- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Donald Trump steamrolled the GOP field and swept all five Northeast primaries Tuesday night, putting even more distance between himself and his competitors for the party’s presidential nomination as he tries to win enough delegates to avoid a divisive convention fight.

Networks called races in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut just after polls closed, citing exit polling that showed Mr. Trump with insurmountable leads among primary voters. Networks also called Rhode Island and Delaware for Mr. Trump around 8:30, citing early returns.

Returns showed Mr. Trump winning above 50 percent in all five states and crossing the 60 percent mark in several — finally scoring the kinds of margins a dominant candidate should be posting at this stage of the race.

“This was to me our biggest night because it shows such diversity,” Mr. Trump said at his victory party in New York, then later added, “I consider myself the presumptive nominee.”

The results were a severe disappointment for Sen. Ted Cruz, who was headed for a series of third-place finishes, and has failed to show he can win voters in the populous Northeast. Likewise, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who hasn’t won any contests other than his home state, failed to sway the moderate Northeastern Republicans he’d been counting on to boost his struggling bid.

Worse yet for the two men, there were already signs that the deal they struck this week to divide and conquer Mr. Trump in upcoming states has backfired, with voters saying they were switching to the billionaire businessman in protest.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump urges Bernie Sanders to run as an independent

“It’s really fishy, boy,” said Larry Kroneberger, a self-described “die-hard conservative and Reagan Republican” who was a Cruz supporter. He pulled the lever for Mr. Trump while voting on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Mr. Cruz insisted that despite his poor showing, the race isn’t over.

“Tonight, this campaign moves back to more favorable terrain,” he said while campaigning in Indiana, which votes next week.

The coalition of anti-Trump activists that’s dubbed itself #NeverTrump also said the race goes on, and blamed “the media” for trying to short-circuit the contest.

“The media may laud Trump’s northeast swing tonight, but they won’t be as positive in the fall when Donald is crushed by Clinton in very Republican states because he is historically disliked by women, minorities and members of his own party,” the coalition said in a statement.

For his part, Mr. Trump thanked the press Tuesday night, saying reporters have “really covered me fair” in recent weeks.

He also encouraged Sen. Bernard Sanders, who’s challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, to make an independent run for the White House, saying the Democratic Party has treated him badly.

He’ll take another major step in his transition to general election candidate Wednesday when he delivers a foreign policy speech in Washington. He then heads to Indiana, where he’ll receive the endorsement of former Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight.

Mr. Trump has now won 27 states and territories, while Mr. Cruz has won 11.

Heading into Tuesday, Mr. Trump held a lead of about 300 delegates over Mr. Cruz, and that number was likely to grow to nearly 400 by the end of the night.

Analysts said it’s now mathematically impossible for either Mr. Cruz or Mr. Kasich to win enough pledged delegates to guarantee a win on the first ballot at the convention. They’ve both been reduced to trying to deny Mr. Trump the 1,237-delegate majority as well, hoping to send the contest to a second or third vote, where they could sway delegates to support them instead.

The five states that voted Tuesday account for 172 delegates to the GOP’s convention in July.

The biggest chunk came from Pennsylvania, where 54 of the 71 delegates are unusual in that they are individually elected and free to vote for whomever they choose at the summer convention — making them a valuable target should Mr. Trump fail to secure enough “bound” delegates to win the nomination.

Mr. Trump did not have dedicated delegate candidates running in all of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts, each of which had three delegate slots on the line.

But Charlie Gerow, a veteran Pennsylvania Republican and delegate candidate who has not yet pledged support to any of the remaining candidates, said Mr. Trump appeared to have momentum in the districts where his supporters were on the ballot.

Mr. Gerow also said the Cruz-Kasich pact wasn’t sitting well with voters.

“I had a significant number of people say, ‘This reeks,’ ” he told The Washington Times.

The Trump wave was so strong that Mr. Gerow said that an elderly woman he gave a lift to the polls Tuesday morning told him on her way out that she didn’t vote for him for delegate — she voted for the Trump slate.

“I honestly think I am in big trouble,” Mr. Gerow said before the polls closed. “I have always done well in the delegate races here, but 2016 is very different, and the Trump brand is what is selling. For those of us running on our name, it is tough for us.”

Mr. Trump won across most demographics in the states where exit polls were conducted.

“He’s a crazy bastard, and anybody who’s crazy gets my vote,” said Michael Ayers, 53, a quality assurance contractor in Delaware who said he usually votes for a third-party candidate but praised Mr. Trump for speaking his mind and standing up to the Republican Party establishment.

“He tells it like it is, and he’s pissing off the establishment people, which makes it extra fun,” Mr. Ayers said.

Wayne Brittingham, 41, a tree trimmer, showed up at the poll intent on voting for Donald Trump but was unable to because he is a registered Democrat, ineligible to vote Republican in the state’s closed primary.

He said he decided not to vote at all if he couldn’t vote for Mr. Trump, and vowed to back the billionaire businessman in the general election if he gets the GOP nomination.

“I voted for Obama because I wanted change, but he gave us the wrong kind of change,” Mr. Brittingham said. “We’re weaklings now. He’s divided the country. Look what’s going on with the cops. He should be standing in there and backing up the cops, but he’s not. He’s not doing his job.”

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