Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday bolstered his case that he is the strongest Republican alternative to Donald Trump, winning caucuses in Kansas and Maine and finishing a close second to him in Louisiana and Kentucky.
The results served as a harsh rebuke for Sen. Marco Rubio, who placed a distant third in Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana while finishing fourth in Maine, behind the leaders and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Not only so, it comes as a further blow to the Republican Establishment’s efforts to oust Donald Trump by preventing him from reaching the required number of votes for the nomination.
Mr. Cruz, of Texas, said his victories should persuade other rivals trying to become the GOP’s Trump alternative to end their campaigns.
In his victories in Louisiana and Kentucky, Mr. Trump won the two states with the most delegates at stake. Speaking to supporters and reporters at one of his golf clubs in West Palm Beach, Fla., he called for Mr. Rubio to end his struggling campaign and warned that any breakaway, third-party challenge from conservatives would hand both the White House and the Supreme Court to Democrats.
“Anybody that does a third party, that’s what it’s going to mean,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s very simple, it guarantees, 100% guarantees, the election of a Democrat. … That is a total wipeout for conservatives and for Republicans. So start thinking about that. Start thinking about that.”
Mr. Trump said “it’s probably time” for Mr. Rubio to drop out and that he was relishing a contest against Mr. Cruz.
“I would love to take on Ted one-on-one,” he said.
The results were likely to narrow Mr. Trump’s delegate lead. Mr. Cruz won at least 64 delegates from the day’s balloting, compared with 49 for Mr. Trump, 13 for Mr. Rubio and nine for Mr. Kasich, Associated Press tallies showed.
The next big test for Republicans comes Tuesday, when Michigan, Mississippi and Idaho hold primaries and Hawaii has a caucus. Puerto Rico, where Mr. Rubio campaigned Saturday night hoping to notch his second victory of the year, holds a primary Sunday.
But the day likely to shape the remaining presidential field the most is March 15, when Florida and Ohio hold winner-take-all primaries. Mr. Rubio is betting the fate of the rest of his campaign on Florida, while Mr. Kasich is doing the same in Ohio.
If Mr. Trump loses both states, he would find it far tougher to amass the 1,237 delegates required to clinch the GOP presidential nomination.
Saturday brought evidence that Republicans who oppose Mr. Trump are beginning to coalesce behind Mr. Cruz.
Mr. Trump’s victory in Louisiana was called minutes after polls closed, based on the New Yorker’s 24-point lead in votes cast before Election Day. But as primary day votes were counted, Mr. Trump’s lead over Mr. Cruz continued to shrink, with the difference between them less than 4 percentage points, with more than 95% of the vote counted.
In Kentucky, Mr. Trump led Mr. Cruz by 20 percentage points in the most recent polling, but he defeated Mr. Cruz by just 4 percentage points.
Mr. Cruz won a commanding victory in Kansas, taking 48% of the vote to 23% for Mr. Trump. Mr. Rubio had 17%, and Mr. Kasich drew 11%.
In Maine, Mr. Cruz had 46%, while Mr. Trump had 33%. Mr. Kasich was in third place with 12%.
Mr. Rubio finished far behind the top two leaders in every state. He drew only 11% support in Louisiana and 8% in Maine.
With the Kansas and Maine victories, Mr. Cruz has won six states, the second-most after Mr. Trump’s 12. Mr. Rubio has won just one state, Minnesota.
Heading into Saturday, Mr. Trump led the Republican field with 329 delegates. Mr. Cruz was second, with 231 delegates, while Mr. Rubio was third, with 110 delegates.
Mr. Cruz’s Kansas blowout also served to diminish Mr. Rubio, who failed to carry even the wealthy Kansas City suburbs, the type of area that Mr. Rubio has targeted and where he has done well in other states. Mr. Rubio carried just 13.7% of the third congressional district’s vote.
Mr. Rubio’s poor performance wasn’t for lack of effort. He had canceled Friday events in Kentucky and Louisiana to instead make three stops in Kansas, where he had support from the state’s leading political figures, including Gov. Sam Brownback, Sen. Pat Roberts and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.b He later played down the results, opting to focus on Florida, which comes next.
Summarised from: Reuters