- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sen. Ted Cruz’s two overwhelming weekend wins, as well as an easy victory in The Washington Times/CPAC straw poll, cemented him as the top pick for Republican voters trying to stop Donald Trump’s march to the nomination.

Mr. Cruz and Mr. Trump traded victories Saturday, but the bigger news was the sluggish performance by Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, neither of whom broke 20 percent of the vote in Kansas, Maine, Kentucky or Louisiana. Between them they have just a single win and little hope of playing any role other than spoiler.

Mr. Cruz also easily topped Mr. Rubio among the more than 2,600 grass-roots leaders at the Conservative Political Action Conference, signaling his popularity among the opinion leaders in the conservative movement outside of the capital.

Combined, the weekend strengthened Mr. Trump’s argument that he wins big, open contests, and also bolstered Mr. Cruz’s appeal as the candidate who can win in the small races that depend on out-organizing opponents.

And the two men together took 74 percent of the votes across the four states in the latest massive rejection for a GOP establishment tepid toward both of them.

“The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington, D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together,” Mr. Cruz said as he campaigned in Idaho, just after the Kansas race was called. “What we’re seeing is men and women who love freedom and love the Constitution uniting and standing as one behind this campaign.”

Mr. Trump, who waited until the final race was called in Kentucky to speak Saturday, said it’s clear the GOP race is down to himself and Mr. Cruz. He urged Mr. Rubio to ditch his own bid and treated Mr. Kasich as an afterthought,

“I would love to take on Ted one on one. That would be so much fun,” he said.

Analysts say that could be dangerous for Mr. Trump, because Kasich and Rubio supporters are more likely to jump to Mr. Cruz than they are to the billionaire businessman.

But it’s unlikely to happen anyway, at least for another 10 days or so. Mr. Kasich has said he’s staying in until Ohio votes on March 15, and Mr. Rubio is likewise holding out for Florida, which also votes that day.

Between now and then are Tuesday’s primaries in Mississippi, Idaho and Michigan and caucuses in Hawaii.

Mr. Rubio also claimed a victory Sunday in Puerto Rico’s primary.

Mr. Kasich argued he’s got the field right where he wants it — and blamed his slow start on the press for not giving him more attention earlier.

“The problem is you guys didn’t give me coverage. For six months I wallowed at 1 percent in the polls. Why? Because I’m not name-calling,” he told ABC on Sunday.

He said the calendar now tilts in his favor, with contests heading north, and he acknowledged his only hope is to survive until a convention, where he hopes the party will turn to him as its savior.

“If Trump, you know, wins all the rest of these things, he’ll go to the convention with the right numbers. But if he doesn’t have the right numbers, then we’re in a multiballot convention,” he said.

Mr. Rubio, likewise, is banking on things changing after the March 15 vote.

“At this point nobody is on track to having the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. But after we win Florida, we are going to be on our way to doing so,” Rubio campaign senior adviser Alex Conant told Fox News on Saturday.

Mr. Cruz, eager to consolidate the anti-Trump vote, had earlier called on the two men to consider dropping out but, with that not likely right now, he turned to their supporters, asking them whether it was more important to make a statement or to stop Mr. Trump.

“As long as the field remains divided, it gives Donald an advantage,” he said.

When votes in all four contests are combined, Mr. Trump still came out ahead of Mr. Cruz, but just barely. As of the vote tally Sunday morning, Mr. Trump had won 230,445 voters across the four races, while Mr. Cruz won 230,205.

And Mr. Cruz added the powerful statement-building win at CPAC, which is the annual gathering of thousands of conservative grass-roots leaders and college students from across the country who meet in suburban Washington.

The Washington Times/CPAC straw poll found Mr. Cruz the presidential choice of 39.5 percent of attendees, trailed by Mr. Rubio at 30 percent. Mr. Trump was a distant third at just 14.7 percent.

And Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s history-making chief executive, was the top pick for vice president, though Mr. Kasich and businesswoman Carly Fiorina were close behind.

Mr. Trump may have compounded his problems with conservative leaders by canceling his scheduled CPAC speech Saturday to travel to Kansas to campaign. Not only did he get pasted in Kansas, but those he left behind at CPAC were nonplussed.

“I think that it just shows who he is. He’s a big baby,” said Kathleen Kenny, 40, from Bedford, Massachusetts, who voted in the straw poll for Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian favorite who dropped out of the presidential race last month.

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