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 Louisiana 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.
Party leaders – including 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and 2008 nominee Sen. John McCain – are fearful a Trump victory would lead to a disastrous November election, with losses up and down the GOP ticket.
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 knock-out 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.
Both men were itching to go at it one-on-one.
“Oh, do I want to run against Ted,” said Trump, ticking off a list of large states where he said Cruz had no chance. “That will be easy.”
Ohio Gov. John 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.
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 superdelegates – 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.
BY NANCY BENAC AND JILL COLVIN
Benac reported from Washington.