Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton are turning their rhetorical fire on one another as both front-runners emerged with strong victories in their parties’ Super Tuesday contests.
Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton, the former secretary of state, each won seven states in the biggest day in the primary campaign, building their leads in the delegate counts that will determine each major party’s nominee in national conventions this summer.
Tuesday’s outcome moves the contest closer to a Trump-Clinton showdown in the November election, likely be the starkest contrast in presidential candidates American voters have seen.
Mrs Clinton turned away from rival Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who identifies as a democratic socialist, and set her sights on Mr Trump during a victory rally in Miami.
“It’s clear tonight that the stakes in this election have never been higher and the rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,” said Mrs Clinton, who is trying to become America’s first female president. President Barack Obama is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election after two four-year terms.
Mr Trump, too, had his eye on Mrs Clinton, casting her as part of a political establishment that has failed Americans. “She’s been there for so long,” he told a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “If she hasn’t straightened it out by now, she’s not going to straighten it out in the next four years.”
Mr Trump’s dominance has shaken Republican leaders, who fear he is unelectable. Tuesday’s results did little to clarify which of two senators, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, might emerge as Trump’s main Republican rival, with both vowing to fight on despite weak performances.
Mr Cruz, a firebrand conservative senator, won the biggest prize, his home state of Texas, and neighboring Oklahoma as well as Alaska, giving him four wins overall, including the leadoff Iowa caucuses. But he failed elsewhere in the South, where he had campaigned extensively and early on. Mr Trump displayed surprising strength with evangelical Christians and social conservatives, once seen as a natural constituency for Mr Cruz.
Still, Mr Cruz called on Mr Rubio and other candidates to step aside: “I ask you to prayerfully consider our coming together, united.”