Cruz Keeps Up Pressure on Trump; Sanders Takes 2 on 'Super Saturday'
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Senator Ted Cruz scored decisive wins in the Kansas and Maine caucuses on Saturday, demonstrating his enduring appeal among conservatives as he tried to reel in Donald J. Trump’s significant lead in the Republican presidential race.
Trump contained Cruz’s advances by winning in Louisiana and Kentucky. But the Texas senator’s wins were sure to energize the anti-Trump forces who are desperately trying to stop Trump’s march to the nomination, and they left little doubt that Cruz, who has now captured six states, is their best hope, The New York Times reported.
In Democratic contests, Hillary Clinton scored a commanding victory in Louisiana, the state with the most delegates in play on Saturday, while Senator Bernie Sanders won the Nebraska and Kansas caucuses, according to The Associated Press. The results did not alter the contours of a race in which Clinton maintains a significant delegate lead.
The biggest stakes were on the Republican side, and the voters sensed it; turnout in Kansas, for example, was more than double that of 2012. Cruz won 48 percent of the vote there, while Trump received 23 percent, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida won 17 percent and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio won 11 percent. The results were tighter in Maine, but Cruz still easily defeated Trump there by 13 percentage points. With Trump’s victories coming by smaller margins, Cruz had the biggest delegate haul of the day, appearing to net at least 15 more than the front-runner.
“I think what it represents is Republicans coalescing, saying it would be a disaster for Donald Trump to be our nominee and we’re going to stand behind the strongest conservative in the race,” Cruz told reporters in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, one of four states with Republican contests on Tuesday.
Boasting of his “breadth of support,” Cruz suggested that it was time for Rubio and Kasich to consider dropping out of the race.
“We’ll continue to amass delegates, but what needs to happen is the field needs to continue to narrow,” he said. “As long as the field remains divided, it gives Donald an advantage.”
The results on Saturday represented another stinging setback for Rubio. He finished a distant third in Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana, and was fourth in Maine.
Rubio, who backed out of trips to Kentucky and Louisiana on Friday to make three stops across Kansas, has an increasingly narrow path and is confronting the prospect of a humiliating loss in his own state next week. He has won just a single state, Minnesota, and lags well behind Trump and Cruz in delegates.
“The states that voted tonight are states that quite frankly some of my opponents just do better in; we recognized that going in,” Rubio told reporters in Puerto Rico, where he is hoping to find a win on Sunday.
Trump’s losses underlined his continued vulnerability in states that hold time-intensive caucuses: He has lost five of seven such contests. He has performed far better in states holding primaries, which require less organization, and some of which also allow Democrats and independents to vote in Republican races.
Such voters, who can be receptive to Trump’s anti-establishment message, have augmented Trump’s support. But if Trump is not able to bolster his organization and start performing better in caucuses and states that allow only Republicans to vote, Cruz may be able to deny him the 1,237 delegates needed to capture the nomination before the convention.
A notably restrained Trump, addressing supporters and reporters in West Palm Beach, Fla., called on Rubio to withdraw from the race.
“I want Ted one-on-one, O.K.” Trump said.
While congratulating Cruz for his two victories, Trump continued to refer to the senator as “Lyin’ Ted” and drew laughs at his rival’s expense. “He should do well in Maine, because it’s very close to Canada,” he said, referring to Cruz’s Calgary birthplace.
Trump also used the event to warn Republicans against running a third-party conservative, arguing that it would hand the presidency to Clinton and let her appoint “very, very, very liberal judges.”
Trump’s wins in Louisiana and in the Kentucky caucuses demonstrated the appeal of his mix of pugnacity and populism with working-class voters. But his poll numbers in the states voting on Saturday had forecast a better showing, suggesting that he may have lost votes during the course of the week.
The results suggested that a substantial number of Republicans were still uneasy about Trump: He finished above 40 percent in just one state. It was an indication that the growing campaign to deny Trump the nomination may not be a pointless exercise. The Stop Trump campaign was joined last week by Mitt Romney, who delivered a blistering attack on the Republican front-runner, portraying him as a threat to the party and the nation.
Whether he has incurred significant damage will be better known on Tuesday, if Kasich and Cruz can compete in Michigan and Cruz can threaten him in Mississippi.
Trump had sought to win Kansas, canceling an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday to appear before Republicans in Wichita, Kansas’ largest city, just before the caucuses began on Saturday morning.
Cruz also campaigned aggressively in the state, which has a robust Christian conservative wing, appearing at the same caucus site Trump addressed on Saturday.
Charles Ebright, 48, a teacher and a baseball coach at a Roman Catholic high school in Wichita, was among the many caucusgoers who backed Cruz. “I’ve studied the formation of the Constitution, and I teach that,” Ebright said. “I think Ted Cruz stands up for the Constitution.”
Long lines outside the caucus led party officials to extend it past the scheduled 2 p.m. closing time. Steve Brunk, a former Republican state representative from Wichita who is now a lobbyist for the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, said 40 computers had been set up to check caucusgoers’ information as quickly as possible. “I don’t think I’ve seen a turnout like this for anything,” Brunk said.
Trump’s comments about building a wall along the border with Mexico and about illegal immigrants causing crime have drawn demonstrations almost everywhere he goes, and that was true in Wichita, too. Trump supporters in the caucus line engaged in shouting with several dozen protesters, many of them Hispanics, who make up 20 percent of the city’s population. Trucks with Mexican flags hanging out the windows and Latin music blaring from the speakers cruised slowly past the line.
Both Rubio and Kasich have said that they need to win their home states, which both hold winner-take-all primaries on March 15. Cruz is making that more difficult by not ceding either state, a move that could ensure he finally gets a one-on-one race with Trump.
“If Trump wins those states, he still won’t have enough delegates to win the nomination, and it becomes a binary decision after that,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, one of Cruz’s leading supporters.
But the geography of the race will become less friendly to Cruz as it moves past the Bible Belt. And by splintering the vote in Ohio and Florida, Cruz also risks handing Trump advantages in momentum and delegates that could be unstoppable, no matter how much the field winnows.
There has been considerably less drama in the Democratic race since Clinton bounced back from her landslide loss in New Hampshire with victories in Nevada, South Carolina and across the South on Super Tuesday that underscored Sanders’s weakness with nonwhite voters.
But while Clinton is now heavily favored to be the Democratic nominee, the party’s primary calendar still features a series of contests that seem ripe for Sanders. That included Kansas and Nebraska on Saturday.
Both of those states tend to attract liberal voters who prefer Sanders, and both are heavily white. While they are overwhelmingly Republican states, each also retains an element of prairie populism, which benefits Sanders.
Clinton, though, continued to demonstrate her strength in the South, easily capturing Louisiana, where the primary electorate was expected to be heavily black. Sanders expended little effort there. That single victory was dominating enough that Clinton netted more delegates than Sanders on the day.
Still, in a telephone interview from the hotel where he was staying in Detroit, Sanders said he was having a “very, very good weekend” and “a lot of momentum behind us as we continue forward.”
He acknowledged that he was “losing badly among elderly whites, elderly blacks and elderly Latinos,” but added, “We are doing much, much better and in some cases winning among younger Latinos, younger blacks and certainly among younger whites.”
Sanders also expressed some frustration with those who have noted his long odds. “I don’t want to disturb the media narrative too much — don’t get people too upset, but don’t write us off,” he said. “I think we have a path toward victory.”