Dashing Marco Rubio's hopes of pulling off a surprise victory over Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, primary voters in Virginia narrowly backed the billionaire businessman over the Florida senator.
The Associated Press called the state for Trump at 8:53 p.m. Eastern.
Though pre-primary polling had given Trump a wide lead over the GOP field, early exit polling showed Rubio within striking distance in the Old Dominion — raising the prospect that the establishment-oriented Republican would upset Trump to score his first-ever victory in a nominating contest.
But while Rubio trounced Trump in the affluent, highly educated Northern Virginia suburbs, it wasn't enough to overcome Trump's strength in more conservative and rural areas.
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For Rubio, the stakes in Virginia were far higher. With his commanding lead in the delegate count, Trump could have sustained a loss in the state, even if the self-styled "winner" would prefer to run the table. But Rubio needs to show he can do more than merely place second to the frontrunner, and a win in Virginia may have provided a jolt of momentum to his campaign heading into the must-win Florida primary on March 15, where the winner will claim all 99 delegates.
Polling currently shows Trump solidly leading Rubio in the Sunshine State.
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