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Opinion

The frontrunners roll on

Voters in the Deep South and New England made it clear on Super Tuesday that the voice of the people is not likely to be denied in either major party this year.

Seven state primary victories each for Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have narrowed prospects that either of them can now be stopped for their party's presidential nomination.

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The harshest outcome of Tuesday's voting was to puncture the bubble of Marco Rubio in his rather sophomoric effort to deflate Mr. Trump with taunts, such as that he has "small hands" and may have wet his pants in debate.

"Little Marco," as Mr. Trump calls him in equally infantile derision, finally managed to carry a state, Minnesota, winning 37 percent and beating both Ted Cruz (29 percent) and Mr. Trump (21 percent) there, the latter Mr. Trump's worst showing to date.

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But Mr. Rubio lost ground to Mr. Cruz, who meanwhile won Texas and Oklahoma to go along with his early victory in Iowa. The Texas senator quickly called for Mr. Rubio and non-winners Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson to drop out, all of whom as quickly declined.

So much, it seems, for the hope that moderate, respectable Republicans would eventually coalesce behind an establishment candidate. Mr. Kasich, who has declined to sling mud at Mr. Trump, continues to plod the high road without reward, pointing to the Midwest primaries of Michigan on March 8 and Ohio on March 15 as his last hope. His best was second to Mr. Trump in Vermont and Massachusetts.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton sails smoothly on, with supporters looking to Mr. Trump's seemingly clear path ahead to generate heavy Democratic, independent and disaffected Republican backing in the general election to be the ultimate Trump stopper. Sen. Bernie Sanders easily held onto his home state of Vermont, and also won Colorado and Oklahoma, but narrowly lost liberalMassachusetts to Clinton, 48.6 percent to 50.2 percent.

The one cloud over the Clinton campaign from the Super Tuesday results was the continuing higher voter turnout in many states among Republican voters. Mr. Trump pointed to it on election night at his showplace resort in Palm Beach: "We have expanded the Republican Party ... I am a unifier. I would love to see the Republican Party and everybody get together and unify. And when we unify, there's nobody -- nobody -- that's going to beat us."

Standing behind him as he spoke was his surprise late ally, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who echoed him: "Tonight is the beginning of Donald Trump bringing together the people of our nation to help America win again."

Buyer's remorse within the GOP, however, continues to fan chatter about finding an off-ramp to the Trump nomination at the July convention in Cleveland, though with no prominent national leader yet taking charge. The last two party standard-bearers, Mitt Romneyand John McCain, have merely expressed reservations.

Anti-Trump Republicans look hopefully at Mr. Trump's relatively mild lead in convention delegates after Super Tuesday--315 to 205 for Mr. Cruz, 106 for Mr. ubio, 27 for Mr. Kasich and 7 for Carson -- and argue it can be closed once states start awarding them on a winner-take-all basis under party rules starting March 12.

Only 15 of the 50 states have held their caucuses or primaries so far. A Republican candidate needs to win 1,237 delegates for the nomination and a Democrat needs 2,342 at its convention inPhiladelphia later in July for the nomination.

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Fireworks already are being threatened for the Cleveland event either from the front-running Trump campaign if a brokered convention is threatened by old-line establishment leaders or from a third-party candidate not yet announced. Trump has warned that if the Republican National Committee does not play fair with him, there could be trouble.

In the Democratic race, relations between Ms. Clinton and Mr. Sanders have been far less combustible, promising a more sedate convention and better prospects for party unity thereafter. Although, as Will Rogers famously once said: "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat."

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.


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