Ted Cruz victories in two key states on Saturday may spell trouble ahead for Donald Trump on what appeared to be his unstoppable path to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. While Trump was projected by major news outlets on Saturday night to be headed toward an expected victory in the Louisiana primary, Cruz dealt the front-running New York real estate mogul sharp setbacks in two important states — and did better than expected in two others.
Even in Louisiana, where Trump was projected the winner early in the evening, voting patterns showed a late surge toward Cruz that could indicate a shift in the momentum of the campaign.
Cruz won the Kansas state Republican caucus by a sizable margin, taking 48.2 percent of the vote there compared to just 23.3 for Trump — with Marco Rubio and John Kasich bringing up the rear — claiming 24 delegates to just nine for Trump.
But a much bigger surprise was the Cruz victory in Maine, a New England state in a region that had previously been dominated by Trump in three primary contests so far, winning New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
But Cruz dominated Maine — though the state held caucuses rather than a primary, and caucuses tend to attract party faithful, while casual voters and independents generally stay away, which may indicate that Cruz is more popular with hardcore Republican conservatives than Donald Trump, who relies on independents and voters who may have otherwise stayed away from the polls.
Watch Ted Cruz deliver his Kansas victory speech Saturday, in the video below.
There were other troubling signs for Donald Trump — and hopeful signs for Ted Cruz — on Super Saturday, March 5. Though Trump was leading in the Kentucky caucuses late on Saturday evening, the race still had not been officially called by the news outlets that make projections based on their statistical number crunching, and Cruz was closing the gap as additional counties reported their vote totals.
More importantly, Cruz and Trump were running neck and neck in the four Kentucky counties that border on Ohio — a key state in the primary race not only because it has 66 delegates available, but under state rules, the winner of the state primary will be awarded all 66.
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Trump is already in some trouble in Ohio, which holds it primary on March 15, according to poll numbers. According to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, Trump as of March 3 led the field with 30.1 percent support. The state’s own governor John Kasich is second in the Ohio polling at 26.5 with Cruz at 17.9. But no recent individual poll showed Trump leading by more than five points.
Louisiana on Saturday was another state where Trump was the projected winner — but even after the news agencies and TV networks issued their projections, Cruz surprisingly continued to close the gap.
If I were major networks right now, I’d be taking a hard look at this Trump call in Louisiana.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 6, 2016
Why? Because Louisiana allows early voting between February 20 and February 27 — votes that were tallied first on Saturday and showed a huge lead for Trump. But after enduring sustained attacks from his rivals over the past week, Trump may now be showing some damage. While the first-time candidate has drawn large numbers of votes from late deciders in previous primaries, in Louisiana it appears to be Cruz benefiting from the last-minute voters.
Early returns from Louisiana Saturday, based largely on votes cast at least a week prior to the March 5 primary date, showed Donald Trump ahead of Ted Cruz by 15 percentage points, 48 to 33. But by 9:30 Central Time, 90 minutes after polls had closed, Trump’s lead had slimmed to just 4.5 points, 42 to 37.5.
“How much Trump’s margin declines over the course of the evening… could provide some indication of whether the last few days of campaign news have hurt him,” wrote FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver on Saturday, as he watched returns roll in.
Donald Trump next faces Ted Cruz on Tuesday, March 8, when four more states plus Puerto Rico will hold primaries or caucuses, with Michigan and its 59 delegates the biggest prize of that day. Results from Tuesday will allow for a stronger indication of whether Trump can regain his momentum, or whether Ted Cruz can slap a “loser” label on the brash frontrunner.
[Featured Photo By Gerald Herbert / Associated Press]