Marco Rubio was the political prodigy who had all the ingredients

But in the race for the Republican nomination, Kasich, 63, outlasted Rubio, 44, who suspended his campaign late Tuesday after failing to win even his home state, losing Florida by a humiliating 19 percentage points to front-running billionaire Donald Trump.

Kasich's quixotic campaign had survived for weeks on his second-place finish behind Trump in the February 8 New Hampshire primary. On Tuesday, the Ohio governor defended home turf with 46 per cent of the vote, easily winning the state's slate of 66 winner-take-all delegates to the Republican nominating convention in July.

"I've had more attention in the last six weeks than I've had in the last six months," Kasich told broadcaster CNN late Tuesday.

The result gives a bit of new life to Kasich, but he remains in fourth place in the delegate count, far behind Trump, who has at least 619 delegates - half of the 1,227 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

Trump's victory in Florida, another winner-take-all state, got him the state's 99 delegates. But many analysts are projecting that he needed to secure Ohio, too, to get a majority before the Republican convention in July, based on current trends and polling in about 20 states that have yet to vote.

Trump, who has won 18 states, tried to turn his attention to the general election, despite the long road ahead.

"We have to bring our party together," he said.

Rubio, the son of Cuban refugees, was elected to the Florida legislature before he was 30, and by 35 had become the top Republican in the statehouse.

In 2010, he challenged the party establishment to defeat a moderate sitting governor for the Republican nomination to the US Senate, and rode that year's anti-government tea party wave to Washington.

He was quickly dubbed a potential "Republican Obama" who could help the party reach out to vital Latino voters. Coming from Florida - the swing state central to every close election in recent decades - only added to the aura around Rubio.

But his attempts to forge consensus on Capitol Hill - on immigration policy and fiscal issues - eroded his credibility with the Republican Party's uncompromising tea party faction.

In a year when voters across the political spectrum are venting their fury with party elites, Rubio's strategy to wage an optimistic, forward-looking campaign mostly missed the mark. But a late surge into third place in the Iowa caucuses on February 1 lifted Rubio out of a crowded Republican presidential field.

Much of the Republican establishment then sought to coalesce behind him as the candidate to stop the interloping Trump. It proved to be the kiss of death for Rubio, whose paltry victories in the ensuing weeks came in Minnesota, Puerto Rico and Washington DC.

He described his own campaign tone as "realistic about the challenges we face but optimistic about the opportunities before us.

"But after tonight, it is clear that while we are on the right side, this year, we will not be on the winning side."

US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, whose 393 delegates put him in second place behind Trump, called Rubio a "friend" who ran "a strong, optimistic, positive campaign."

"Every Republican has a clear choice. Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination," Cruz said.

"Only one campaign has beaten Donald Trump over and over and over again ... nine times, all across the country, from Alaska to Maine."

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