Republican US presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks to supporters at his 2016 New Hampshire primary night rally.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz bolstered his argument on Saturday night for a two-man race to the Republican presidential nomination with Donald J. Trump, the bombastic businessman from New York, by closing their delegate gap with wins in Maine and Kansas.
The two men are now separated by less than 100 delegates to the Republican National Convention in July, at which 1,237 are needed to clinch the party’s nomination.
Trump has thus far secured 382 to Cruz’s 300 delegates.
Trump won the two other contests on Saturday – Louisiana and Kentucky – leaving delegate scraps to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has won only a single state (Minnesota) thus far, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has won none.
Cruz argued for the field to continue narrowing in his victory speech, claiming he has demonstrated an ability to beat Trump with consistency, and warning that a failure to coalesce behind him will lead to Trump’s nomination.
“As long as the field remains divided, it gives Donald an advantage,” Cruz said from Idaho, which holds its own contest in on Tuesday. “The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington, DC, is utter terror at what we the people are doing together.”
Neither candidate has the support of Washington’s Republicans – Cruz has no endorsements from his colleagues in the Senate, and Trump has only one senator and two governors behind him – setting up a devil’s dilemma for the party establishment.
Several members, including the party’s last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, hope the field remains fractured so as to prevent any single candidate from securing the requisite 1,237 delegates before the convention in Cleveland.
According to GOP rules, such an outcome will lead to a contested convention, in which delegates previously pledged to support specific candidates according to the outcome of their state contest are free to vote as they choose.
Both Cruz and Trump oppose this plan, fearful that a contested convention will break in favor of an establishment candidate.
Thus, both candidates are jockeying for a two-man race.
Even if the field narrows to just these two men, Cruz faces an uphill climb: He would have to virtually sweep all contests going forward, with a collapse in Trump’s steady support and in a field clear of Rubio and Kasich, in order to reach that magic number of delegates.
The likelihood of a contested convention will come down to the outcomes of races in Michigan this Tuesday, and in Florida and Ohio on March 15 – races that are competitive for Kasich and Rubio, and that will determine the future of their campaigns.
Kasich, who hopes to shine with votes across the rust belt of the Midwest, has just inched ahead of Trump in Michigan by 2 percentage points, within the margin of error, according to an ARG poll released over the weekend. The poll was taken after a salacious GOP debate last week featured Trump alluding to the size of his manhood.
Kasich was the only candidate to avoid personal attacks.
Should Kasich surprise with a win on Tuesday in Michigan, he will enter the contest next week in his home state of Ohio – with 66 winner-take-all delegates at stake – with a boost of momentum and media attention. The governor says he intends to stay in the race with an Ohio victory, and has stated his belief the race will go all the way to the convention.
Rubio, similarly, has gained in the polls against Trump in his home state of Florida. A win in the Sunshine State is a must for its junior senator, who not only has vowed to win for his own sake, but to deny Trump his 99 winner-take-all delegates.
Should Trump fail in these three states – both to secure their delegates and to whittle the field – his race for 1,237 delegates becomes more challenging, and a contested convention becomes a realistic, if not probable, possibility.