Democrat Hillary Clinton coasted to victory in North Carolina’s presidential primary on Tuesday, while Republican frontrunner Donald Trump won a tighter race over Ted Cruz.
With about 91 percent of the statewide GOP vote tallied, Trump led Cruz 40.6 percent to 36.7 percent, with John Kasich third at 12.5 percent.
Marco Rubio, who had the support of several key Republican officials in the state, including businessman Art Pope and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, finished a disappointing fourth and dropped out of the race after also losing to Trump in Florida, Rubio’s home state.
Clinton, who solidified her national delegate lead on the Democratic side with at least four victories in Tuesday’s five primaries, led U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in North Carolina, 54.7 percent to 40.5 percent. Clinton led every county east of the mountains except Alamance and Dare, where Sanders held slim margins.
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Clinton stopped by Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School at midday Tuesday for a final word with voters, including Joseph Lovelace. A veteran and former civil rights activist, Lovelace, 71, said he liked her political experience and trusted her to carry on the cause of advancing civil rights.
“Hillary’s ready from day one,” he said. “She’s been there. All these other guys can’t say that, but she’ll be ready day one.”
On the GOP side, Cruz, hoping to blunt Trump’s momentum with a strong turnout by evangelicals, did well in the Triangle and in a few counties to the east. In Wake County, he led Trump 40.1 percent to 29.3 percent. He also led in Durham, Orange and Chatham counties, in seven counties to the east of the Triangle and in five mountain counties.
The North Carolina primary was part of an important set of five primaries where 691 Democratic and 367 Republican delegates were at stake.
Front-runners Clinton and Trump both won big in Florida, with the GOP results there winnowing the presidential field: After finishing a distant second to Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ended his candidacy.
Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the Republican establishment’s other choice to try to stop Trump, managed to defeat the billionaire businessman in winner-take-all Ohio. That means Kasich will go on in hopes of denying Trump the 1,237 delegates he’ll need to get the GOP nomination.
That’s also the strategy of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has defeated Trump in several states and did manage the close second-place finish in North Carolina.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Clinton made it an early-evening trifecta by winning won Ohio – a state where Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had hoped to pull off a surprise upset.
Clinton, in a victory speech Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Fla., turned her aim to Trump, her most likely opponent in the general election. She said he would be a commander in chief who would embarrass the country. She also said his call to ban Muslims and deport 11 million immigrants “doesn’t make him strong. That makes him wrong.”
Clinton and Trump were also leading in Illinois and Missouri, though the races were closer.
In North Carolina, voters lined up early across the state to cast their ballots. Cleveland and Maria Pegues, who voted at the Southview Recreation Center in west Charlotte, also cast their ballots for Clinton.
“It’s time for a woman to be in there,” said Maria Pegues, 59.
At Forest Hill Church, off Park Road in Charlotte, John Sitton, 75, and wife Kay, 59, voted for Trump.
“He’s the only (Republican) who can beat Hillary,” he said. “And he can’t be any worse than Obama.”
On Monday, Clinton and Sanders held rallies in Charlotte. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Hillary Clinton last week in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro.
Clinton also made that last-minute stop in Raleigh on Tuesday, in addition to a campaign stop in Durham last week, despite polls that showed her with a double-digit lead over Sanders. He said he hoped to pull off a surprise upset of Clinton, similar to his unexpected victory in Michigan last week. In that state, polls also showed Clinton with a lead of more than 20 points over Sanders.
Clinton’s visits to North Carolina came as her campaign worried about voter turnout in the primary. In states such as Ohio, North Carolina and Illinois, there was concern that Democrats who support her would vote in the Republican primary against Trump, leaving Clinton vulnerable to a surge of Sanders supporters – and to more damaging upsets.
Trump also gathered supporters Monday near Charlotte, holding a rally in Hickory. He also held rallies in Concord and in Fayetteville last week. The Fayetteville rally generated controversy after a supporter was shown on video punching an anti-Trump protester in the face.
Cruz held a rally in Kannapolis last week along with one in Raleigh, and then had another rally in Concord on Sunday.
Digital specialist Clayton Hanson, staff reporters Will Doran and Bruce Henderson, staff photographer Davie Hinshaw and staff reporter Joe Marusak contributed.
Hillary Clinton 54.62%
Bernie Sanders 40.62%
Ted Cruz 36.69%
John Kasich 12.46%
Marco Rubio 7.67%
Donald Trump 40.56%
2,444 of 2,709 precincts reporting