- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida narrowly won the District of Columbia’s Republican convention on Saturday, seizing his third primary-season victory as a critical contest looms in his home state.

The small band of establishment-friendly Republican voters in the nation’s capital also offered a rebuke to GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who failed to win a single delegate. Rubio got 37 percent of the vote and won 10 delegates, and the runner-up, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, won nine delegates with 36 percent of the vote.

Trump was third and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas was fourth, but neither met the minimum threshold to earn delegates.

Earlier this month, Rubio won the GOP caucuses in Minnesota and the party’s primary in Puerto Rico, but he’s still a distant third in the overall delegate count behind Trump and Cruz.

The convention was the first of its kind in the nation’s capital, and it offered a rare opportunity for Republicans in the overwhelmingly Democratic city to cast a meaningful vote. Many were fueled by anxiety over Trump, sporting stickers with the hashtag “#NeverTrump” as they waited up to 3 hours in a line that covered three city blocks to cast their ballots at a downtown hotel.

Many Rubio supporters were pinning their hopes on a brokered convention to deny Trump the nomination.

“We need some good people to go down there and do the right thing and stop Trump,” said Rina Shah, who won a convention spot as a Rubio delegate. “He’s a deranged, mediocre businessman. How can we vote for this guy?”

The District convention attracted scant national attention, with the candidates focusing on Florida, Ohio and other delegate-rich states that hold primaries on Tuesday. Campaigning in the city was left largely to volunteers who made phone calls and knocked on doors.

Rubio defeated Kasich by just 50 votes, with 2,839 people - 10 percent of the city’s registered Republicans - casting ballots. Local GOP leaders were happy with the turnout given the circumstances of the convention - all votes were cast at a single location because the city’s primary date is too late to send delegates to the national convention under party rules.

The District GOP is heavy on what some would call “Beltway elites” - lawyers, lobbyists, political strategists and think-tank wonks. Candidates for delegate included former White House officials from the Reagan and both Bush administrations.

Robert Kabel, the city’s Republican national committeeman, said the convention was the most exciting local GOP gathering in decades, and he credited the anti-Trump contingent.

“I think he helped us bring people out - people who are supporting the other candidates,” Kabel said. “D.C. by definition is the establishment town.”

But Marya Pickering, who ran unsuccessfully as a Trump delegate, said the businessman deserves credit for bringing new, energetic voters to the party.

“I hope people will unite behind him because I think he can win,” Pickering said.


Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/ben-nuckols.

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