Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump have strengthened their grip on their parties' presidential nominations, racking up a series of wins in key states on Super Tuesday, the primary election's most important day of voting.
According to media projections, former Secretary of State Clinton has won six Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The states rival Bernie Sanders is projected to have won are Oklahoma, Minnesota, Colorado and Vermont, his home state.
On the Republican side, Trump took Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont and Massachusetts. Trump's only losses were to Senator Ted Cruz, who took his home state of Texas as well as Oklahoma. Florida Senator Marco Rubio picked up his first win of the primary election, in Minnesota.
Watch video report from VOA's Jim Malone:
The results were not surprising. Opinion polls had showed Trump and Clinton with large leads in Super Tuesday states and nationally. In their victory speeches, each candidate focused on the other, rather than their primary opponents.
"America never stopped being great," Clinton said at a rally in Florida, referencing Trump's campaign slogan. "We have to make America whole," she said, adding that the rhetoric on the Republican side "has never been lower."
At his own speech in Florida, Trump shot back: "She wants to make America whole again. I'm trying to figure what that's all about. Making America great again is going to be much better than making America whole again."
Trump also referenced his rival, Rubio, saying, "I know it as a very rough night for Marco Rubio. He worked hard, he spent a lot of money. He is a lightweight, like I have said many times.
"Rubio was the big loser of the night. He didn't win anything tonight. He hasn't won anything period," Trump said.
Speaking to a large crowd in his home state late Tuesday, Sanders stayed optimistic.
"This campaign, as I think all of you know, is not just about electing a president, it is about transforming America. It is about making our great nation the country we know it has the potential to be," he said.
Sanders stressed that Democratic primaries are proportional, and that they award delegates according to the vote count. "By the end of tonight, we are going to win many hundreds of delegates," he said.
After the voting finished Sanders released a statement saying his campaign is "just getting started" and that he intends to remain in the race until the party's nominating convention in July.
WATCH: Candidates speak to Super Tuesday results
But there was no doubt that Clinton was the "big winner" of the night, according to Mo Elleithee, executive director at the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service.
Elleithee, who worked as a Clinton campaign spokesman in 2008, pointed to Sanders' difficulty in attracting voters outside his largely white support base, especially as the primary process moves toward states with larger minority populations.
"We've moved past the phase of the campaign where it's about momentum, and it's now about math. And it's pretty clear [Bernie's] not going to have the delegates necessary to win," he told VOA.
Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said Trump came out on top on the Republican side, and is now the "clear prohibitive frontrunner."
"Donald Trump won big tonight," O'Connell told VOA, adding that the billionaire businessman may actually benefit from losing several contests to his rivals. "His greatest ally is a divided GOP field, so all around it's nearly perfect night for Trump," he said.
'I voted with my heart'
Americans across the nation - from Georgia to Alaska - cast their votes Tuesday. One of those voters was Barbara Ballow from Arlington, Virginia, who voted for Sanders in the Democratic race.
"I voted with my heart," Ballow told VOA outside a polling location. "I don't like Hillary. I don't like her, and I don't trust her. I think she's part of the political establishment."
Others, such as Arlington resident Deborah Klaus, are taking advantage of their state's open primary system, which allows voters to cast a ballot for a candidate in either party.
Klaus calls herself a "huge" Sanders fan, but instead voted for Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, saying it was more important for her that Trump lose than Sanders win.
"We've got to stop Trump. It probably won't work, but I don't want to see Trump in," she said. "And I like (Kasich). He's the least ideological, most issues oriented candidate."
Nationally, a new NBC News/Survey Monkey poll Tuesday showed Trump with 40 percent support among registered Republicans, with Rubio at 21 percent and Cruz at 18 percent, followed by former neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 8 percent and Kasich at 7 percent.
In the Democratic race, the NBC poll showed Clinton with a 51-to-41 percent lead over Sanders.
Cruz is warning that the "Trump train" could be "unstoppable" if he wins big victories Tuesday.
GALLERY: Super Tuesday action