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US ELECTIONS: Latest votes deliver anything but clarity in GOP race

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2016 | 3:18 AM
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a news conference Saturday, March 5.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Offering anything but clarity, Republicans delivered a split verdict between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the latest round of presidential voting, offering fresh evidence of the turmoil still roiling the GOP after 19 states have had their say.

Trump, still the front-runner in the delegate count, bagged Kentucky and Louisiana on Saturday. Cruz, cementing his claim to be the Trump alternative, captured Kansas and Maine.

Trump said it was time for Marco Rubio to exit the race. But the Florida senator insisted he was still fixing to win his home state of Florida on March 15.

Democrats also split their votes on Saturday, with Hillary Clinton picking up a victory in Louisiana's primary while Bernie Sanders grabbed caucus wins in Nebraska and Kansas. Even so, Sanders fell further behind in his effort to overtake Clinton's commanding lead in delegates.

The state tally sheets so far: 12 wins for Trump; six for Cruz and one for Rubio. For the Democrats, 11 for Clinton and seven for Sanders. Trump and Clinton hold the edge in the more-important delegate count.

Puerto Rico Republicans will add their voices to the conversation on Sunday, as will Maine Democrats.

With the GOP race in chaos, establishment figures are frantically looking for any way to derail Trump, perhaps at a contested convention if no candidate can get enough delegates to lock up the nomination before the party meets in July.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee, pushed the idea of a convention fight during a blistering anti-Trump speech this week. Romney's address raised questions about his own willingness to seek the nomination at a convention.

Romney fuelled the speculation further during an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press." While he said he "can't imagine" being elected by delegates at the party's Cleveland convention in July, he added, "I don't think anyone in our party should say, 'Oh no, even if the people in the party wanted me to be president, I would say no to it.'"

For months, Republican leaders have linked Trump and Cruz together, arguing that neither could win in November's general election. But the GOP elite's fear of Trump could be stronger than its disdain of Cruz, who has cultivated a reputation for tangling with his own party's leaders.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, also appearing on NBC, said Cruz "has made the best case thus far that he can be the alternative to Trump." Graham, who ended his own White House bid earlier this year, said Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich "have got to decide among themselves" whether they can be a realistic alternative to front-runner Trump.

Trump, at a post election news conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, flatly predicted he'd win the nomination outright before the convention, likening it to a knockout blow in boxing.

"The way I guarantee victory is get enough delegates, so I don't have to worry," he said.

Cruz, for his part, said his strong showing was "a manifestation of a real shift in momentum."

"What it represents is Republicans coalescing, saying it would be a disaster for Donald Trump to be our nominee," he said.

Kasich, also still in the mix but far behind, was holding out hope for a better showing next week in Michigan and in his home state of Ohio on March 15.

"I will win Ohio," Kasich said on ABC's "This Week." ''And it'll be a whole new ballgame and I'll be able to compete in a lot of these states."

Clinton, campaigning in Detroit, said she was thrilled to add to her delegate count and expected to do well in Michigan's primary on Tuesday.

"No matter who wins this Democratic nomination," she said, "I have not the slightest doubt that on our worst day we will be infinitely better than the Republicans on their best day."

Sanders, who won by comfortable margins in Nebraska and Kansas, said in an interview with The Associated Press that his solid victories were evidence his political revolution is underway.

Stressing the importance of voter turnout, he said, "when large numbers of people come — working people, young people who have not been involved in the political process — we will do well, and I think that is bearing out tonight."

The two Democrats were preparing to spar in their seventh debate on Sunday in Flint, Michigan, with trade and economic policy sure to be prime subjects.

Clinton picked up at least 55 delegates to Sanders' 47 in Saturday's contests, with seven delegates yet to be allocated.

Overall, Clinton had at least 1,121 delegates to Sanders' 479, including super delegates — members of Congress, governors and party officials who can support the candidate of their choice. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination.

Cruz won at least 64 delegates Saturday, making a small dent in Trump's lead for Republican convention delegates. Trump picked up at least 49, Rubio at least 13 and Kasich nine.

Overall, Trump led with at least 378, Cruz had at least 295, Rubio 123 and Kasich 34. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.