Republican front-runner Donald Trump scored an easy victory in Illinois’ presidential primary Tuesday as he also picked up wins in Florida and North Carolina to add to his national delegate lead.
With 93 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, Trump had 39 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had 31 percent, Ohio Gov. John Kasich had 20 percent and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had 9 percent.
“We’re leading by a lot” in Illinois, Trump told supporters at his Mar-A-Largo Club resort victory celebration in Palm Beach, Fla.
“The fact is we have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together,” said Trump, who called his transformation of the Republican Party “the biggest political story in the world.”
Trump’s victory in Illinois came despite millions of dollars in outside opposition TV advertising against him, including from a Rubio-aligned super political action committee and another super PAC seeded with money from Marlene Ricketts, the matriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs.
Trump captured all 99 delegates in Florida and at least 15 of Illinois’ 69 delegates. He was expected to gain many of the 54 delegates directly elected from each of Illinois’ 18 congressional districts.
Missouri remained too close to decide a GOP winner. But Kasich claimed a must-win victory in his home state Ohio and collected its 66 delegates.
“I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land,” Kasich told supporters in Berea, Ohio, taking a swipe at Trump.
Trump’s victory in Florida ended Rubio’s bid.
“It is clear that while we are on the right side, this year we will not be on the winning side,” the first-term senator told supporters in Miami.
In Houston, Cruz made an impassioned pitch to Rubio’s supporters.
“America has a clear choice going forward,” the Texas senator said before turning to Rubio’s backers and saying, “We welcome you with open arms.”
In Illinois, exit polling for the national cable news and television networks showed Trump edging Cruz in the Republican-leaning collar counties, while they split suburban Cook County. But Cruz had an edge in northern Downstate counties while he and Trump split lower Downstate.
It’s the second consecutive presidential election in which Illinois Republicans found themselves with an influential role in helping choose the party’s nominee. Four years ago, the Illinois primary effectively ended a challenge to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Trump ran an unorthodox campaign heading to Illinois and other key states after a successful Super Tuesday series of victories March 1. The high-stakes nature of the fractured presidential contest had many dubbing Tuesday night “Super Tuesday II” given how it would decide the fate of Trump’s opponents.
Trump made national news Friday night when he canceled a Chicago rally in the face of thousands of protesters outside and hundreds more inside the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion.
Skirmishes between Trump’s supporters and demonstrators brought heightened concerns that Trump and his sharp rhetoric help incite protesters and violence at his events. The candidate has said he would like to punch a protester and has indicated he’s looking into paying the legal fees of a supporter charged with assault after sucker-punching a protester at North Carolina rally.
Some critics also questioned why Trump would hold an event in the diverse urban environment of the UIC campus in a city where organizing protests has a rich tradition. Protesters were able to get tickets easily online.
The canceled rally became a theme for the closing days of the presidential campaign in the state — among Republicans and Democrats — with Trump alleging the protests were a concerted effort being made by the Democratic presidential campaign of Vermont Sen.Bernie Sanders. Sanders acknowledged that some of his supporters might be protesting Trump but said his campaign was not organizing protests.
Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination sought to pin the blame on Trump. But in doing so, they also found themselves once again forced to comment on actions involving the front-runner rather than discussing their own campaigns.
Cruz, at an election-eve stop in west suburban Glen Ellyn, had promoted the GOP contest as a two-person race between him and Trump. He also blamed the media for promoting Trump.
“The network execs are all Democrats. They are ready for Hillary, and they recognize Donald Trump may be the only candidate on the face of the planet Hillary could beat in the general election,” Cruz said.
Campaigning in his home state, Kasich took offense at “people slugging it out at a campaign rally” and said the images were broadcast worldwide.
“You think they’re not using that for propaganda to send a message to people that America is broken, that America is lost?” Kasich said. “We can’t unite America by dividing America.”
Rubio, campaigning in Florida on election eve, told reporters, “I don’t think there’s anyone in the history of American politics that compares to the vulgarity of a Donald Trump candidacy.” He said the primary was “a choice between optimism and fear.”
Previous Trump wins, and the prospect of additional victories Tuesday night, found establishment Republicans looking for ways to deny the brash-speaking real estate mogul, businessman and former reality TV star the necessary delegates to win a first-ballot nomination at the GOP’s national convention in Cleveland in mid-July.
To that end, the Romney actively campaigned with Kasich on Monday. He didn’t endorse Kasich but asked voters to back Kasich, Rubio, or Cruz wherever it makes sense to deny Trump a majority of delegates.
Cruz, a conservative first-term senator, campaigned not only in Glen Ellyn, in Republican vote-rich DuPage County, but also made fly-around stops in Rockford, Peoria, Decatur and Springfield.
A Chicago Tribune poll conducted March 2-6 found a matchup between Trump and Cruz closest among Downstate voters. While Trump has appeal among more rural Republicans, and held a rally in Bloomington in central Illinois on Sunday, the region also has a substantial population of Christian evangelicals. That’s a group Cruz has actively courted.
Kasich, taking a break from his intensely Ohio-focused campaign, traveled to Illinois last week and visited suburban Lisle and Palatine. The campaign stops reflected not only strongly Republican areas but also places where more traditionally moderate GOP candidates are likely to find some traction.
Rubio made a series of early fundraising appearances in Illinois long before primary night. Given the make-or-break nature of his campaign, he never traveled to the state and instead focused on his Florida base.
Heading into January’s candidate and delegate filing in Illinois, the state’s GOP establishment had largely fallen in line behind former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, reflecting long-standing ties with Bush’s brother and father, two former presidents. Former Gov. Jim Edgar, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon; and two former Republican candidates for governor, state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, who now heads the Regional Transportation Authority, were among those on Bush’s delegate slate.
But when Bush dropped out of the race, the establishment looked to Kasich and Rubio.
Kasich’s Illinois campaign was organized by the late Judy Baar Topinka’s former chief of staff, Nancy Kimme. It had several recognizable names among its slate of delegates, including Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, former state GOP Chairman Pat Brady and state Reps. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove, Ed Sullivan of Mundelein and David Harris of Arlington Heights.
Co-chaired by state Sen. Mike Connelly of Lisle, the Rubio effort enlisted several of Connelly’s legislative colleagues. Rubio delegates included state Sens. Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington, Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, Dale Righter of Charleston and Jason Barickman of Champaign and state Reps. Mike Fortner of West Chicago, Tom Morrison of Palatine, Mark Batinick and John Anthony of Plainfield and Barbara Wheeler of Crystal Lake.
Cruz’s delegate slate included state Rep. Chapin Rose of Champaign and state Sen. Tim Bivins of Dixon but also included several local conservative and tea party leaders.
Trump’s campaign, in contrast, was loosely organized in Illinois and, like the candidate, not focused on winning the backing of the party’s establishment wing. Many of his delegate candidates have never appeared on a ballot before. The campaign is counting on their pledged status, with the presidential candidate’s name appearing after their own, to add to Trump’s count.