Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton each won multiple primaries Tuesday, including crucial Florida, further cementing their leads for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. The GOP result in Florida knocked one of Trump's remaining rivals, Senator Marco Rubio, out of the race.
Trump's momentum was slowed at least temporarily in equally important Ohio when its Republican Governor John Kasich captured the state's GOP primary, keeping alive Kasich's long-shot chance at winning the nomination. But Trump rallied by winning Illinois and North Carolina. He was in a tight race in Missouri with chief rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Clinton won Florida, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina. She was in a tight race with her only rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, in Missouri.
"We are going to go forward and win," Trump said to cheers at a rally in Florida. "We are going to win, and win, and win."
He also took aim at his critics within the party and the media.
"Nobody has ever – ever, in the history of politics – received the kind of negative advertising that I have…vicious, horrible," Trump said.
But then, he said: "You explain it to me, because I can't: my (poll) numbers went up."
Trump repeated his promise to bring the Republican party together: "We have to bring it together. We have something happening that actually makes the Republican party probably the biggest political story anywhere in the world."
Clinton won Florida with about 64 per cent of the Democratic vote, compared to 33 per cent for Sanders.
Clinton also won Ohio with about 56 per cent of the vote there, and North Carolina with about 55 per cent.
"We are moving closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination and winning this election in November," she told cheering supporters in Florida.
A confident Clinton pivoted quickly to the November election by assailing Trump's hardline immigration positions and support for torture.
"When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from the United States, when he embraces torture, that doesn't make him strong – it makes him wrong," she said as she called on all Americans to fight against "bluster and bigotry."
Clinton's win in Ohio was a major political and psychological victory, rebounding from her upset loss to Sanders in Michigan a week earlier. The results were a serious setback for Sanders, whose fierce opposition to free trade proved appealing in the industrial Midwest. He spent a lot of money trying to win Ohio as well as Tuesday's other contests in Illinois and Missouri.
Sanders remained upbeat despite the losses.
"We have come a long way in 10 months," he told supporters in Phoenix, Ariz.
"And the reason that we have done as well as we have, the reason that we have defied all expectations is that we are doing something very radical in American politics, we are telling the truth.
"And the truth is not always pleasant. It's not always what we want to hear but we cannot go forward unless we deal with the realities of American society today and that is what we are going to do."
Trump defeated Rubio by 46 per cent to 27 per cent in Florida, despite the fact that Rubio represents the state in the U.S. Senate.
Rubio told supporters after the results were clear that he would be suspending his campaign.
"While we are on the right side this year, we will not be on the winning side," Rubio told supporters in Miami. "While this may not have been the year for a hopeful and optimistic message about our future, I still remain hopeful and optimistic about America."
Rubio acknowledged that his campaign had been overwhelmed by an angry mood in the Republican electorate. In detached and clinical language, he said it had been impossible to repel the long-term political forces powering Trump.
"America's in the middle of a real political storm – a real tsunami," he said. "And we should have seen this coming."
After congratulating Trump, Rubio essentially scolded him for the kind of campaign he has run.
"From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done in this campaign is to jump on all those anxieties," Rubio warned in a valedictory address that at times sounded better suited to a policy seminar than a presidential concession speech.
"But that is not what's best for America," he added. "The politics of resentment against other people are not going to just leave us as a fractured party. They're going to leave us as a fractured nation."
Kasich won about 46 per cent of the vote in Ohio, compared to 37 per cent for Trump.
The Ohio governor vowed to stay in the race and fight to the end, criticizing Trump's bombastic and belligerent campaign.
"I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land," Kasich said.
"We're all part of a giant mosaic. A snapshot in time. All of us here," Kasich said, saying that every person in the audience had a purpose from God. "Our job…is to dig down and understand that purpose, and never underestimate our ability to change the world in which we live."
Trump, the brash, controversial reality TV star and real estate mogul, has upended the political establishment by winning most of the state-by-state competitions for delegates who will choose the Republican nominee. He has seized on Americans' anger with Washington politicians, winning over voters with his simply worded promise to make America great again.
Campaigning earlier Tuesday in North Carolina, Clinton signalled an eagerness to move on to a possible general election showdown with Trump, saying he's laid out a "really dangerous path" for the country.
Trump has alienated many Republicans and Democrats alike with his disparaging remarks about Mexicans, Muslims and women among others. He entered Tuesday's primaries embroiled in one of the biggest controversies of his contentious campaign. He has encouraged supporters to confront protesters at his events and is now facing accusations of encouraging violence after skirmishes at a rally last week in Chicago that he ended up cancelling.
"I don't think I should be toning it down because I've had the biggest rallies of anybody probably ever," Trump said Tuesday on ABC's Good Morning America. "We have had very, very little difficultly."
Rubio and Kasich have suggested they might not be able to support Trump if he's the nominee, an extraordinary stance for intraparty rivals. All of the candidates had earlier pledged to support the nominee.
Alluding to Trump, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he was dismayed by "vulgar and divisive rhetoric" directed at women and minorities as well as the violence that has occurred in the campaign.
Trump has been the target of millions of dollars in negative advertising in recent weeks, including one ad campaign that highlights his statements that appear to encourage violence – among them, "I'd like to punch him in the face."
With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and The New York Times