WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump scored a five-state East Coast sweep Tuesday to embolden his hopes of clinching the Republican presidential nomination without a catfight at the convention. Democrat Hillary Clinton, on the cusp of closing down Bernie Sanders' remaining presidential hopes, advanced toward that goal with wins in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Trump was assured of collecting more than 100 delegates after winning Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware. It will still be a struggle for him to seal his victory in the remaining primaries and avoid a convention fight — despite branding himself, prematurely, the "presumptive nominee."
But his odds of accomplishing that improved with his convincing performance as the presidential contest switches gears to Indiana next week.
Clinton is in a stronger position, now about 90 percent of the way to the nomination. Sanders, who denied his rival a clean sweep Tuesday with his win in Rhode Island, is down to needing a miracle.
BULLY FOR THE 'BULLY'
Said the voters:
—"I think Cruz would do an excellent job. But I think Trump is a bigger bully. That may sound strange, but I think that's kind of what we need." — Laura Seyler, 63, on why she voted for Trump in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, despite being a fan of his leading rival, Ted Cruz.
—"His slurs, his negativity, his racism, the comments that he makes about different ethnic groups — I just find it appalling." — Loretta Becker, a pharmaceutical sales representative, explaining how the desire to stop Trump motivated her to vote for Clinton in Warwick, Rhode Island. Another motivation: "I really loved having Obama for president and now having Hillary as a president, feeling like she'll do a great job and knowing that she's the best candidate and wanting to vote for her and support her."
—"I've been feeling the Bern about six months. I initially was not so certain, thinking oh, great, another old white guy, but his message has really been resonating with me. It's consistent and I have a little Clinton fatigue." — Jessica Archer, an artist from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, on why she voted for Sanders.
—"I believe he is the most level-headed one of the candidates in this scary, scary bunch of candidates that we have." — Kelley Carey, 48, a nurse from Glastonbury, Connecticut, on why she chose Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican field.
STATE OF PLAY
Of the three Republicans left, only Trump has a hope of clinching the nomination during the remainder of the primary season. It's a tough road for him, though one made easier after he scored the "knockout" he hoped for Tuesday.
Everyone has been readying for the prospect of a contested convention, the likes of which have not been seen in decades. A leading scenario: Trump comes into the convention with a delegate lead, but short of the needed majority, forcing more than one ballot. Delegates who had been divvied up according to the results of primaries and caucuses start becoming free to side with another candidate. That's when the claws come out.
As he has for so many months, Sanders attracts the large crowds, the passion, the vigor and commitment of youthful supporters — pretty much everything a candidate dreams of except the most important thing: a collection of delegates who can take him over the top. He has an almost impossible path to victory against a front-runner who's had far more of a fight on her hands than anyone who isn't named Sanders saw coming.
The Tuesday contests were closed to Democrats and Republicans, meaning no flood of independents, and that was a particular concern for Sanders — he called it a handicap. He is also more apt to thrive in caucuses, which require a commitment of time from supporters and a level of organization that play to his strengths, and these were primaries.
The Pennsylvania race was an enigma wrapped in the chaos of the GOP contest. Most of the GOP delegates — 54 — are being directly elected by voters, with their names listed on the ballot but no information about which candidate they support and no obligation for them to have to line up with one of them. Trump won 17 delegates allocated to the statewide winner of the popular vote, leaving the rest a mystery.
—Clinton now has at least 2,141 delegates to Sanders' 1,321, with 2,383 needed to win.
Those totals include both pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses and superdelegates, the party insiders who can back the candidate of their choice regardless of how their state votes.
She won at least 194 delegates Tuesday, and Sanders 129, with many still to be allocated.
—Trump beefed up his delegate numbers at least to 950, with 1,237 the magic number to clinch, so he needs as many as 287 in remaining contests. Cruz had at least 560 delegates; Kasich, 153.
In short, Trump has a distinct path to winning the nomination before July but little room for error.
It's not all about the White House.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Maryland after a long and heated primary against Rep. Donna Edwards for the seat opening due to Sen. Barbara Mikulski's retirement at the end of her term.
The campaign became a polarizing battle over race, gender and personality as the two candidates sought to succeed Mikulski, the nation's longest-serving female senator. Van Hollen ran on his record as a pragmatic progressive who can work with Republicans to get things done. Edwards campaigned as a candidate more committed to holding liberal principles without settling for political deals.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats backed their party establishment's choice for a U.S. Senate candidate and rejected an ex-congressman who nearly won the office six years ago.
Katie McGinty, a former state and federal environmental policy official who got millions in dollars from the party to run her campaign, received the endorsements of top Democrats from President Barack Obama on down. She defeated second-time candidate Joe Sestak, a retired Navy admiral the party didn't consider a team player. Two other candidates finished far behind.
In early surveys of Pennsylvania voters, Democratic voters — whether they're Feeling the Bern or not — are feeling the energy. About seven in 10 Democratic voters in Pennsylvania said the campaign has energized their party rather than divided it. Not so among Republicans — 6 in 10 GOP voters said the Republican campaign has divided the party; only 4 in 10 said it has been energizing for the party.
YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT POLITICS
It makes strange bedfellows. After Tuesday, a new alliance will make its debut as Kasich steps back in the May 3 Indiana primary to let Cruz soak up the anti-Trump vote. In return, Cruz will essentially let Kasich have at Trump in New Mexico and Oregon later in the calendar. It's a late-in-the-game compact to crystalize anti-Trump sentiment instead of having the voters who don't like him split between two other choices.
It's unclear how far each partner in the arrangement will go to clear the path for the other. They are both pulling back on campaign events in the states they are supposedly ceding to the other. But Kasich said people in Indiana who like him ought to vote for him anyway.
Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in Hamburg, Pennsylvania; Rodrique Ngowi in Warwick, Rhode Island; Matt O'Brien in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; and Dave Collins in Glastonbury, Connecticut, contributed to this report.