WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Cruz cut into frontrunner Donald Trump’s delegate lead March 5, providing evidence the presidential nominee of the Republican Party should not be considered a foregone conclusion.
Cruz and Trump split four states, but the senator from Texas won 16 more delegates than the billionaire businessman. By winning the Kansas and Maine caucuses comfortably, Cruz outpaced Trump, 69-53, in delegates gained. Trump won the Louisiana primary and the Kentucky caucus but by less than five percent in each state.
In the race for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont finished first in three caucuses over the weekend but made up little of a daunting deficit. Despite finishing first in Kansas, Nebraska and the Sunday (March 6) contest in Maine, Sanders gained only two delegates on former secretary of state and first lady Hillary Clinton, who won the Louisiana primarily easily.
In the latest delegate count, Clinton has 1,130 to Sanders’ 499, according to USA Today. Much of that difference is a result of Clinton leading in superdelegates, 458-22. The Democratic nominee must have 2,383 delegates.
The GOP race shows Trump with 384 delegates, Cruz with 300, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida with 151 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 37, USA Today reported. Rubio won all 23 delegates in the March 6 primary in Puerto Rico, where citizens can vote in the primary but not the general election. A Republican candidate must obtain 1,237 delegates to win the nomination.
Cruz “is emerging as the primary threat to Trump,” political science professor Hunter Baker said in written comments. “His victories in Kansas (where Rubio had the endorsement of the popular governor) and in Maine (not exactly a Bible belt state) show that Cruz has some real strength.
“The big question is whether voters will seize upon an opportunity to coalesce behind Mr. Cruz and perhaps surprise Mr. Trump in the upcoming contests,” said the associate professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative publication National Review, said in a blog post it would be a “mistake to make too much” of the March 5 results, “but it’s possible that Trump’s momentum has been checked, at least for the time being.”
Trump has been a lightning rod in the GOP race, spawning resistance from many evangelical Christians and other conservatives, including the use of the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter. Many have pledged not to vote for him based on his inconsistent policy positions even on social issues, his insult-filled rhetoric and his lifestyle.
Rubio’s failure to finish better than third in any of the March 5 contests dealt his campaign a sizable blow and left him trying to survive in hopes of winning the March 15 primary in his home state.
“Florida has become an absolute do-or-die state for Marco Rubio,” said Baker, who has endorsed the senator. “That’s a tall order, given that Florida is essentially a second home for Donald Trump.”
Before major primaries in Florida and four other states March 15, Michigan looms as the next major battleground for both parties in contests scheduled March 8. The Republicans and Democrats will hold primaries the same day in Mississippi, while the GOP will sponsor a caucus in Hawaii and a primary in Idaho.
— by Tom Strode | BP