WASHINGTON — Donald Trump rolled to victories Tuesday in Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina but narrowly lost Ohio, a split verdict that prevented the New York businessman from locking down the Republican nomination and that gave his opponents reason to hope they can deny him enough delegates to sew up the race.
Trump’s convincing victory in Florida — coming after more than half of the states have voted — forced Senator Marco Rubio to immediately drop out of the race. Although Trump now has a lead so dominant that no other candidate is likely to catch him, his loss to Governor John Kasich in Ohio significantly complicates his path toward winning the 1,237 delegates needed to secure a victory before the GOP convention in July.
It also enhances prospects that the Republican Party, which has been gripped by a rollicking and unpredictable nominating contest, will start the convention without a clear nominee for the first time in decades.
“We have to bring our party together,” Trump said from a gilded room at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. “We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story anywhere in the world.”
Trump overcame a barrage of negative ads in Florida — as well as violence breaking out at his rallies — to defeat Rubio in his home state and win all 99 delegates. Rubio, who was once the bright light in the Republican Party and who, remarkably, had never lost an election in Florida, announced he was suspending his campaign. Trump had a sizable lead, 46 percent to 27 percent, with 90 percent reporting.
Watch: Donald Trump addresses supporters after victories
“America is in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami,” Rubio said from Miami. “And we should have seen this coming.”
In addition to Florida, Illinois, and North Carolina, Trump held a razor-thin lead over Senator Ted Cruz in Missouri with 93 percent of the vote reporting. Regardless of who wins that state, Cruz now faces a less favorable political map for his brand of staunch conservatism and overtures to evangelicals.
Trump has benefited from a splintered Republican field, and the key question going forward is whether his momentum can be halted with more time, and more mobilization of the anti-Trump forces.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump won the nine delegates of the Northern Mariana Islands. That win gave him eight states or territories in which he captured a majority of delegates, which is one current requirement for any potential nominee to be considered at the convention.
In order to win the nomination, Trump would need to win about 54 percent of the remaining delegates. Cruz would need to win 77 percent, while Kasich would need almost all of them. In the contests held so far — where he has faced a more crowded field — Trump has won 46 percent of the delegates.
If Trump is unable to secure a majority of the delegates before the convention, Republicans would head to Cleveland without a nominee for the first time since 1976.
During the first round of voting, delegates are generally bound to vote for the candidate who won their state or congressional district. If no candidate secures a majority of the vote, some of the delegates are released to vote for whomever they wish.
Following a sprint over the past few weeks, the race is about to become a marathon. Over the last six weeks there have been 31 contests, awarding 1,422 delegates. Over the next six weeks, there will be nine contests with 407 delegates.
The gap in voting, with two-week stretches at times, could allow the anti-Trump forces to further mobilize. The next Republican debate is scheduled to take place Monday in Salt Lake City, although Trump has yet to commit to it. Utah and Arizona are slated to vote next Tuesday.
Kasich’s win in Ohio — which came with the backing of Republican stalwarts such as 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and former House speaker John Boehner — is his first victory of the primaries and he now must prove that he can win beyond his home base. But with Rubio out of the race, Kasich could threaten Trump in such states as Pennsylvania, Delaware, Indiana, and Wisconsin — where Kasich’s more moderate, optimistic message might resonate.
“Even though I labored in obscurity for so long, people counting me out . . . we put one foot in front of the other,” Kasich told supporters in Ohio. “And I want to remind you again tonight that I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”
Cruz is already showing signs of trying to broaden his appeal, trying to win over the more mainstream Republicans who have called him a “wacko bird” and ridiculed him for his hardline tactics in the Senate.
Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, recently became the first Senate colleague to endorse Cruz. And Neil Bush, the brother of former president George W. Bush, recently joined Cruz’s national finance team. Romney has been trying to put together an event with Cruz.
“To those who supported Marco, who worked so hard, we welcome you with open arms,” Cruz said at his campaign headquarters in Houston.
“Starting tomorrow morning, every Republican has a clear choice. Only two campaigns have a plausible path toward the nomination. Ours and Donald Trump’s. . . . Only one campaign has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over again. Not once, not twice, not three times but nine times, all across the country, from Alaska to Maine.”
According to exit polls from NBC News, Kasich won among late deciders and moderates.
Kasich also did better among those who want someone who can win in November and who said he shares their values, while Trump did better among those who “tells it like it is” and can bring change. Kasich won college graduates and among those making more than $100,000, while Trump dominated among those without a college degree and those making less than $50,000.
Watch: Marco Rubio ends White House bid
Kasich also fared far better than Trump among women and voters ages 18 to 29, according to NBC exit polls. Trump won voters who called themselves “very conservative” whereas those who consider themselves “somewhat conservative” or “moderate” supported Kasich.
Those who considered immigration the top issue facing the country favored Trump by a wide margin. But more voters were concerned about the economy and jobs, government spending, and terrorism — and supported Kasich.
Trump also won voters who said they were angry about the way the federal government is working while Kasich supporters tended to say they were “dissatisfied but not angry.”
Rubio entered the race with enormous potential. The young and telegenic senator had all the possibility to put a new face on his party, helping it reach Hispanics and attract younger voters who have been turned off by the Republican Party’s emphasis on social issues.
Time magazine in 2013 put him on the cover with the headline, “The Republican Savior.”
But Rubio was unable to translate that energy and potential into primary day victories, partly because he had no natural constituency and partly because of some uneven performances in debates and on the campaign trail. He won only three contests — Minnesota, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia — and was delivered a humiliating loss in his home state.
While recently admitting he was wrong to earlier take the campaign in a personal direction — ridiculing Trump’s hands, his tan, and his makeup — Rubio devoted a large part of his concession speech appearing to criticize Trump for trying to win by “preying on people’s frustrations.”
“The politics of resentment, against other people, will not just leave us a fractured party,” Rubio said. “They’re going to leave us a fractured nation . . . where people literally hate each other.”
The election results followed a deeply divisive period in the campaign, with some of Trump’s events turning violent. During a rally in North Carolina, one protester was sucker-punched in the face by a Trump supporter. A Trump rally in Chicago was canceled after scuffles broke out, with images of black and Hispanic protesters and white Trump supporters screaming at one another.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he and Trump spoke Tuesday morning.
“I appreciated his call,” McConnell said. “And I took the opportunity to recommend to him that no matter who may be triggering these violent expressions or conflicts that we’ve seen in some of these rallies, it might be good to condemn that and discourage it no matter what the source of it is.”