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Trump, Sanders notch Indiana primary victories: NBC projection

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event on the campus of Indiana University
Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event on the campus of Indiana University

Donald Trump will win the Indiana GOP primary, NBC News projected as polls closed at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday. As the likely Republican nominee, Trump has baffled his naysayers who never would have imagined him finishing on top when he first declared his candidacy in the lobby of Trump Tower back in June.

Of the 57 GOP delegates for Indiana, NBC News said it was assigning at least 51 for Trump.

On the Democratic side, NBC News projected Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as the winner, further frustrating rival Hillary Clinton who had hoped to have the nomination wrapped up at this point.

Voters in Indiana took to the polls on Tuesday as the primary races in both parties appeared to be drawing to a close. Recent statewide polls had indicated that the front-runners in both parties were likely to win their contests. Former Secretary of State Clinton on average led Sanders by about 7 points going into Tuesday, and businessman Trump averaged a double-digit lead over the rest of the Republican field, according to RealClearPolitics.

The primaries come at a pivotal moment for both parties, with Trump's recent spate of resounding victories in Northeast states making him appear increasingly likely to be the GOP standard bearer. In his victory speech Tuesday, Trump, often criticized as divisive, had a softer tone, saying the America would become a "loving country." And he added that Ted Cruz, who suspended his campaign on Tuesday, was a "helluva competitor."

Although Sanders' win is positive news for his movement — and unwelcome news for Clinton's attempts to consolidate Democratic forces — it is unlikely to alter the course of the race. Because of the significant gap in delegates, convention mathematics still heavily favored Clinton. Still, Sanders said Tuesday night that his path to the nomination was "narrow," but did not rule out a historic upset over Trump in November.

In fact, Trump and Clinton alike have shifted their rhetoric to talk of uniting their parties' disparate factions for a general election battle. For his part, Sanders has indicated he is likely to stay in the fight in part to promote his message, but Trump's competitors were hoping to still play spoiler.

Before Tuesday, the thinking was that if Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich could keep Trump from reaching 1,237 delegates, then they could force a convention fight — which could possibly see them coming out of as the GOP's general election candidate. But that result appeared all but impossible after Trump's strong Indiana showing.

"Obviously Trump's victory in Indiana makes the road ahead more challenging," a representative from the #NeverTrump PAC said in a Tuesday evening statement, adding that the group will continue to seek to oppose him.

Cruz announced soon afterwards that he was suspending his campaign.

For its part, the Kasich campaign said in a statement posted on Facebook that the Indiana results "are not going to alter" the candidate's plan.

"Our strategy has been and continues to be one that involves winning the nomination at an open convention," the Kasich campaign said.

Just after NBC announced Trump's projected victory, the New York real estate magnate tweeted out an insult aimed at Cruz.

Additionally on Tuesday night, NBC reported that sources within the Trump campaign said their team had begun searching for a vice presidential candidate.