Sen. Ted Cruz crushed his opponents in Kansas’ Republican presidential caucus Saturday and easily won Maine’s caucuses, but Donald Trump claimed victories in Louisiana’s primary and Kentucky’s caucuses, as the two men put the rest of the GOP field well behind them.
The Kentucky race was called by The Associated Press just before 11 p.m., ending what had been a nip-and-tuck race as the returns came in.
Mr. Cruz’s victories made a powerful argument for unifying the anti-Trump vote within the GOP behind himself, winning his fifth and sixth contests of the race in overwhelming fashion. He was also second to Mr. Trump in the other two races.
Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, meanwhile, were gasping for air, with neither man breaking 20 percent of the vote in any of the four states that voted Saturday.
Mr. Cruz, meanwhile, grabbed a stunning 48.1 percent of the vote amid record turnout in Kansas — the highest-winning percentage of any GOP contest so far — and his 45.8 percent in Maine was likewise impressive. Mr. Trump placed a distant second in each.
“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.”
He said the results proved that he is the only Republican capable of stopping Mr. Trump’s march to the nomination, and he urged supporters of the other candidates, Mr. Rubio and Mr. Kasich, to get behind his own campaign.
“As long as the field remains divided it gives Donald an advantage,” he said.
Neither Mr. Kasich nor Mr. Rubio has shown any inclination to drop out, though, particularly with Ohio and Florida, their home-state contests respectively, coming up on March 15.
Mr. Trump suggested Mr. Rubio go.
“Marco Rubio had a very very bad night. Personally I’d call for him to drop out of the race. I think it’s time,” the businessman said.
He also congratulated Mr. Cruz on his wins, but dismissed them as the two smaller states on the calendar Saturday — and joked Mr. Cruz had a natural advantage in Maine.
“He should do well to Maine because it’s very close to Canada, let’s face it,” he said — a reference to his threat to sue Mr. Cruz over the Texan’s birth in Canada to a Cuban father and American mother. Mr. Trump has said that could leave Mr. Cruz afoul of the Constitution’s insistence on the president being a “natural-born citizen.”
Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana smashed turnout records Saturday, and turnout in Maine was well above its 2012 level, as interest in the GOP race dominates the political scene. Seventeen of the 19 Republican contests so far have set modern records.
Mr. Trump has claimed credit for the high turnout, saying he’s brought new voters into the process. But the results in Kansas and Maine suggest others are also responsible — and particularly Mr. Cruz, who has built a formidable, data-driven organization that has excelled at caucuses.
Mr. Cruz now has six victories, compared to 11 for Mr. Trump and one for Mr. Rubio. Mr. Kasich has yet to win any states.
Rubio senior adviser Alex Conant insisted Mr. Rubio is still positioned to win the race. He dismissed Mr. Cruz’s six victories as either home-state wins in Texas and Oklahoma, or else triumphs in small caucus states. Mr. Conant said Mr. Rubio will eventually win big primary states, making him the better anti-Trump candidate.
“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,” he told Fox News on Saturday.