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Likely Rivals Trump, Clinton Already Sparring

Following this week’s primary results in the U.S. presidential race, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump appear to be on a path to winning their respective party’s presidential nominations. That puts Clinton and Trump on a collision course to meet as opponents in the general election campaign leading up to the November election.

Even as Trump celebrated his latest primary victories on Tuesday with supporters in Florida, he shifted his focus to winning over members of the Republican Party establishment who remain hesitant to throw their support behind Trump.

“We have to bring our party together. We have to bring it together. We have something happening that actually makes the Republican Party probably the biggest political story anywhere in the world,” Trump said.

Not long after, Trump took a swipe at Clinton’s foreign policy experience with a snarky ad posted on his Instagram page, the latest example of sparring between the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

Trump has only two Republican rivals left, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich. A victory in his home state primary Tuesday gave Kasich's campaign new life and he hit the campaign trail in Pennsylvania with the aim of contrasting the Trump campaign with a more positive vision he is offering voters.

“The strength of our country rests in us and it rests in our ability to believe that we, we, you and me, can change the world for the better,” Kasich told supporters at Villanova University.

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at his presidential primary election rally in Berea, Ohio, March 15, 2016. His wife, Karen, and twin daughters, Emma, left, and Reese listen.

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at his presidential primary election rally in Berea, Ohio, March 15, 2016. His wife, Karen, and twin daughters, Emma, left, and Reese listen.

Cruz is hoping to win over supporters of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who left the race after losing badly to Trump in his home state. Cruz made a direct appeal on Tuesday. “To those who supported Marco, who worked so hard, we welcome you with open arms,” he said.

Anti-Trump strategy

Some conservatives remain adamantly opposed to Trump winning the Republican nomination. They are split between those who doubt whether Trump is a true conservative and others who fear his nomination would lead the party to a crushing defeat in November, assuming Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

The best chance for the anti-Trump forces to stop the New York billionaire is to deny him the 1,237 delegates necessary to claim the party nomination before the national convention in July in Cleveland.

That could lead to a contested convention where many delegates would be free to vote for the candidate of their choice after the first ballot, when most of the delegates are bound to support the winner of their state primary or caucus. But Trump has already warned that any effort to deny him the nomination at the convention could lead to “riots” and that his supporters would revolt.

The Associated Press estimates that Trump will have to win about 54 percent of the remaining delegates at stake to claim the nomination in advance of the Cleveland convention, just enough wiggle room to encourage the stop-Trump forces to continue their efforts.

Analysts say Trump’s challenge to heal the party behind him will won't be easy in comparison with Republican primary battles in past years.

“If it is the case that Republican elites start to recognize that he is the likely nominee, some of them will want to accommodate themselves to him more than others,” said John Fortier with the Bipartisan Policy Center. “But it will be a much more difficult process of healing the party than in a traditional primary fight.”

Republican unifier

In the Democratic race, Hillary Clinton took a giant step toward winning the Democratic nomination Tuesday with her primary victories, especially in Florida and Ohio. Rival Bernie Sanders has vowed to continue his campaign, but his supporters acknowledged that the Tuesday results were a setback.

In her victory speech in Florida, Clinton quickly shifted her focus to Trump.

“When we hear a candidate for president call for rounding up 12 million immigrants, banning all Muslims from entering the United States. When he embraces torture, that doesn’t make him strong. It makes him wrong,” Clinton said to cheers from supporters.

But in an ironic twist, some experts believe Clinton’s status as the likely Democratic nominee could help Trump unite the Republican Party.

“A lot of (Republican) establishment figures are going to at least nominally, if not enthusiastically, support Trump, not because they love Trump more, but they loathe Hillary Clinton more,” said American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman. “So she is the only figure who could unite, at least temporarily and nominally, the Republican Party.”

The party nominations won’t be confirmed until the national conventions in July. But Clinton and Trump already seem to sense they have a rendezvous with destiny and are likely opponents for the general campaign in advance of the November election.

WATCH: US Voters Weigh In on Trump

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.