INDIANAPOLIS — Donald Trump vanquished the largest obstacle yet in his quixotic pursuit of the White House Tuesday, delivering a fatal blow to the campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with a decisive Republican primary victory in Indiana.
While on the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dealt a likely temporary setback to his party’s expected nominee Hillary Clinton, eking out a tight win in the Hoosier state.
Cruz, soundly and decisively beaten Tuesday by Trump in the state the Texas senator had repeatedly told voters was critical to his ability to continue, suspended his campaign at a subdued nighttime rally in Indianapolis surrounded by his family as well as businesswoman and his presumptive running mate, Carly Fiorina.
“From the beginning,” Cruz said. “I have said I would continue if there was a viable path to victory. Tonight I’m sorry to say it appears that path has been closed. We gave it everything we got but the voters chose another path.”
Shortly after the polls in Indiana closed at 7 p.m. eastern time., Trump was declared the winner over Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, his last rivals standing in a campaign field that steadily winnowed down from crowded debate stages last year.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Rance Priebus, took to Twitter Tuesday night, calling for unity and calling Trump the “presumptive” Republican nominee for president.
“We need to unite and focus on defeating @HillaryClinton.” Priebus ended his message with the hashtag” #NeverClinton.”
Trump gathered at his usual campaign night headquarters, Manhattan’s Trump Tower, where he struck a conciliatory tone when mentioning Cruz at the top of his victory speech, less than 30 minutes after the Texas senator stepped away from the campaign.
The vitriol lobbed back and forth between the two for weeks — with digs at wives and rumors of philandering — were absent from both men’s speeches Tuesday night. Cruz avoided mentioning Trump by name at all.
When it was the billionaire businessman’s turn, after supporter’s first watched Cruz signal the end of his effort on a large-screen television in the Tower atrium, Trump described Cruz’s decision to suspend his campaign as a “very brave thing to do” in order to unite the Republican Party.
“I don’t know if he likes me or if he doesn’t like me,” Trump said, is voice more subdued than usual in his roughly 25 minute speech. “But he is one hell of a competitor. He is a tough, strong competitor. And he has got an amazing future. . . . I want to congratulate Ted.”
On the Democratic side, Sanders, while facing an almost insurmountable climb to garner more delegates than Clinton before the party’s July convention, continued to be a persistent and vocal burr from the left in beating the former Secretary of State Tuesday in Indiana’s Democratic primary.
Sanders took the stage at his rally in Louisville, Kentucky with less than 10 percent of the vote in from the state just across the Ohio River. Shortly before 8 p.m., a cheer went up as some supporters got cell service and saw Sanders moving ahead in Indiana.
“Hold off,” he said, “I think we don’t know for sure.”
With Clinton far ahead in the delegate count, a Sanders win here is unlikely to affect the ultimate outcome of the nomination. Clinton spent the day in West Virginia and Ohio, turning her focus to the general election.
Sanders told supporters his win Tuesday — as slight as it was — showed that his campaign is fighting for the ideas that are important to the future of the country “and the future of the Democratic Party.”
The 74-year-old U.S. Senator from Vermont has conceded his strategy hinges on persuading superdelegates to back him over Clinton. Superdelegates are Democratic Party insiders who can support the candidate of their choice, regardless of how their states vote.
They favor Clinton by a nearly 18-1 margin. Exit polls showed about 7 in 10 Indiana Democrats said they’d be excited or at least optimistic about either a Clinton or Sanders presidency. Most said they would support either in November.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks. With Sanders’ narrow victory Tuesday, he picked up at least 42 of Indiana’s 83 delegates. Clinton now has 2,201 delegates to Sanders’ 1,399. That includes pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates.
Clinton has largely ignored Sanders in the past week while turning her attention to Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner. She was not even in Indiana on Election Day, nor was she there the day before.
“I’m really focused on moving into the general election,” Clinton said Tuesday on MSNBC, while campaigning in West Virginia. “I think that’s where we have to be, because we’re going to have a tough campaign against a candidate who will literally say or do anything. And we’re going to take him on at every turn on what’s really important to the people of our country.”
Clinton campaign declared the Democratic primary all but over and shifted its focus toward road-testing strategies for battling Trump. Those included rolling out an official “Woman’s Card” in response to Trump’s remark that “the only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card” and that Clinton would not even garner 5 percent of the vote if she were male.
Clinton’s strategy has been to avoid getting drawn onto Trump’s turf of personal insults. Her campaign’s carefully crafted response was met with enthusiasm by donors. The “Woman Card” online fundraising effort was Clinton’s most successful yet.
But the billionaire businessman, his family and close friends behind Tuesday night, and in front, a crowd of boisterous supporters, stuck to familiar barbs aimed Clinton.
“We’re going after Hillary Clinton, Trump said to whoops and cheers. “She will not be a great president she will be a poor president.”
— With Emily Ngo