Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he speaks at his New York presidential primary night rally in Manhattan, New York, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton(reuters_tickers)
By Emily Flitter and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Front-runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton rolled to easy wins in New York state's presidential nominating contests on Tuesday, recapturing lost campaign momentum and taking big steps toward capturing their respective parties' nominations.
Republican Trump's huge victory in his home state pushed him closer to capturing the 1,237 delegates needed to win his party's presidential nomination and avoiding a contested national convention in July.
Clinton's dominating double-digit win in New York, which she once represented in the U.S. Senate, snapped a winning streak by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and made it nearly impossible for Sanders to overtake her commanding lead in the delegates needed to win the nomination.
The Trump and Clinton victories in one of the biggest state nominating contests so far set up both front-runners for strong performances next Tuesday, when they are expected to do well in five other Northeastern state primaries.
Trump appeared poised to win most or all of New York's 95 Republican delegates, easily beating U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63. Trump had 60 percent of the statewide vote with more than three-fourths of the results counted.
The billionaire businessman could win all the delegates if his eventual vote total remains above 50 percent statewide and he takes half the vote in each of New York's congressional districts.
"We don't have much of a race anymore based on what I'm seeing on television," Trump, 69, told cheering supporters at a victory party at his Trump Tower in Manhattan. "We are really, really rocking."
He said the party establishment forces that have tried to prevent him from a first-ballot victory at the convention "are in trouble," and repeated his criticism of a "crooked" system that has allowed Cruz to outmanoeuvre him and win delegates in a series of recent state conventions.
Trump entered the New York contest with 756 delegates, while Cruz had 559 and Kasich had 144, according to an Associated Press count. The count includes endorsements from several delegates who are free to support the candidate of their choice.
Trump said his New York win would make it almost mathematically impossible for Cruz, 45, to win the nomination on the first ballot at the party's national convention in July.
If Trump does not secure enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot at the July 18-21 conclave in Cleveland, delegates would be allowed to switch to other candidates.
Trump remains unpopular with the Republican leaders and activists who select and serve as delegates, while Cruz has invested time and money courting them.
Some establishment Republicans have been alienated by Trump's more incendiary proposals, such as building a wall along the border with Mexico and slapping a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
'VICTORY IS IN SIGHT'
Clinton's win in New York followed some of the most heated personal exchanges of her campaign against Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who had won seven of the last eight state-by-state nominating contests.
"The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight," Clinton, 68, told a cheering, chanting crowd at a Manhattan hotel, noting that she had gained more than 10 million votes and won in every region of the country.
She reached out to Sanders supporters in what has become an increasingly antagonistic campaign.
"There is much more that unites us than divides us," she said.
But she could not resist a dig at her rival, repeating language she has used recently to criticize Sanders, 74, for offering vague policy ideas without a concrete explanation of how he would achieve them.
"In the bright lights of New York we have seen it's not enough to diagnose problems, you have to explain how you actually solve them," she said.
The New York victory will expand Clinton's lead of 244 pledged delegates over Sanders, and make it nearly impossible for him to overcome the deficit and capture the 2,383 delegates needed for the nomination under Democratic rules that allocate delegates proportionally based on each state's result.
Sanders headed to Pennsylvania to campaign on Tuesday, and then headed home to Vermont for a day off the campaign trail.
The voting in New York was marred by irregularities, including more than 125,000 people missing from New York City voter rolls. The city has roughly 4 million voters considered active for the primaries.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer ordered an audit of the city elections board after it confirmed the names had been removed from voter rolls. He told the board in a letter it was "consistently disorganized, chaotic and inefficient."
"It is absurd that in Brooklyn, New York, where I was born actually, tens of thousands of people as I understand it have been purged from the voting rolls," Sanders told supporters at a rally in State College, Pennsylvania.
(Additional reporting by Megan Cassella and Alana Wise in Washington, Luciana Lopez in New York and Emily Stephenson in Pennsylvania; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)