, WASHINGTON, Mar 2 – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump piled up the wins in pivotal Super Tuesday contests, US networks projected, as the frontrunners edged closer to clinching presidential nominations.
Clinton, the former secretary of state, was the projected winner in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the vital battleground state of Virginia, auguring well for her campaign as millions of votes are counted in a dozen states across the country.
Super Tuesday is the most pivotal day of the US presidential primary season so far, with Clinton and Trump hoping to wipe out all rivals for their party nominations.
Billionaire real estate mogul Trump was projected to win the Republican contests in Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts and Tennessee, and held a narrow lead over Marco Rubio in Virginia, according to early exit polls.
His success will sow yet more terror in the Republican hierarchy, which fears the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan could face electoral annihilation in November’s general election if he is the nominee.
Trump’s main Republican rivals, Senators Rubio and Ted Cruz, have been frantically trying to halt his march toward the nomination, seeking to unite the party against the man they see as a non-conservative political interloper.
But it might be too little too late, with polls showing the 69-year-old Trump with a commanding lead nationwide.
Clinton, coming off a blowout weekend win in South Carolina, continued her dominance in the South, though her camp has played down talk of a clean sweep Tuesday.
That proved to be prescient, with rival Bernie Sanders projected to win his tiny home state of Vermont.
Sanders told supporters: “(It) means so much to me that the people who know me best, the people who knew me before I was elected, who knew me as mayor, Congressman and know me as Senator, have voted so strongly to put us in the White House.”
The 68-year-old Clinton, as she made her final case to voters earlier in Minnesota, appeared to tilt toward the general election matchup, assailing Republicans “running their campaigns based on insults.”
Asked if Trump would be the eventual nominee, she told reporters “he could be on the path.” But “whoever they nominate, I’ll be prepared to run against (him) if I’m fortunate to be the nominee.”
A new CNN/ORC poll found that both Clinton and Sanders would easily defeat Trump if the general election — set for November 8 — were held now.
– An incendiary campaign –
US presidential elections: Super Tuesday
© AFP Colin HENRY, Kun TIAN, Alain BOMMENEL
Trump’s incendiary rhetoric has infuriated his Republican rivals, and the race has descended in recent days into a mud-slinging match between him and the mainstream favorite Rubio.
The Florida senator sent a letter to his supporters Tuesday calling Trump “a serious threat to the future of our party, and our country.”
“In just the last few days, Trump has refused to condemn white supremacism and the Ku Klux Klan, praised dictators Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi, and proposed infringing upon the First Amendment of our Constitution,” he wrote.
“This is no joke. It’s time to fight back.”
Trump also received a stern rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan over his failure to immediately denounce the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
“If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games,” Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, told reporters. “This party does not prey on people’s prejudices.”
But the CNN/ORC poll gave Trump 49 percent of support nationwide, with Rubio a distant second at 16 percent and Cruz one point further behind.
Cruz, a Texas senator, is however banking on winning his home state, the largest prize on Tuesday.
– Furious electorate –
Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric — he has accused Mexico of sending “rapists” across the border, mocked women and the disabled, urged a ban on Muslims entering the country, and eagerly advocated the use of torture — would have been the undoing of a normal candidate.
But the 2016 cycle has been anything but normal, with a furious electorate keen to back an outsider who scorns the political establishment.
If Trump sweeps the South, where many of the Super Tuesday races are taking place, it could be lights out for his Republican challengers.
Almost 600 Republican delegates are up for grabs Tuesday, nearly half the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination.
Some 865 Democratic delegates are at stake, 36 percent of those needed to win.
As the prospect of a Trump nomination loomed ever larger, a lengthy clip by British satirist John Oliver skewering his many false claims and inconsistencies has gone viral.
The segment, first aired late Sunday on “Last Week Tonight,” launched a hashtag, #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain, in a nod to the candidate’s original family name.
By Tuesday, the word “Drumpf” was ahead of both Rubio and Cruz in Google search rankings — right behind Trump himself.