[score]Hillary Clinton[/score] achieved key victories in Georgia and Virginia to extend her lead over Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, who won his home state of Vermont but risks a major setback if he has a poor showing in the rest of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.
Republican races were too close to call in those states, as Donald Trump looks to continue his winning streak.
Clinton and Trump were pressing for sweeping victories that could distance them from their party rivals and move them closer to a November presidential election showdown. Nominating contests were being held Tuesday in 12 of the 50 U.S. states.
Trump, the brash billionaire and reality TV star, has stunned the Republican political establishment by winning three of the first four contests, seizing on the anxieties of voters angry at Washington and worried about terrorism, immigration and an uncertain economy. Using simple terms, and often coarse language, he has soared to the top of polls with his pledge to “make America great again.”
Republican officials, fearing a Trump sweep, have been lashing out at his temperament and command of the issues in the hours before voting began.
“You’ve got a con man and a bully who is moving forward with great speed to grab the party’s mantle to be its standard bearer,” Norm Coleman, a former senator who backs Marco Rubio, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “That’s almost incomprehensible.”
Clinton, once seen as the all-but-inevitable Democratic nominee, has contended with an unexpectedly strong challenge from Sanders, a senator and self-described democratic socialist. But Clinton, like Trump, has also won three of the first four races, and a landslide victory in South Carolina on Saturday bodes well for prospects in important southern states Tuesday due to her overwhelming support among black voters.