Washington / AFP
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton suffered a surprise loss to challenger Bernie Sanders in a major state primary, as billionaire Donald Trump notched a trio of easy victories in the Republican presidential nomination race.
The former secretary of state slumped to defeat in the industrial rust belt state of Michigan, where Sanders snagged 49.9 percent of the vote compared to Clinton’s 48.2 percent with almost all precincts already reported.
“This has been a fantastic night in Michigan,” Sanders said shortly before the race was called in his favor.
However, Clinton handily defeated her rival in the southern Gulf state of Mississippi, thanks to a strong turnout by African-Americans.
And despite the upset, Clinton received a psychological boost by passing the half-way point in the race to reach the 2,382 delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.
Nevertheless, even with the delegate math in Clinton’s favor, Sanders’s strong showing will reinvigorate his campaign, and raised questions about her ability to win key industrial states in the general election, such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Sanders, a US senator from Vermont and self-described democratic socialist, has energized young voters with calls for greater economic equality and denunciations of what he sees as a corrupt US political system.
Meanwhile, Trump shrugged off a barrage of negative advertising and intense efforts by the party establishment to derail his White House campaign to win primaries in Michigan and Mississippi, signaling to his rivals he can survive anything they throw at him.
He also emerged the victor of caucuses held in Hawaii.
“I don’t think I’ve had so many horrible, horrible things said about me in one week, $38 million worth of horrible lies,” Trump told a crowd in Florida as he celebrated his first two victories.
“I think we ought to use that money to fight Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.”
It was not a clean sweep for Trump, however. He came second to Senator Ted Cruz, his nearest Republican competitor, in Idaho.
Poor Rubio showing
Clinton has now won 13 out of 22 nomination contests, with Trump prevailing in 15 out of 24 races as the two inch closer to the tipping point in their respective races.
Marco Rubio, the senator whom mainstream Republicans rallied behind as the man to topple Trump, suffered another poor showing, facing the prospect of receiving zero delegates from either Michigan or Mississippi, the two main prizes of the night.
Trump has already called on Rubio to drop out of the race, but the senator has vowed to stay in at least until his home state of Floridaâ€”which with 99 delegates at stake is a major prize on the primary calendarâ€”votes on March 15.
“They didn’t do so well tonight, folks,” Trump said in a victory speech in Florida, referring to his Republican rivals. “Only one person did well tonight: Donald Trump.”
The braggadocious Trump’s caustic style has angered some votersâ€”and fellow Republicansâ€”but he insisted on Tuesday he could draw millions more to his movement.
“We’ll take many, many people away from the Democrats,” he said. “We’re seeing that. We had people come over here who have never voted Republican.”
In a bizarre scene, Trump spent several minutes hawking some of his companies’ odder products â€”water, steaks, wine, Trump vodka, even his Trump Universityâ€”which establishment critics had berated as examples of his failed enterprises.
With his latest big winsâ€”claiming 47.3 percent in Mississippi and 36.5 percent in Michigan based on near-final resultsâ€”Trump solidifies his claim to have the broadest appeal among the Republican electorate as he marches toward the nomination.
But a new Washington Post poll of Republican-leaning registered voters shows Trump with 34 percent support nationwide, compared with 25 percent for Cruz, 18 percent for Rubio and 13 percent for John Kasich.
That is a tighter race than in January, when the Post showed Trump 16 points ahead of Cruz and 26 ahead of Rubio.
Cruz, the 45-year-old champion of the religious right, has done well in delegate-rich Texas and nearby states and is nipping at the billionaire real estate mogul’s heels.
A total of 150 Republican delegates were up for grabs Tuesday out of 1,237 needed to win the party’s nomination.
As of Monday, Trump had 384 delegates, compared with 300 for Cruz, 151 for Rubio and 37 for Kasich.
Trump is expected to win dozens more after Tuesday.