Texas Sen. Ted Cruz cinched double-barreled victories in Kansas and Maine, and Republican front-runner Donald Trump captured Louisiana and Kentucky on Saturday, fresh evidence that there’s no quick end in sight to the fractious GOP race for president.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders notched wins in Nebraska and Kansas, while front-runner Hillary Clinton snagged Louisiana, another split decision from voters.
“God bless Kansas,” Cruz declared during a rally in Idaho, which votes in three days. “The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together.”
The Texas senator defeated Trump easily in Kansas and Maine, and Trump rolled to victory in Louisiana, underscoring that his appeal knows no geographic limitation. The race in Kentucky was much tighter, with the race too close to call until late Saturday night.
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Cruz, a tea party favorite, attributed his strong showing to conservatives coalescing behind his candidacy, calling it a “manifestation of a real shift in momentum.”
Both Cruz and Trump called on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to drop out of the race. Trump said it’s time for Republicans to start seriously thinking about how they’re going to come together to prevail in November and ensure a Republican president gets the name the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.
With the GOP race in chaos, establishment figures frantically are looking for any way to derail Trump, perhaps at a contested convention if no candidate can get enough delegates to lock up the nomination in advance. Party leaders — including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and 2008 nominee Sen. John McCain — are fearful a Trump victory would lead to a disastrous November election, with losses up and down the GOP ticket.
“Everyone’s trying to figure out how to stop Trump,” the billionaire marveled at an afternoon rally in Orlando, Florida, where he had supporters raise their hands and swear to vote for him.
Later, Trump was awaiting the results of Kentucky’s GOP caucuses before he speaking at an election night press conference at his Trump International Golf Club in Florida’s West Palm Beach, where he confused supporters when he briefly walked in from the back of the room where reporters, club members and friends are gathered. Flanked by Secret Service officers and in his entourage, Trump casually stopped in front of a bank of cameras and asked a Fox News reporter whether Kentucky had been called.
“We won the big ones, folks,” Trump said at an election night press conference at his Trump International Golf Club in Florida’s West Palm Beach.
“There is nothing so exciting as this stuff,” he declared, saying it beats the thrill of closing deals and other big moments in his life.
Despite the support of many elected officials, Rubio came up short, raising serious questions about his viability in the race. Cruz suggested it was time for some Republican candidates to quit the race.
Rubio said the upcoming schedule of primaries is “better for us,” and renewed his vow to win his home state of Florida, claiming all 99 delegates there on March 15.
Campaigning in Detroit, Clinton said she was thrilled to add to her delegate count and expected to do well in Michigan’s primary on Tuesday.
“No matter who wins this Democratic nomination,” she said, “I have not the slightest doubt that on our worst day we will be infinitely better than the Republicans on their best day.”
Tara Evans, a 52-year-old quilt maker from Bellevue, Nebraska, said she was caucusing for Clinton, and happy to know that the former first lady could bring her husband back to the White House.
“I like Bernie, but I think Hillary had the best chance of winning,” she said.
Sanders won by solid margins in Nebraska and Kansas, giving him seven victories so far in the nominating season, compared to 11 for Clinton, who still maintains a commanding lead in competition for delegates.
Sanders, in an interview with The Associated Press, pointed to his wide margins of victory and called it evidence that his political revolution is coming to pass.
Stressing the important of voter turnout, he said, “when large numbers of people come – working people, young people who have not been involved in the political process – we will do well and I think that is bearing out tonight.”
With Republican front-runner Trump yet to win states by the margins he'll need in order to secure the nomination before the GOP convention, every one of the 155 GOP delegates at stake on Saturday was worth fighting for.
Count Wichita’s Barb Berry among those who propelled Cruz to victory in Kansas, where GOP officials reported extremely high turnout. It was Cruz' fifth win of the nominating race. Cruz had won Alaska, Oklahoma, Iowa and his home state of Texas.
“I believe that he is a true fighter for conservatives,” said Berry, a 67-year-old retired AT&T manager. As for Trump, Berry said, “he is a little too narcissistic.”
Overall, Trump had prevailed in 10 of 15 contests heading into Saturday’s voting. Rubio had one win in Minnesota.
Like Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has pinned his hopes on the winner-take-all contest March 15 in his home state.
Clinton picked up at least 48 delegates to Sanders’ 37 in Saturday’s contests, with delegates yet to be allocated.
Overall, Clinton had at least 1,114 delegates to Sanders’ 469, including superdelegates – members of Congress, governors and party officials who can support the candidate of their choice. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.
In the overall race for GOP delegates, including partial results for Kansas, Trump led with 347 and Cruz had 267. Rubio had 116 delegates and Kasich had 28.
Cruz will collect at least 36 delegates for winning the Republican caucuses in Kansas and Maine, Trump at least 18 and Rubio at least six and Kasich three.
It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.
‘Eating their own’
The simmering Republican civil war boiled over on March 3 when Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, called Trump a vulgar bully unfit to be president, and said his policies would drive the U.S. into recession. Romney urged Republicans to vote strategically in upcoming nominating contests as way to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination. If successful, that may force a contested convention in Cleveland in July, where delegates could pick someone else to be the party standard-bearer in the November general election.
Trump, who has won 10 of the first 15 nominating contests, has brushed off such criticism while emphasizing how he’s attracting new voters to the Republican Party with his brash, “tell it like it is” style.
“This is a movement, folks, there’s never been anything like this,” Trump said on Saturday at a rally in Wichita, Kansas, where Republicans will caucus at more than 100 sites to pick a nominee. And he issued a warning to those in the party plotting a way to stall his candidacy. “The Republicans are eating their own, they’ve got to be very careful.”
Trump pulled out of a planned address to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday in National Harbor, Maryland, an unusual move by a Republican candidate, in order to campaign in Kansas before heading to Florida. In a straw poll of the party activists attending the conference, Cruz had 40 percent support, followed by Rubio with 30 percent. Trump trailed with 15 percent.
Trump says he will clinch the GOP nomination if he wins Florida’s March 15 primary. He told supporters later in Orlando on Saturday that “if we win Florida, believe me, it’s over.”
The states voting on Saturday have 155 Republican delegates, with the Democratic contests offering 126, including so-called superdelegates, a mix of elected officials and party leaders who are free to back whom they like and change their loyalties.
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which contains material from the Washington Post.