*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
HOUSTON — Ted Cruz gained some delegates and moved closer to a two-man race with Donald Trump, but failed to win four of the five states voting Tuesday in GOP presidential primaries, and appeared to be narrowly losing the fifth as midnight passed.
The U.S. senator from Texas was on track to place third for delegates won. Well ahead was Trump, who took another big step toward the nomination with victories in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina. Cruz came closest to a win in Missouri, where he trailed Trump by less than one point with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
“Tonight was good night for us,” Cruz declared at his election night party. “Tonight we continued to gain delegates and continue our march to 1,237.”
“Starting tomorrow morning, every Republican has a clear choice: Only two campaigns have a plausible path to the nomination, ours and Donald Trump’s,” Cruz added. “Nobody else has any mathematical possibility whatsoever.”
Cruz’s campaign got a boost early Tuesday night, when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was defeated in his home state by Trump. With nearly all precincts reporting, the billionaire was projected to beat Rubio by 19 points, 46 percent to 27 percent.
Cruz’s campaign had viewed Rubio as its biggest obstacle to achieving a one-on-one matchup with Trump. Cruz wasted no time appealing to former Rubio supporters, telling them from the stage in Houston that he welcomes them “with open arms” to join the fight against Trump.
"You just have to get him head-to-head, which is what our campaign’s been about since, I think, the day after Iowa," Cruz campaign manager Jeff Roe told reporters as the results started coming in Tuesday night.
After losing Florida, Rubio announced he was leaving the race, telling supporters in Miami it's "not God's plan that I be president in 2016 or maybe ever." Cruz bid Rubio farewell with a statement commending him for running "an optimistic campaign focused on the future of our party, conservative principles, and uplifting the American people."
With Rubio’s exit, one other candidate stands between Cruz and a direct contest with Trump: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who won his home state. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Kasich was beating Trump by 11 points, 47 percent to 36 percent.
Cruz’s campaign moved quickly Tuesday night to paint Kasich as a nonfactor, saying it would be a statistical impossibility for him to clinch the nomination before the convention. Cruz strategist Jason Johnson told reporters the Ohio governor was essentially chasing a “dream” of being president.
Florida and Ohio were holding winner-take-all primaries Tuesday, awarding 99 and 66 delegates, respectively. Cruz had hoped to at least accumulate delegates and maybe notch a win in the three other states that voted: Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.
Missouri appeared to slip through Cruz's grasp early Wednesday morning, with Trump edging him out by one-tenth of a percentage point.
Cruz finished relatively close to Trump in North Carolina, where the billionaire was projected to win with 40 percent of the vote. He was beating Cruz by three points with 93 percent of precincts reporting.
In Illinois, where Cruz had made a late push Monday, Trump won with a comfortable margin. With 91 percent of precincts reporting, Trump was besting Cruz by eight points, 39 percent to 31 percent.