poorly Tuesday that they were likely to lose most of the 118 bound delegates up for grabs across the Northeast. Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware also went for Trump.
Cruz is under intense pressure to beat Trump in Indiana’s primary next week, perhaps the last real chance the stop-Trump forces have to halt his march to the nomination. He and Kasich forged an alliance to stop Trump in Indiana, but it already appears strained.
Even before polls closed in the East on Tuesday night, Cruz tried to pre-empt the rush of coverage about Trump’s dominance.
“Tonight this campaign moves back to more favorable terrain,” Cruz told supporters in Knightstown, Ind.
Trump was having none of that. “It’s over. As far as I’m concerned it’s over,” he declared at his victory rally in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York. He declared himself the GOP’s “presumptive nominee.”
On the Democratic side, while Sen. Bernie Sanders won the primary in Rhode Island, Clinton was poised to pick up significantly more delegates in Maryland and Pennsylvania in particular. Her advisers predicted that she would net at least 30 more pledged delegates overall to add to her lead of about 240 going into the primaries.
Clinton advisers said Tuesday’s final delegate tally would reveal not if, but when, Clinton would win the nomination: either in early June or as soon as the Kentucky and Oregon primaries May 17, if she does better than expected in the coming weeks.
She now has 90 percent of the delegates she needs to win the Democratic nomination, when superdelegates are included.
Clinton predicted that she would return to Philadelphia this summer for the Democratic convention “with the most votes and the most pledged delegates.” But she also looked past her competition with Sanders.
“If you are a Democrat, an independent or a thoughtful Republican, you know that their approach is not going to build an America where we increase opportunity or decrease inequality,” Clinton said of the GOP candidates.
Sanders, speaking Tuesday night at a rally in West Virginia, which votes May 10, said he would stay in the race. He made an unusually pointed appeal to superdelegates, arguing he had won more votes from independents and from Republicans than Clinton and would be a stronger general election candidate.
“As of today, we have won 16 primaries and caucuses all over this country, and with your help we’re going to win here in West Virginia,” Sanders said.
For all his fortitude, Sanders plans to reassess his candidacy today and decide whether to adjust his strategy if Clinton’s delegate lead appears all but insurmountable. His senior strategist, Tad Devine, said the Sanders team would discuss a range of issues. Devine said he could still see a mathematical path to securing the nomination but added that if it changed, the campaign would have to adjust.
Compared with the ferocity before the New York primary, there was little drama in the lead-up to Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic contests. Trump’s advantage across all five states was so forbidding that Cruz abandoned the Northeast entirely Saturday, and Kasich was left to pick up stray delegates. Clinton and Sanders campaigned aggressively in Pennsylvania and Connecticut, but they focused largely on policy issues like fracking, gun control and Wall Street reform rather than sniping at each other as they did in a raucous televised debate in Brooklyn.
There were 118 Republican delegates up for grabs Tuesday, along with 54 more unbound delegates elected from Pennsylvania, giving Trump the opportunity to accumulate enough to push his total share well over 900 heading into the final 10 states casting ballots. He would need 1,237 delegates to clinch the nomination before the party gathers for its convention in July.
Not only did Trump have significant prospects for a substantial delegate haul Tuesday, a week after his dominating performance in New York, he also had the opportunity to send a clear message to party leaders and other Republicans that resistance to his nomination is futile.
“You cannot deny the psychological victory from winning all the primaries, because if he can turn that into Indiana success next week, it starts to become a self-fulfilling dynamic through California,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist who was an architect of a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush’s presidential bid. (The California primary on June 7 offers the most Republican delegates of any state: 172.)
Trump’s path toward a delegate majority becomes far clearer if Cruz is unable to defeat him in Indiana.
The stakes for Cruz are so high that speculation has been swirling that he would try to change the subject from his latest losses and announce his pick for vice president before the primary in Indiana.
The two Democrats have also been eyeing Indiana, with Clinton campaigning there Tuesday, but she and Sanders were chiefly preoccupied with Pennsylvania, where 210 delegates were at stake, the day’s largest prize. The Democrats were vying for a total of 462 pledged delegates Tuesday, with the bulk coming from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.