Super Tuesday: Clinton, Trump pick up big wins; Cruz takes Texas

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations while Ted Cruz claimed two states, including Super Tuesday's biggest prize: Texas.

Voters went to the polls in a dozen states Tuesday and CNN so far projects six wins for Clinton and five for Trump. Clinton will take Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas while Trump will win Georgia, Alabama, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia.

Bernie Sanders, Clinton's insurgent Democratic rival, will capture Oklahoma and his home state of Vermont.

Cruz's projected Texas and Oklahoma victories, meanwhile, are crucial wins that gives him a rationale to carry on in the race. He is certain to point to his score there, combined with his victory in the Iowa caucuses, as proof that only he can actually beat Trump and to argue that his Senate colleague, Marco Rubio, should exit the race and allow him to unite the opposition to the billionaire.

Trump's Virginia win is especially disappointing to Rubio, who had hoped a win there would kick-start his effort to challenge the real estate mogul.

Clinton's victories in the South are further evidence of her strength among African-American voters, which could make it extremely difficult for Sanders to win the nomination.

"What a Super Tuesday," Clinton said at a rally as word of her victories trickled in.

The Super Tuesday contests are a delegate bonanza for front-runners and a test of survival for others as voters went to the polls across the nation, including in the Deep South, in Colorado and Texas, in ice-bound Alaska and Minnesota.

Trump's victories help him stretch his lead in the GOP White House battle and underscore his growing support across all sectors of the Republican coalition. Those wins come despite Trump spending the past several days embroiled in a GOP fight that has rival candidates and party elders, desperate to stop his march to the nomination, branding him unfit for the presidency.

"This has been an amazing night," Trump said in a victory speech.

Trump also predicted that he would win the Florida primary in two weeks against Rubio, who he called the state's "little senator" and a "lightweight."

Sanders, who is keen to challenge the growing narrative that the former secretary of state is now on track to win the nomination, hopes to halt the Clinton tide in Minnesota, Colorado and Oklahoma, in addition to his wins in Oklahoma and Vermont.

"This campaign is not just about electing a president," Sanders said at a rally Tuesday night in Vermont. "It is about transforming America."

A total of 595 Republican delegates of the 1,237 needed to clinch the GOP nomination are up for grabs in 11 states. Sanders and Clinton are facing off in 11 states for 865 of the 2,383 delegates needed to win the Democratic race.

A pivotal moment

Super Tuesday comes at a pivotal moment in the Republican race. It has finally dawned on rival campaigns and alarmed party establishment figures that Trump --- after three thumping wins in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada --- will win the nomination unless there is a dramatic reversal of fortunes.

In an unusual move that reflected his booming confidence, Trump held a rally in Ohio, a state that is not taking part in Super Tuesday but holds a crucial winner-take-all primary in two weeks. In the latest surreal twist to his increasingly bizarre showdown with Rubio, Trump said that he had "beautiful hands" after the Florida senator asked at an earlier rally why the real estate mogul's hands were so small.

Cruz, speaking to reporters before casting his ballot in Houston, did not wait for the results to roll in before signaling that he will try to nudge Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich out of the race.

"If you want to beat Donald Trump, we've got to get to a head-to-head, one-on-one race," Cruz said. "What Donald is benefiting from is a fractured opposition."

But Rubio, who held election day rallies in Oklahoma and Minnesota, made it clear that he isn't going anywhere.

"I will campaign in all 50 states. I will get in my pickup truck and drive around this country if I have to before I allow the party of Lincoln and Reagan to fall into the hands of a con man," Rubio said, referring to Trump.

Rubio also told reporters that Cruz now had "big problems."

"You know this was supposed to be Ted Cruz's day. This was the day he said was going to bring an end to the campaign, Super Tuesday. He said he was going to sweep the South. I don't think that's going to happen."

Trump, who has turned American politics upside down with his outsider campaign, nationwide media blitz and crusade against political correctness, went into Super Tuesday with his polling hitting new peaks.

For some party leaders, Trump surge spurs alarm

A national CNN/ORC poll published on Monday shows that Trump has lifted the ceiling on his support that for months hovered around 30% and now has the support of 49% of Republican voters, more than 30 points ahead of Rubio and Cruz.

Trump's surge has some senior party figures registering alarm that his presence at the top of the Republican ticket, given his controversial rhetoric and stances on issues like immigration, could cost the party not just the White House but control of the Senate as well.

"We can't have a nominee be an albatross around the down-ballot races," Republican Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told CNN Monday when asked if he had concerns about the prospect of Trump winning the GOP race. "That's a concern of mine."

Exacerbating the fears of the party establishment, Trump struggled Monday to extricate himself from a controversy that erupted after he initially failed to disavow the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, during a CNN interview. Trump blamed a malfunctioning earpiece for the oversight but his rivals pounced.

By Stephen Collinson