Fresh from resounding wins in New York’s primaries, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump declared they were on the way to locking up their parties’ nominations, and turned Wednesday to the next critical round of presidential campaign contests.
Tuesday’s election routs on their home turf re-set the presidential race, as Clinton halted rival Bernie Sanders’ multi-state winning streak.
Trump also righted his ship, after a series of losses to Ted Cruz that have raised the spectre of a bruising nomination endgame playing out at the Republican convention in July.
“The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight,” Clinton told jubilant supporters late Tuesday in Manhattan.
The former secretary of state, first lady and senator from New York, who campaigned in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, widened her already substantial delegate lead by securing 57.9 percent of the vote.
Vermont Senator Sanders received 42.1 percent — clearly a letdown for a campaign which had predicted a strong showing.
In her victory speech, the 68-year-old Clinton shifted her focus to the general election match-up with Republicans, extending an olive branch to Sanders supporters after a tense New York primary.
“To all the people that supported Senator Sanders, I believe there’s much more that unites us than divides us,” said Clinton.
Sanders, for his part, insisted that he would rebound in the upcoming primaries.
“We think we have a path to victory,” the 74-year old Sanders told reporters.
The self-declared democratic socialist planned to return to campaign trail Thursday, with stops in Pennsylvania, which plans to hold its vote on April 26 — the same date as elections in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and Rhode Island.
– US ‘going to hell’ –
Trump scored a blowout victory Tuesday with 60.5 percent of the vote — more than the combined vote percentages of Ohio Governor John Kasich and Cruz, an arch-conservative senator from Texas who was thumped by voters after daring to criticise “New York values.”
“Senator Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated” from the nominations race, a confident Trump said, noting his own campaign is nearly 300 delegates ahead after securing at least 89 of the 95 New York delegates at stake.
Trump’s provocative candidacy has appalled establishment Republicans, many of whom have joined an effort to block him from winning the nomination.
While Trump had toned down his divisive rhetoric in recent days, he returned to his fiery bravado and harsh name-calling Wednesday at a rowdy rally in Indiana, which votes early next month.
“I’m millions of votes ahead of lyin’ Ted Cruz,” he boomed, before taking aim at “crooked Hillary.”
And the political outsider doubled down on his claim that the system for picking delegates who ultimately will choose the Republican nominee is fixed.
“It’s a rigged, crooked system that’s designed so that the bosses can pick whoever they want,” he said.
Trump also attacked the country’s “stupid” leaders, and their inability to secure strong trade deals, negotiate successfully with China, or defeat what he described as radical Islamic terrorism.
“Our country is going to hell,” Trump said.
The rally was interrupted several times by protesters, with Trump repeatedly yelling: “Get ’em outta here!”
Even with his New York victory, Trump is hardly assured of reaching the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination outright before the convention in Cleveland.
He has now won 846 delegates, according to CNN’s tally, with some 670 delegates at stake in the remaining 15 Republican primaries. Cruz so far has 563, while Kasich has 147.
– ‘Nobody’ getting to 1,237 –
Even though he trails Trump, Cruz’s campaign has shown more savvy in working the complex delegate system.
Cruz, angling for a contested convention, downplayed Trump’s New York performance and insisted that no one has a path to outright victory.
“Nobody is getting to 1,237,” Cruz told reporters in Hershey, Pennsylvania, adding that the race is “headed to a contested convention.”
But Trump’s campaign sees it differently, according to an internal memo distributed late Tuesday of talking points for Trump surrogates to use in media appearances.
“Our projections call for us to accumulate over 1,400 delegates and thus a first ballot nomination win in Cleveland,” read the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.