After a Super Saturday in which Ted Cruz won the Maine and Kansas caucuses by large margins and finished a surging second to Donald Trump in the Louisiana and Kentucky primaries, both Trump and Cruz called on also-ran Marco Rubio to quit the GOP presidential race.
“Marco Rubio had a very, very bad night, and personally I’d call for him to drop out of the race,” Trump said at a relatively subdued news conference Saturday night at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“I would love to take on Ted one-on-one. That would be so much fun,” the New York real estate mogul said. “Ted can’t win New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California. I want Ted one-on-one, OK?”
Across the country, Cruz, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, ahead of its Tuesday primary, said, “We will continue to amass delegates, but what needs to happen is the field needs to continue to narrow.
“If you’re a supporter of Marco Rubio or John Kasich — both good, honorable men, both men I respect — but if you don’t want to see Donald Trump as the nominee, then I invite you to join our team as so many supporters of Marco Rubio did in the state of Maine,” the U.S. senator from Texas said.
Cruz won the Maine caucuses with 46 percent of the vote to 33 percent for Trump; 12 percent for Kasich, the governor of Ohio; and 8 percent for Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida. Cruz won the Kansas caucuses with 48 percent of the vote to 23 percent for Trump, 17 percent for Rubio and 11 percent for Kasich.
Trump held on to win in Louisiana, with 41 percent to 38 percent for Cruz, 11 percent for Rubio and 6 percent for Kasich, and Kentucky, where he finished with 36 percent to 32 percent for Cruz, 15 percent for Rubio and 14 percent for Kasich. Trump’s wins were far narrower than what recent polls and the early vote in Louisiana had indicated.
Rubio, in Puerto Rico, put the best face on Saturday’s results.
“The map only gets friendlier after tonight,” he said Saturday. “We knew this would be the roughest period of the campaign.”
On Sunday, Rubio swept to victory in the island’s primary, winning more than half the vote, securing all 23 delegates.
Cruz collected 69 delegates Saturday to 53 for Trump, 16 for Rubio and 9 for Kasich, according to the Associated Press delegate tracker. Trump now has 382 delegates, Cruz has 300, Rubio has 151 and Kasich has 35, toward the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at the Republican National Convention in July in Cleveland.
It was Cruz’s best night since he won the Iowa caucuses Feb. 1, and he finds himself today in a sweeter spot than seemed possible last Tuesday when he lost badly to Trump in Southern states outside Texas.
Cruz’s strong performance Saturday clinched his standing as the candidate most likely to end up in a showdown with Trump for the Republican nomination.
“I think a lot of people were surprised by how well Ted Cruz did,” Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, said on Meet the Press Sunday. “He got more delegates than Donald Trump last night. He was ebullient and enthusiastic. Donald Trump was uncharacteristically low energy last night. I think he was really surprised.”
On Thursday, in a speech in Utah, Romney warned of the dire consequences for the party if it nominated Trump. He has made the rounds of the news shows since seeking to stir and steer anti-Trump efforts.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Romney said he would vote for Kasich in Ohio and Rubio in Florida, and with Cruz in the mix, “you’re going to see one of the three — and right now it looks like Ted Cruz — which will emerge as the strongest contender.”
Romney said he would endorse one of the three after high-stakes March 15 primaries and before the convention, and “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure one of those three is our nominee.”
On “Meet the Press,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: “I’d prefer Rubio over Kasich, Rubio and Kasich over Cruz. But if Ted’s the alternative to Trump, he’s at least a Republican and conservative.
“I think Rubio and Kasich have got to decide among themselves, can they be an alternative to Trump over time? To me, it’s clear that Ted has made the best case thus far that he can be the alternative to Trump,” said Graham, who abandoned his own candidacy for president in December. “The best thing I think could happen is for the party to unite before Ohio and Florida (on March 15) and make sure that we not only beat him — Trump — in Ohio and Florida, that we have a candidate that can beat him thereafter. And right now, it seems that Ted Cruz has the best case to be made.”
In Austin, Brendan Steinhauser, a political consultant with ties to both the Cruz and Rubio camps, suggested the best course would be for Cruz and Rubio to announce as soon as possible that Rubio will be Cruz’s running mate if he is nominated, and for Rubio to exit the race ahead of the March 15 winner-take-all primary in Florida, and continue to make the case against Trump in support of Cruz.
“If he wants to help save the country, save the party, save conservatism, he may be best able to do that by dogging Trump at every event he goes to,” Steinhauser said.
The Cruz campaign made it clear Friday that even if Rubio doesn’t bow out, it plans to go all in in Florida — opening 10 campaign offices — in hopes of knocking him out of the race, even at risk of Trump winning the state’s 99 delegates.
The candidates were still figuring out their schedules Sunday. Trump has rallies Monday in Mississippi, which will vote Tuesday, and North Carolina, which will vote March 15. Rubio will be campaigning in Florida on Tuesday.
Upcoming Republican contests
Hawaii caucuses (19 delegates)
Idaho primary (32 delegates)
Michigan primary (59 delegates)
Mississippi primary (40 delegates)
D.C. convention (19 delegates)
Guam convention (9 delegates)
Florida primary* (99 delegates)
Illinois primary* (69 delegates)
Missouri (52 delegates)
Northern Mariana Island caucus* (9 delegates)
North Carolina primary (72 delegates)
Ohio primary* (66 delegates)
(c)2016 Austin American-Statesman, Texas
Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.