- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

MIAMI — Donald Trump dominated Florida’s GOP primary Tuesday, knocking Sen. Marco Rubio out of the race — but Gov. John Kasich claimed victory in Ohio, splitting the two top prizes on the board and making a contested convention ever more likely.

Elsewhere, Mr. Trump won the races in Illinois and North Carolina and was neck-and-neck with Sen. Ted Cruz in Missouri, as the front-runner continued to rack up delegates but fell short of the convincing tidal wave he was hoping would cement him as the presumptive nominee.

The GOP also continued to shatter turnout records, as Mr. Trump and his opponents draw millions of new people into a process that now appears poised to continue for months. Indeed, losing Ohio to Mr. Kasich, who picks up all of the state’s delegates, makes it tough for Mr. Trump to win an outright majority ahead of the July convention.

And Tuesday’s results, which saw Mr. Trump fail to clear the 50 percent mark in any of the five states, suggested that his magical run may finally be hitting speed bumps.

He’s faced increased scrutiny over how he’s handled protests at his campaign rallies and saw poor reviews from last week’s policy-heavy debate. And after months of a crowded field firing at each other, his opponents are organizing around the single purpose of trying to stop Mr. Trump.

The race turns to Arizona and Utah next week, with a slimmer field after Mr. Rubio suspended his campaign.

“While we are on the right side, this year, we will not be on the winning side,” the Florida senator said just minutes after polls closed at 8 p.m. and the networks projected he would be swamped in his own home state by Mr. Trump.

“Rubio is simply not qualified to be president,” said Elizabeth Fago, from Jupiter, Florida. “He’s a great guy, but what has he accomplished? What has he done? He’s done nothing in the business world, nothing in the political world.”

Mr. Kasich, by contrast, took care of business in Ohio, where his two decades as congressman and six years as governor helped his argument that he has the experience to hold the White House.

“I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” the governor said at his victory party, implicitly contrasting his own campaign with that of Mr. Trump.

A pro-Trump protester had to be escorted out of the party.

In a memo immediately after the Ohio win — Mr. Kasich’s first of the campaign, coming after about half of the states have voted — his strategist, John Weaver, said they’re on track to begin surging.

“With a narrowing field, Gov. Kasich is the candidate best positioned to go toe-to-toe in the remaining states,” Mr. Weaver wrote. He said they have campaigned on the cheap so they have enough money to keep going, and he said they expect to pick up most of Mr. Rubio’s voters.

Mr. Trump will still likely end the night with a lead in delegates to the nominating convention, but he squandered a chance to build a massive lead.

Mr. Weaver said at this point, none of the three remaining candidates will reach the 1,237 delegates needed to claim the nomination at the first ballot at the convention.

“The spotlight tonight begins to move toward John Kasich and people are going to have the opportunity in the states that are voting to really look at this man, and what they see they are going to like,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told the crowd at the Kasich victory party in Berea, Ohio.

Mr. Trump had hoped that victories in both Ohio and Florida would knock both home-state favorites from the race and cement himself in the top position.

Still, he pronounced himself satisfied.

“We had a fantastic evening, never thought this could happen – to win the states that we’ve won and by the margins,” Mr. Trump said at his victory party in Palm Beach.

In Florida, Mr. Trump triumphed easily, collecting 46 percent of the vote to Mr. Rubio’s 27 percent second-place finish. In North Carolina, Mr. Cruz posed a stiff challenge but Mr. Trump led him 40-37 with most of the precincts reporting.

In Missouri, Mr. Cruz and Mr. trump were tied at 41 percent with almost all of the votes counted. Only about 2,500 votes separated the two men, out of nearly 900,000 cast.

And in Illinois, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Kasich split the anti-Trump vote, leaving Mr. Trump the victor with 40 percent.

“Tonight we continued to gain delegates and continue our march to 1,237,” Mr. Cruz said. He again hinted that Mr. Kasich should drop out of the race and allow Republicans to unify around his own campaign.

Mr. Cruz went into the night with nine victories. Mr. Rubio had three, Mr. Kasich had none, and Mr. Trump had 16, including a win overnight in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Republicans again shattered turnout records, with Florida seeing more than 2.3 million voters come out — some 400,000 more than the previous GOP record in 2008.

Mr. Trump claimed credit for drawing those voters into the process, saying he’s the candidate that can expand the GOP. He called for the party to unify around him now.

“I voted for Trump because he’s a good businessman and that’s what our country needs,” said Janice Vinson, 69, voting in Jupiter, Florida.

Ms. Vinson said she was unperturbed by the recent violence at Trump rallies and the real estate mogul’s bombast.

“Quite frankly, he sounds like my husband – his mouth is in gear before his brain gets engaged,” Mrs. Vinson said, adding: “I believe that Trump will make the right decisions when it comes down to it.”

But in Ohio, it was Mr. Kasich who was drawing new voters to the GOP. Kathy Alessandrini of Canton said she usually votes Democrat in presidential races, but said Mr. Kasich had won her over.

“I’d hate to lose him from Ohio, but if he gets to become president I think it would be great because he will do what he says,” she said. “He is not all talk, and no action. He has turned Ohio around like you couldn’t believe.”

Seth McLaughlin reported from Berea, Ohio. Kelly Riddell reported from Palm Beach, Florida.

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