In an utter rout, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominated Florida’s presidential primary Tuesday, scoring their biggest electoral prizes so far in a pair of landslides — and, in Trump’s case, burying the ambitions of Miami favorite Marco Rubio.
Rubio ended his candidacy minutes after the polls closed, conceding his campaign message failed to resonate with outraged voters.
“While we are on the right side,” he said, “this year we will not be on the winning side.”
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He offered an outline of how the politics of anger engulfed the conservative movement — “America’s in the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami, and we should have seen this coming” — and warned of dire consequences if its leaders don’t propose a more restrained, optimistic vision. It was an indirect critique of Trump, whom Rubio congratulated from stage but said he hadn’t spoken to yet.
“I understand all of these frustrations, and yet when I decided to run for president, I decided to run a campaign that was realistic on all of these challenges,” Rubio said. “From a political standpoint, the easiest thing to have done in this campaign is to jump on all of those anxieties.”
“But I chose a different route,” he added, “and I’m proud of that.”
Clinton and Trump won so decisively that both the Democratic and Republican races were called as soon as Florida polls closed at 8 p.m.
For once, an election in Florida — known for its ballot-counting dysfunction — ended early. And that meant a brutal night for Rubio, who desperately needed a Florida win to credibly continue in the race.
Rubio, a 44-year-old precocious politician who had never lost an election, had guaranteed he’d emerge victorious. Instead, he was humiliated in his home state. Preliminary Florida results showed him losing by nearly 20 percentage points, about 46 to 27 percent. Rubio, who won 62 of Florida’s 67 counties in his 2010 U.S. Senate race, lost every county but Miami-Dade.
Shortly before Trump was declared the winner, Rubio volunteers exchanged forlorn hugs. Shortly after, and by coincidence, Avicii’s Wake Me Up played (as in, “wake me up when it’s all over”). When Fox News announced the results, a few in the crowd booed. Others half-heartedly chanted, “We want Marco!”
Trump also won Illinois and North Carolina. Clinton won North Carolina and Ohio. Missouri remained close, as did the Illinois Democratic race. Trump lost Ohio to home-state Gov. John Kasich, who had promised to drop out if he lost.
Trump’s resounding Florida victory came despite being outspent 8-to-1 in advertising by Rubio allies and anti-Trump forces, which are running out of time to stop the celebrity real-estate mogul. He held a victory speech and news conference Tuesday night in his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago — more specifically, inside the chandeliered Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom, where gilt chairs awaited club members and supporters, along with Trump steaks and wine. Women showed off bejewelred cocktail dresses. Some men wore ascots.
“Florida was amazing,” Trump said, thanking supporters like former rivals Ben Carson and Chris Christie, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. “This is my second home, Florida. To win by that kind of a number, it’s incredible.”
He praised Rubio for running a “tough campaign.”
“He’s smart, and he’s got a great future,” Trump predicted.
The presumptive Republican nominee bragged about attracting new voters to the party, calling the upheaval he’s created “probably the biggest political story everywhere in the world.
“They’re not angry people, but they want to see the country properly run,” he said of his voters. “The fact is, we have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together.”
Clinton rallied at the nearby Palm Beach County Convention Center, where her backers counted down to the polls closing as they watched CNN in anticipation.
“Our campaign has earned more votes than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican,” Clinton boasted. “All of you in the states where contests were held voted to break down the barriers that held us all back, so every one of us can share the promise of America.”
The former U.S. secretary of state congratulated Sanders, the Vermont senator whom she bested in Ohio despite a scare last week in Michigan. Sanders came from behind there, and Clinton’s campaign worried he’d do the same in Ohio, another Midwestern state with a similar voting demographic.
She trounced Sanders in Florida, where her win was never in doubt, by about 64 to 33 percent, according to preliminary state results.
Clinton turned her attention to Trump, calling for a president able to “defend our country, not embarrass it.”
“When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, when he embraces torture that doesn’t make him strong. It makes him wrong.”
Clinton’s loyal supporters began celebrating early.
“I have been a fan since she helped Bill run when he was first elected,” said an effusive Margot Collins, a retired middle-school teacher from Palm Beach Gardens who said she’s followed Clinton’s career for decades. “She is like the mother of the Democratic Party. She takes care of everybody.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Clinton dropped in on a Dunkin’ Donuts in West Palm Beach to order an iced coffee and schmooze with seniors from nearby Century Village, reminding them to vote. She noted she’d seen Trump’s plane on the Palm Beach airport tarmac.
“I love Florida,” declared Clinton, who also won the state in 2008, over Barack Obama. “Florida has been at the center of our national elections for years now, and I think it will be again. So it’s a very important state to me personally, and it’s a very important state to the election.”
It was most important of all for Rubio, who acknowledged at his subdued final rally Monday night, in his hometown of West Miami, that he needed something close to record-shattering turnout from Hispanic Republicans to stand a chance. He had dismissed polls that in some cases showed him trailing Trump by about 20 percentage points, though they turned out to be true.
“If this community doesn’t vote tomorrow in historic numbers, I’m not sure I’m going to win,” he candidly acknowledged Monday.
Rubio awoke early Tuesday morning for a last push on local radio and television. In one case, on Radio Mambí, host Bernadette Pardo asked him if he’d consider being Trump’s running mate, given how harshly Rubio had criticized the front-runner in the waning campaign days.
“Not now, and not at any time in the future,” Rubio said flatly. “Period.”
Rubio’s only consolation: He trounced Trump 63 to 23 percent in Miami-Dade County — and even beat him in the closest thing Trump has to a Miami backyard: Precinct 371, home to the Trump National Doral resort. Rubio took 57 percent of the precinct’s 577 votes to Trump’s 29 percent. Miami-Dade turnout hovered around 29 percent; statewide, the number was about 37 percent for Democrats and 55 percent for Republicans.
Miami-Dade turnout hovered around 50 percent for Republicans and 33 percent for Democrats. In Broward, the figures were 44 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Statewide, about 55 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats voted.
Some of the people who voted for their U.S. senator in South Florida struggled to muster much excitement.
“Realistically, it’s because I want someone else who’s not Trump,” said 27-year-old Vivian Marquez, who cast her ballot at the Coral Gables library.
His campaign seemed to know what was coming. It booked an unusually small venue — the lobby of Florida International University’s basketball arena — that appeared to portend bad news. At one point, it looked like it contained more reporters than Rubio supporters.
A race that once had an unprecedented two candidates from Miami now moves on without a Floridian. Trump calls Florida his second home but lives in New York.
Unlike the fall of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, which dragged out over months, Rubio’s campaign collapsed in a matter of a mere few weeks. He placed second in South Carolina last month but managed first-place finishes only in Minnesota, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in March, leaving him badly trailing Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in delegates to the Republican nominating convention.
Rubio was forced to wage it all on Florida, ignoring a slew of other states. His campaign even urged his Ohio backers to vote for Kasich.
But Florida, a bellwether in national politics and the country’s largest swing state, proved to be Trump Country.
In overwhelmingly Democratic Broward County, Republican voter Wilma Maly of Wilton Manors cast her ballot for Trump.
“I know I am in enemy territory,” said Maly, 83.
“I like him because he is different,” she added. “He is not afraid. He says what a lot of people wish they had the guts to say.”
And, she added: “He’s a brilliant businessman.”
Miami Herald staff writers Lance Dixon, Joey Flechas, Douglas Hanks, Monique O. Madan, David Smiley and Michael Vasquez, and Steve Bousquet of the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau, contributed to this report.