Trump has big night, Democrats have split verdict

Live: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Live: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) AP

Donald Trump easily dispatched his Republican rivals in the Michigan and Mississippi presidential primaries Tuesday, regaining momentum in the face of intensifying resistance to his campaign among party leaders.

In the Democratic presidential primaries, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Michigan primary 50-48 percent over Hillary Clinton, who won a decisive victory in Mississippi.

Sanders says he’s “grateful to the people of Michigan for defying the pundits and pollsters” and delivering him a win. “We came from 30 points down in Michigan and we’re seeing the same kind of come-from-behind momentum all across America.”

Sanders adds that the results “show that we are a national campaign. We already have won in the Midwest, New England and the Great Plains and as more people get to know more about who we are and what our views are, we’re going to do very well.”

In Mississippi, Clinton had a whopping 82.9 to 16.2 edge over Sanders with 78 percent of the vote counted.

After losing to Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday in Kansas and Maine, Trump needed one of his biggest performances of the campaign to tamp down doubts about his popularity after a week of gaffes, missteps and questions about the strength of his political organization.

And he got one, demonstrating his appeal with working-class white voters in Michigan, an important battleground state, while beating back especially stiff challenges there from Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Cruz.

With 68 percent of the GOP vote counted in Michigan, Trump led with 36.7 percent, followed by Kasich at 24.7, Cruz at 24.6 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio at 9.2 percent.

In Mississippi, with 92 percent of the vote counted, Trump had 47.7 percent of the vote, followed by Cruz at 36.4 percent, Kasich at 8.5 percent and Rubio at 4.9 percent.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio drew about 1,000 people to a presidential campaign rally at Dolphin Aviation in Manatee on Tuesday evening.

Trump, plugging several of his business interests in a victory speech that seemed straight out of QVC, crowed about having prevailed despite “$35 million worth of horrible lies” in advertising and other attacks by his rivals.

“There’s only one person who did well tonight, that’s Donald Trump,” he said in Jupiter, Fla., at one of his golf resorts. He also mocked Cruz. “He’s always saying ‘I’m the only one that can beat Trump,’ ” Trump said, imitating his rival, but adding: “He rarely beats me.”

The Republicans now turn to the biggest contests in March: Florida, where Trump is leading in the polls, and Ohio and Illinois, which have similar electorates to Michigan’s.

Despite her victory over Sanders in Mississippi, the latest in a string across the South fueled by overwhelming black support, Clinton was more concerned about the outcome in Michigan and denying him any momentum coming out of the primary there. Sanders, targeting blue-collar voters in Michigan and in coming Rust Belt primaries, has been sharply attacking Clinton over her past support for free trade agreements, while she has aggressively questioned his support for the 2009 bailout of the auto industry.

In the close race in Michigan, Sanders performed well with white voters and Clinton was the overwhelming favorite of blacks, who were expected to make up around 20 percent of the Democratic electorate.

For Sanders, Michigan represented a likely turning point in his campaign. He badly needed the victory to provide much-needed political momentum heading into Ohio and Illinois next week, and to demonstrate that he is still viable even though he has fallen far behind Clinton in the race to amass the 2,323 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

It’s the first time Sanders has shown that he can prevail in a populous, racially diverse swing state that the Democratic nominee will seek to win in November, while Clinton has done so in states like Nevada and Virginia. For their part, Clinton advisers predicted that they would net more delegates from Tuesday’s primaries than Sanders because of Clinton’s landslide victories in heavily black parts of Mississippi.

The results in Michigan were expected to offer clues to Trump’s fortunes in Ohio and Florida, which could energize or end the campaigns of Kasich and Rubio. Trump, the Republican front-runner, was aiming not only for victory in Michigan but also for a muddled outcome for his three rivals, so that none could convincingly claim to be the strongest alternative to him.

Trump’s clear victory in Mississippi, one of four states voting Tuesday, showed that he remains the Republican favorite for the nomination and enjoys a fiercely loyal core of support. But the Republican opposition to Trump’s candidacy is just as sturdy, and there are signs that it is widening.

