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Trump projected to win five GOP primaries; Clinton expected to win Delaware, Maryland

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Donald Trump will score victories in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island Tuesday, CNN projects, on a night that brings him closer to the Republican nomination and a monumental duel for the White House against Hillary Clinton.

Clinton picked up wins in the Democratic primaries in Maryland and Delaware. She hopes to win other races Tuesday and make a strong statement that she is the inevitable nominee of her party and further narrow her rival Bernie Sanders’ already improbable path to victory.

Trump’s wins will further stretch his delegate lead over his closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and bring him closer to his ultimate target — the 1,237 convention delegates he needs to win the Republican nomination in a first ballot in July.

More importantly, they position him strongly for the increasingly crucial Indiana primary next week, which is shaping up as a possible last chance for his foes to stop Trump.

Show of political strength

Trump’s string of victories and show of considerable political strength on Tuesday further undermine the legitimacy of arguments by Cruz and Ohio Gov. Kasich that he should be not be the Republican nominee. The senator and governor shook the political world on Sunday by announcing they would divvy up some future contests in a last-ditch effort to blunt Trump’s delegate count.

Cruz, speaking before polls closed — in a clear sign that he expected a bad night — slammed the media for what he said was a premature judgment that the general-election nominees would be Clinton and Trump. He branded them “New York liberals.”

But he predicted things would change next week.

“I’ve got good news for you tonight, this campaign moves back to more favorable terrain,” Cruz told a crowd in Indiana.

Sanders also spoke early in West Virginia, which holds its primary next month, and made clear he is not leaving the race. He said he had a “significantly larger” lead in match-up polls over Trump than Clinton — hinting that he would press on with his bid to convince superdelegates to back him instead of Clinton at the Democratic National Convention in July.

He said he was winning independent voters and some Republicans and added: “That is a point that I hope the delegates to the Democratic convention fully understand.”

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski offered a preview earlier Tuesday of how Trump will capitalize on his East Coast victories to build pressure on Republican rivals Cruz and Kasich to get out of the race.

“What it comes down to is after tonight, Ted Cruz is mathematically eliminated from being the Republican nominee on the first ballot. John Kasich is already mathematically eliminated. So in order to unite the party after tonight, Ted Cruz and John Kasich should support Donald Trump so that we are clearly focused on …. putting (a) Republican back in the White House,” Lewandowski told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead.”

Republicans are battling for 172 delegates, and Trump goes into the night needing to win 58% of delegates available in remaining primaries to capture the nomination, according to CNN estimates.

The always complicated science of delegate allocation will be even more arcane than usual because of Pennsylvania’s one-of-a-kind system, where 54 of the state’s 71 delegates are unbound. That means they can vote for who they like in the first round of voting in the Republican convention in Cleveland in July and will be a key voting bloc if Trump doesn’t win 1,237 delegates.

In the event that Trump falls short of that magic number, unbound delegates could be crucial in deciding the fate of the Republican nomination. Cruz has mounted an especially sophisticated operation to fill delegate slates with sympathetic activists who could desert Trump in later rounds of voting in Cleveland should the billionaire fall short on the first ballot.

Clinton banking on a big night

In the Democratic race, Clinton is banking on a big night to build on her resounding success in New York, which stunted Sanders’ momentum and left the senator — for all his fundraising muscle and large rallies — fending off calls from Clinton supporters to fold his campaign so that she can start exclusively targeting Republicans.

Clinton did not even mention Sanders during the final rally of her Pennsylvania campaign in Philadelphia on Monday night — instead taking aim at Trump’s rhetoric.

She said it was important for voters to “send a really strong message here in Pennsylvania that we’re not going to be intimidated or deterred by the demagoguery.”

Sanders and Clinton are competing for 384 pledged delegates on Tuesday. Clinton currently leads Sanders by 253 pledged delegates, according to a CNN estimate, and is dominating the count among superdelegates — party officials and activists who also have a convention vote.

Since the Democratic primary race is decided by proportionally allocated delegates, Clinton is unlikely to reach the 2,383 delegates need to clinch the nomination until future states vote. But that system also means that without lopsided primary wins, it is impossible for Sanders to catch her. As it is, Sanders would have to win 82% of remaining delegates available to capture the nomination.

The former secretary of state is hoping that large turnout among African-American voters, which have underpinned her primary campaign, will help her cruise to victories in states like Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland. She has also been emphasizing her family heritage in Pennsylvania. Sanders best hopes of a win appear to lie in Rhode Island, which is the only state up for grabs Tuesday that allows independents to vote in the Democratic contest.

Sanders needs a surprise

But to swing the narrative of the 2016 race, Sanders desperately needs to spring a surprise, possibly by pulling off a come-from-behind victory in Pennsylvania, the biggest state on offer with 189 delegates, to restore momentum he lost in New York. But Clinton led by 13 points in a Monmouth University poll of the state last week.

Without a victory, Sanders’ case that he will be able to flip Democratic super delegates at the convention in Philadelphia in July away from Clinton begins to look increasingly thin. And even if he did win Pennsylvania, Clinton’s large lead in Maryland, the second largest state up for grabs on Tuesday — she led 57% to 32% in a recent Monmouth poll — could help her stretch her delegate lead anyway.

Still, Sanders is adamant that he will fight to the finish of the campaign — including the California primary on June 7.

“It’s a narrow path, but we do have a path,” Sanders told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” on Tuesday. “And the idea that we should not contest in California — our largest state, let the people of California determine what the agenda of the Democratic Party is and who the candidate for president should be — is pretty crazy.”