WASHINGTON — Donald Trump defeated Sen. Marco Rubio on his own turf in Florida to grab the largest delegate prize in five state contests Tuesday as a wild but winnowing Republican presidential race tilted still more in his favor. Democrat Hillary Clinton won Florida as well, bidding to cushion her delegate lead over Bernie Sanders and fend him off in the Midwest.
Trump's Florida win signaled the likely end of Rubio's primary campaign, an outcome that would boil the once-overflowing pack of GOP contenders down to three. Another endangered rival, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, put up a fierce fight in his home state.
Ted Cruz, No. 2 in the GOP race, hoped to become the last man standing against Trump.
A strong night for Clinton would blunt Sanders' feisty challenge and make her delegate lead closer to unassailable. But the Vermont senator bid for an upset in industrial states like the one that rocked the race in Michigan last week.
Polling had favored Trump in Florida, by any measure Rubio's last chance to turn the race around, and his loss seemed destined to close the book on a campaign that had held much promise but repeatedly underperformed.
Both parties held contests in Ohio, Florida, Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina; the Ohio and Florida primaries were especially crucial for Republicans because all GOP delegates in those big states go to the winner. Trump already triumphed earlier Tuesday in the winner-take-all contest for nine GOP delegates in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory.
Republican voters were on board with Trump's call for a temporary ban on non-U.S.-citizen Muslims coming into the country, according to early surveys of voters as they left polling stations. Two in three GOP voters in all five states supported that position. But majorities in all five said people in the U.S. illegally should be given a chance to stay — not all deported as Trump proposes.
Democratic voters in all five states see Clinton as the candidate with the better chance to beat Trump if he is the Republican nominee, the exit polling found.
— "I'm hoping Trump, with his big rubber lips, will say 'Look, there's a way around this.'" — Joe Herzog, a 76-year-old retired carpenter from Boonville, Missouri, who hopes Trump will keep the U.S. out of foreign entanglements. Herzog, a two-time voter for President Barack Obama, voted for Trump.
—"Seems the least evil, I think. Maybe." John Flynn, a registered Republican and software developer in Raleigh, North Carolina, on why he voted for Ted Cruz.
—"It was very close between them. I just don't think Bernie has the experience at that top level of government to have as much clout as Hillary. Plus his plan is still a little foggy. He has never really come out and, y'know, his numbers don't seem to add up all the time." — James Barber, 46, a car salesman from Boonville, Mo., on why he backed Clinton.
—"I'm kind of voting for a contested convention. I would prefer that outcome over Cruz or Trump. I don't really like Cruz. I think he's dishonest. Smarmy, kind of." — Elijah Morgan, 21, a North Carolina State University student in Raleigh, explaining his vote for Marco Rubio.
—"I pray to God that she beats him because I can't stand him. I will go back to Africa — and I've never been." — Sharon Schaffer, 65, in South Side Chicago, voted for Clinton, hoping she's the Democrat who can defeat Trump.
— "I don't think he'll win, I just thought it would be a good vote to make." — In Savoy, Illinois, Robert Husband, 46, explains why he backed Sanders in his first vote since 2000.
HOW IT UNFOLDS
At 7:30 p.m. EDT, polls closed in Ohio and North Carolina.
At 8 p.m., final polls closed in Florida, Illinois and Missouri.
Illinois and Missouri were expected to be slower reporting than the rest.
FLORIDA (99 GOP delegates, 214 Dem delegates)
It wasn't supposed to be this way. It was supposed to be Rubio and Jeb Bush at the top of the pack in a mighty struggle for their home state's big delegate prize.
Instead one's down, one's out and the sun just seems to keep shining on Trump.
Bush is long out of the race; Rubio is on the ropes and perhaps soon to depart.
In the Democratic campaign, the stars always appeared aligned for Clinton, with Florida's older population a counterweight to the youth vote that has propelled Sanders elsewhere. All 2016 Democratic races are proportional — as all Republican ones have been until now — so each candidate will come away with delegates based generally on how well they do.
OHIO (66 GOP delegates, 143 Dem delegates)
A governor winning his home state is ordinarily nothing to roil the waters, but what's ordinary in 2016?
This is swing-state Ohio, after all, and another big cache of delegates who all go to the winner.
Looking strong in Florida, Trump added late events in Ohio to try to fend off the governor and avoid complications on his path to the nomination: namely a contested convention. Kasich was likely to exit the 2016 race absent a win.
NORTH CAROLINA (72 GOP delegates, 107 Dem delegates) , MISSOURI (52 GOP, 71 Dem ) ILLINOIS (69 GOP, 156 Dem)
It's a scramble in both parties, with delegates to be divvied up according to results. In short: more chances for Clinton to pad her already significant delegate lead, more chances for Sanders to keep his feisty "political revolution" from the left alive and an opportunity for Cruz to further solidify his standing as the only Republican within range of Trump in the delegate count.
Coming into Tuesday, Trump had been winning 43 percent of delegates, thus needing to up his game to clinch a majority before the convention.
Cruz had been winning 34 percent of delegates. His only path to primary-season victory is to have a strong Tuesday night, see the contest turn into a one-on-one against Trump and score commanding victories against him in a hurry.
The melee between Trump supporters and protesters at his aborted rally in Chicago on Friday night and trouble at some events after that have rung louder alarms among Republicans who already saw him as a divisive figure who could not win in November. Said Rubio on CNN: "I think that all the gates of civility have been blown apart."
Do Trump-leaning voters care?
Time and again they have kept the faith through incendiary turns. Hundreds of thousands have already cast early votes, and the limited amount of opinion polling conducted post-Chicago has not pointed to a mass defection. Still, whether Trump will pay a price remains an open question going into Tuesday night.
In the Democratic primaries of 2008, Barack Obama won Missouri in a squeaker and swamped her in Illinois, which he represented in the Senate. Clinton handily won Florida and Ohio. Obama dashed her diminishing hopes with a solid victory later in the calendar, May, in North Carolina.