If the anti-Trump forces are to break his grip on the party, their last chance may be next week, when Ohio and Florida vote and Kasich and Rubio put their candidacies on the line in their home states. If Trump does not win those two states, it will be difficult for him, or any other candidate, to capture the nomination before Republicans gather for their convention in Cleveland in July.

Idaho, Hawaii later

The results Tuesday, including Republican contests in Idaho and Hawaii, were bound to offer important insights about just how vulnerable Trump now is — and whether a Republican Party desperate to stop him can push the race to the floor of the party’s convention this summer.

Even before the votes were counted, there were new signs that resistance to Trump’s candidacy within his own party was growing. The number of Republicans viewing him unfavorably spiked to 46 percent in a Washington Post-ABC poll released Tuesday, the highest figure recorded in that survey since Trump entered the race last year.

He has been hurt by what has effectively been the first sustained assault from his rivals and third-party groups about his business dealings as well as by self-inflicted wounds — notably his initial hesitation to disavow the support of a white supremacist figure, David Duke, and his boasting about his sexual endowment at last week’s debate.

After appearing to be running away with the race following three consecutive wins last month, Trump has also made the nomination fight more competitive by refusing to build the sort of sophisticated organization that would reflect the seriousness of his candidacy.

He was able to overcome his reliance on a skeletal campaign when the race was largely sequenced one state at a time and he could rely on the momentum gained from each new victory. But now that the contests are coming in weekly clusters, his lack of infrastructure is haunting him: He lost two of the three states holding organization-intensive caucuses Saturday.

Perhaps just as consequential, Trump has been hurt by the decline of the candidate whom he attacked with such relish in recent weeks: Rubio — or, as Trump has called him, “Little Marco.”

With Rubio reaching a high-water mark of just 17 percent in the four states that voted Saturday, his voters apparently moved to Cruz. The Texas senator won two caucuses, in Kansas and Maine, and narrowly lost to Trump in Kentucky and Louisiana, the sort of conservative-leaning Southern states that Trump dominated just four days earlier on Super Tuesday.

Trump, however, was competing on more favorable terms this week. Three of four states voting Tuesday held primaries, rather than caucuses, and the two biggest delegate prizes, Michigan and Mississippi, had open voting, meaning that the Republican contest was not limited only to Republicans.

But Trump was facing late threats in both Michigan and Mississippi. Kasich spent much of the past month with Michigan all to himself, as his rivals campaigned elsewhere. And Rubio’s fade benefited Kasich in Michigan, as mainstream Republicans there appeared to drift toward the Ohio governor.

There was less campaigning in Mississippi, but Cruz made a late push there by holding a rally in the Jackson area, and he picked up the endorsement of the state’s governor, Phil Bryant.

Democrats battle

Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally based on the candidates’ vote shares, and Democratic-leaning states and areas — like predominantly black cities and towns — tend to have the most delegates up for grabs. Advisers to both Clinton and Sanders expected a fairly even split of delegates in Michigan but a big Clinton haul in Mississippi, which would expand the significant lead that Clinton already had over Sanders.

Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Bernie Sanders rallied a crowd in downtown Miami Tuesday night in advance of Wednesday's debate with Hillary Clinton. He told them, "I have a feeling that you want to see this country move toward a politic

Heading into Tuesday’s contests, Clinton had 672 pledged delegates (the result of primary and caucus wins) to Sanders’ 477. In addition, she has support from 458 superdelegates — party leaders and elected officials who count toward the nomination — to 22 for Sanders. Superdelegates can switch allegiance at any time.

Sanders’ advisers said that a strong performance in Michigan would augur well for him in Ohio and Illinois, given that the three states have similar Democratic electorates and that Sanders plans to continue criticizing Clinton over free trade. But they acknowledged that even if he were to win Michigan, he was not likely to gain much ground on Clinton in the race for delegates.

Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report.