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Clinton, Trump score first Super Tuesday wins
[WASHINGTON] Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump scored their first wins in pivotal "Super Tuesday" contests, US networks projected, as the frontrunners edged closer to clinching presidential nominations.
Mrs Clinton, the former secretary of state, was the projected winner in Georgia and the vital battleground state of Virginia, auguring well for her campaign as millions of votes are counted in a dozen states across the country.
Super Tuesday is the most pivotal day of the presidential primary season so far, with Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump hoping to wipe out all rivals for their party nominations.
Bellicose billionaire Trump was projected to win the Republican contest in Georgia, and held a narrow lead over Marco Rubio in Virginia, according to early exit polls.
His success will sow yet more terror in the Republican hierarchy, which fears the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan could face electoral annihilation in November's general election.
Mr Trump's main Republican rivals, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, have been frantically trying to halt the real estate magnate's march toward the nomination, seeking to unite the party against the man they see as a non-conservative political interloper.
But it might be too little too late, with polls showing the 69-year-old Trump in a commanding lead nationwide.
Mrs Clinton, coming off a blowout weekend win in South Carolina, has played down talk of a clean sweep on Tuesday.
That proved to be prescient, with rival Bernie Sanders projected to win his tiny home state of Vermont.
Even as the 68-year-old Clinton made her final case to voters in Minnesota, she appeared to tilt toward the general election matchup, assailing Republicans "running their campaigns based on insults."
Asked if Mr Trump would be the eventual nominee, she told reporters "he could be on the path." But "whoever they nominate, I'll be prepared to run against (him) if I'm fortunate to be the nominee."
A new CNN/ORC poll found that both Mrs Clinton and Mr Sanders would easily defeat Trump if the general election - set for November 8 - were held now.
Mr Trump's incendiary rhetoric has infuriated his Republican rivals, and the race has descended in recent days into a mud-slinging match between him and the mainstream favourite Rubio.
The Florida senator sent a letter to his supporters on Tuesday calling Mr Trump "a serious threat to the future of our party, and our country."
"In just the last few days, Trump has refused to condemn white supremacism and the Ku Klux Klan, praised dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and proposed infringing upon the First Amendment of our Constitution," he wrote.
"This is no joke. It's time to fight back."
Mr Trump also received a stern rebuke from House Speaker Paul Ryan over his failure to immediately denounce the support of David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
"If a person wants to be the nominee of the Republican Party, there can be no evasion and no games," Mr Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, told reporters. "This party does not prey on people's prejudices."
But the CNN/ORC poll gave Trump 49 per cent of support nationwide, with Rubio is a distant second at 16 per cent and Cruz one point further behind.
Mr Cruz, a Texas senator, is banking however on winning his home state, the largest prize on Tuesday.
Mr Trump's inflammatory rhetoric - he has accused Mexico of sending "rapists" across the border, mocked women and the disabled, urged a ban on Muslims entering the country, and eagerly advocated the use of torture - would have been the undoing of a normal candidate.
But the 2016 cycle has been anything but normal, with a furious electorate keen to back an outsider who scorns the political establishment.
If Mr Trump sweeps the South, where many of the Super Tuesday races are taking place, it could be lights out for his Republican challengers.
Almost 600 Republican delegates are up for grabs on Tuesday, nearly half the 1,237 needed to secure the nomination.
Some 865 Democratic delegates are at stake, 36 per cent of those needed to win.
As the prospect of a Trump nomination loomed ever larger, a lengthy clip by British satirist John Oliver skewering his many false claims and inconsistencies has gone viral.
The segment on Last Week Tonight launched a hashtag, #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain, in a nod to the candidate's original family name, and by Tuesday, the word "Drumpf" was ahead of both Rubio and Cruz in Google search rankings - right behind Trump himself.