WASHINGTON — Bolstering his grip on the Republican primaries, Donald Trump prepared Wednesday for a general election showdown with Hillary Clinton, accusing the Democratic front-runner of "playing the woman card" in her presidential campaign.
Trump swept five states in Tuesday's Northeast primaries, bringing him tantalizingly close to securing the Republican nomination against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Clinton, meanwhile, is now 90 percent of the way to her party's nomination after four solid victories of her own.
Trump, the Republican businessman, pushed forward with his charge that Clinton is "playing the woman card," telling CNN's "New Day" in a telephone interview Wednesday that "she does have the woman card" but said that "a lot of women don't like Hillary, despite the card."
Clinton said during her Tuesday night rally in Philadelphia that Trump had accused her of playing the "woman card," telling supporters, "if fighting for women's health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the 'woman card,' then deal me in."
Trump, in an interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said Wednesday he hadn't "quite recovered — it's early in the morning — from her shouting that message. I know a lot of people would say, 'you can't say that about a woman because of course a woman doesn't shout.' But the way she shouted that message was not ... I guess I'll have to get used to it for the next four or five months."
The Republican race now turns to Indiana, where next week's primary marks one of Cruz's last chances to slow Trump and push the race toward a contested convention. While Trump does need to keep winning in order to stay on his narrow path to the GOP nomination, he declared himself the party's "presumptive nominee" after Tuesday's results rolled in.
"It's over. As far as I'm concerned it's over," he declared. The real estate mogul now has 77 percent of the delegates he needs.
Trump planned to deliver a foreign policy speech in Washington and then campaign in Indiana. The address at a downtown hotel is the first in a series of speeches the Republican front-runner is expected to give in the coming weeks, all with the goal of easing Americans' concerns about his readiness for the presidency.
Likewise, Clinton was eager to turn her attention to Trump. While Clinton advisers say they won't underestimate Trump, as many of his vanquished Republican rivals did, her campaign sees opportunities to not only energize Democrats in an effort to keep him out of the White House but also appeal to Republicans turned off by the brash billionaire.
"If you are a Democrat, an independent or a thoughtful Republican, you know that their approach is not going to build an America where we increase opportunity or decrease inequality," Clinton said of the GOP candidates.
Trump's victories came in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Clinton ceded only Rhode Island to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, in an interview with The Associated Press, conceded he has a "very narrow path and we're going to have to win some big victories."
In the Republican race, Cruz and Kasich are desperately trying to force a convention fight. The challengers have even taken the rare step of announcing plans to coordinate in upcoming contests to try to minimize Trump's delegate totals.
But that effort did little to stop Trump from a big showing in the Northeast, where he picked up at least 105 of the 118 delegates up for grabs. He now has 950 of the 1,237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination.
Cruz spent Tuesday in Indiana, where Kasich's campaign has withdrawn in an attempt to give the Texas senator a clear path.
"Tonight this campaign moves back to more favorable terrain," Cruz said during an evening rally in Knightstown, Indiana.
Yet there's no doubt the GOP is deeply divided by Trump's candidacy. In Pennsylvania, exit polls showed nearly 4 in 10 GOP voters said they would be excited by Trump becoming president, but the prospect of the real estate mogul in the White House scared a quarter of those who cast ballots in the state's Republican primary.
In another potential general election warning sign for Republicans, 6 in 10 GOP voters in Pennsylvania said the Republican campaign has divided the party — a sharp contrast to the 7 in 10 Democratic voters in the state who said the race between Clinton and Sanders has energized their party.
The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
Democrats award delegates proportionally, which allowed Clinton to maintain her lead over Sanders even as he rattled off a string of wins in recent contests. According to the AP count, Clinton now has 2,141 delegates while Sanders has 1,321.
That count includes delegates won in primaries and caucuses, as well as superdelegates — party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice, regardless of how their state votes.
Sanders has vowed to stay in the race until voting wraps up in June. He continues to raise millions of dollars and attract big crowds, including Tuesday night in West Virginia, where he urged his supporters to recognize that they are "powerful people if you choose to exercise that power."
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey in Philadelphia, Michael Rubinkam in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, and Ken Thomas, Laurie Kellman, Chad Day, Stephen Ohlemacher and Hope Yen in Washington contributed to this report.
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