Cruz, Trump split primaries; Rubio down and out
Ted Cruz scored two caucus victories in Kansas and Maine on Saturday, firmly solidifying his hold as the only viable alternative to Donald Trump.
Trump won primaries in Kentucky and Louisiana, adding to his field-leading delegate total.
Marco Rubio finished far off the pace in all four contests. Continuing his campaign at this point is an exercise in vanity.
A few notes and observations:
* Cruz has to be considered a big winner, despite the fact he gained only 15 delegates on Trump. Cruz now has 295 delegates to Trump's 378. But the night showed that as long as the primaries dole out delgates based on a proportion of the vote won, Trump will be hard to catch.
* Trump underperformed compared to the polls only slightly while Cruz overperformed. He did this at the expense of Rubio who finished 4th in the Maine Caucuses behind Kasich and was in the mid to upper teens in the other contests.
* Trump's double digit leads in Kentucky and Louisiana disappeared on election day as Cruz came within 5 points of Trump in each contest. Again, this was at the expense of Rubio, who received zero delegates in Maine and Louisiana.
* Are we experiencing "Peak Trump"? It's far too early to make that sort of determination but Cruz's surge in KY and LA, his surprising victories in KS and ME, suggest that the dynamics of the race may be changing. An ARG Michigan poll out today shows John Kasich with a 2 point lead on Trump.
* Trump's ground game in caucus states has been terrible. Trump's win in Nevada last month is the only caucus state he's been able to capture. On the other hand, Cruz has only won two primaries - Texas and neighboring Oklahoma - while winning 4 caucus states; Iowa, Alaska, Kansas, and Maine.
* Another abysmal day for the Republican establishment as neither Rubio or Kasich got much support. Politico:
The GOP establishment had been loath to unite around Cruz, but after seeing the Texan notch one victory after another against Trump, some of the party elders are beginning to discuss Cruz as the only viable alternative. Voters appeared to have come to a similar conclusion on Saturday, with many in demographic groups and areas that might typically reward Rubio going instead to Cruz.
It's 9 days to the crucial winner take all primaries in Illinois, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri. That's the last day that the race could flip to someone other than Donald Trump. Trump is currently ahead in all of those primaries, but a lot can happen in 9 days - an eternity on the campaign trail.