With Two Wins, Cruz Stakes Claim as Trump’s Main Republican Rival

WASHINGTON (Reuters/Bloomberg News) -
Election 2016

Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz solidified his claim to be front-runner Donald Trump’s prime challenger by splitting four nominating contests with the real estate mogul, as both turned their attention to a crucial showdown in Michigan on Tuesday.

“I think it’s time that he dropped out of the race,” Trump said of Rubio afterward. “I want Ted one on one.”

Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, won in Kansas and Maine. Cruz, 45, has run as an outsider, bent on shaking up the Republican establishment in Washington. A favorite of evangelicals, he has called for the United States to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State terror group and has pledged to eliminate the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service and four cabinet agencies.

The wins for Trump and Cruz on Saturday were a setback for a Republican establishment that has largely lined up behind Marco Rubio, who has been shut out in the four contests. The party’s establishment has not been much happier with Cruz than Trump, since Cruz has alienated many party leaders in Washington.

The four Republican contests on Saturday together accounted for just 155 delegates. Cruz won 64 delegates on Saturday, while Trump took 49.

Cruz said the results showed he was gaining momentum in the race, yet Trump still has a substantial lead in the race for delegates who select the presidential nominee at the nominating convention in July.

The Republican campaign now moves to Puerto Rico on Sunday and to contests on Tuesday in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii, where Trump will be looking to expand his lead in the battle to pick nominees for the Nov. 8 presidential election to succeed President Barack Obama.

On the Democratic side, front-runner Hillary Clinton won on Saturday in Louisiana and rival Bernie Sanders won in Kansas and Nebraska, in results that slightly expanded Clinton’s delegate lead over the senator from Vermont.

Next up for the Democrats is a contest in Maine on Sunday and a nationally broadcast debate on Sunday night from Flint, Michigan, a majority-black and impoverished city that has suffered a health crisis caused by a contaminated water supply.

Democrats in Michigan and Mississippi also will vote on Tuesday.

“Now all eyes turn to Michigan,” Clinton said on Saturday night at a rally in Detroit.

The Republican race has been marked by a growing wave of attacks on Trump from the Republican establishment, which has blanched at his calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico, round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, and temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the United States. But Trump shrugged off the attacks and went on to win contests in Louisiana and Kentucky on Saturday.

Rubio, on the other hand, needs to win in Florida to keep his campaign going, after winning just a single state, Minnesota, out of 15 contests so far. If Cruz and Kasich, with combined support of about 20 percent, lose in Florida, it may be enough to put Rubio over the top in the winner-take-all state that will award 99 delegates in its primary.

Speaking on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Rubio predicted victory in Florida while playing down the importance of the state’s primary: “I’ve never based my campaign on one single state but I can tell you this: we will win the state of Florida,” Rubio said. “I have experience at beating people who don’t say who they truly are. I have experience at beating people who portray themselves to be one thing but are actually something else, and you’re going to find that out.” ‘

Cruz, whose wife and father campaigned on his behalf in Florida this month, said Friday that he was opening 10 offices as part of a “serious commitment” to the state.

“In order to defeat Donald Trump, we’ve got to come together,” Cruz said Friday night in Mandeville, La. “If the field remains divided, then he can hope to win winner-take-all states with a plurality of 35 percent. Head to head, we not only beat Donald Trump, we beat him resoundingly.”

Most states that have voted so far, including Texas, have awarded delegates proportionately using formulas based on winners in each congressional district. Cruz won his home state by 17 percentage points and picked up 55 more delegates there than Trump, but Florida’s all-or-nothing prize is more consequential in the race to the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination.