Donald Trump scored a huge victory in the Indiana primary, dramatically increasing the odds that he will win the Republican presidential nomination without having to face a contested convention in Cleveland in July.
The Associated Press projected that the property magnate had notched up his seventh consecutive primary victory over Texas senator Ted Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich. With 10 per cent of the ballots counted in the state, Mr Trump had 54 per cent, compared to 34 for Mr Cruz and 9 for Mr Kasich.
In the Democratic race, the contest was too close to call. Hillary Clinton was leading Bernie Sanders by 52 per cent to 48 per cent with nine per cent of the ballots counted. But Mrs Clinton has already essentially locked up the nomination in recent weeks, leaving the Vermont senator almost no chance of turning the Democratic race around.
Mr Cruz had been pinning his increasingly long-shot campaign on winning Indiana, which would have narrowed the path for Mr Trump to win the 1,237 delegates needed to take the nomination on the first vote at the convention. But his loss in the state called the “Crossroads of America” badly dents his chances of stopping the mogul.
Following his victory in Indiana, Mr Trump moves closer to becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, an outcome that practically no one thought was conceivable when the tycoon launched his unorthodox campaign last June. Mr Trump has already dispatched 14 other contenders, including heavyweights such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, as he has stunned the Republican establishment.
The New York businessman has generated huge support among the Republican base with his populist message about tackling illegal immigration, bringing manufacturing jobs back to the country, and being tougher on everyone from China to Isis. The more the GOP establishment has raised concerns about his divisive rhetoric, the more he has climbed in the estimation of the voters who have handed him victories in 26 states across the US.
At his final Indiana rally on Monday night, Mr Trump told his supporters to ignore claims by Mr Cruz that he would not build the wall along the US-Mexico border, an issue Mr Trump has made a key part of his campaign platform. His supporters at the South Bend event chanted “Build that wall, build that wall”.
Since the Republican race narrowed to three candidates, Mr Cruz has pitched himself as the only true conservative while painting Mr Trump as a member of the establishment who is conning voters. Critics of Trump have also argued that his support has been capped at roughly 40 per cent. But he secured large margins in six straight victories in primaries in the north-east over the past two weeks, making it hard for Mr Cruz and Mr Kasich to argue that he was not the choice of GOP voters.
Polls have also shown that Republicans had grown increasingly unhappy with Mr Cruz in recent weeks, perhaps representing the success that Mr Trump has had in attacking his rival as “Lyin’ Ted”. According to Gallup, 45 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents had unfavourable views of the Texan, compared to 39 per cent who held a positive view. That was the worst result for Mr Cruz since July last year.
In Indiana many voters said they were unhappy at the move by Mr Cruz and Mr Kasich to form a strategic pact to help reduce the number of delegates that Mr Trump would win in Indiana and some other states. Mr Kasich essentially pulled out of the state to maximise Mr Cruz’s ability to consolidate the anti-Trump support.
“Trump is almost impossible to stop now for the nomination,” said Larry Sabato, a politics expert at the University of Virginia. “GOP elected officials are terrified. Most of them are going to pretend there is no Republican nominee for president. That should tell people something . . . Republican voters have done something incredible. Many of them think they are going to get a big pay-off in November. Maybe they’re right. But I think it is much more likely they have sealed their fate.”
Before Indiana, Mr Trump had accumulated 996 delegates, while Mr Cruz had 565 and Mr Kasich had 153. Based on the early results in the state, Mr Trump added at least 45 of the 57 delegates at stake, which will provide a significant boost towards his goal of reaching 1,237 delegates before the Republican party convenes its convention in Cleveland.
The race in Indiana grew ugly on Tuesday after Mr Trump gave credence to a story in the tabloid National Enquirer which claimed that Mr Cruz’s father had been involved with Lee Harvey Oswald who assassinated President John F. Kennedy. “What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting? It’s horrible,” Trump told Fox News.
After he was projected to have won Indiana, Mr Trump tweeted: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz consistently said that he will, and must, win Indiana. If he doesn’t he should drop out of the race — stop wasting time & money”.
David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist who steered Barack Obama’s campaign for president, told CNN that Mr Trump was a “marketing genius” for the way he had run in the Republican primaries.
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