Marco Rubio wins Puerto Rico primary; Sanders takes Maine caucuses
March 6, 2016 11:27 PM
Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, on Saturday.
By Ashley Parker / The New York Times
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida won the Puerto Rico primary on Sunday, giving him a much-needed victory after a string of losses that were seen as threatening to push the Republican presidential nomination further out of his reach.
In Maine on Sunday, Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Democratic caucuses.
The victory in Puerto Rico came a day after Mr. Rubio was shut out of first-place finishes in all four of Saturday’s Republican nominating contests, where Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas won the caucuses in Kansas and Maine and Donald Trump won the Kentucky caucuses and the Louisiana primary.
Saturday’s results helped Mr. Cruz emerge as the main alternative for Republicans hoping to halt Mr. Trump’s momentum. Mr. Cruz has now beaten Mr. Trump, who holds the lead in delegates, in six states. Mr. Rubio’s lone previous victory came in the Minnesota caucuses.
Mr. Rubio — who in recent days has focused on his home state, which he is seen as needing to win in its March 15 primary if he hopes to continue his campaign — made a detour to Puerto Rico on Saturday, campaigning in San Juan and holding a news conference, mostly in Spanish, in a last-minute push to win the primary.
Puerto Rico, which has roughly 3.7 million residents, could help Mr. Rubio in his home state’s primary in which 99 delegates are at stake. More than 1 million Puerto Ricans live in Florida, concentrated most heavily around Orlando, and many were closely watching their island’s contest Sunday.
Puerto Rico is embroiled in a debt crisis, with the territory facing a deficit of more than $70 billion. Mr. Rubio took a tough line on the matter in Congress, urging Puerto Rico to focus on improving its economy and fixing its troubled fiscal situation rather than seeking bankruptcy protection.
With about 72 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Rubio, who was born in Miami to Cuban immigrant parents, had support from 74 percent of voters. That put him ahead of Mr. Trump with 14 percent and Mr. Cruz with 9 percent, according to tallies reported by CNN.
If that margin is sustained, Mr. Rubio would top the 50 percent threshold needed to win all 23 of Puerto Rico’s delegates. It would still leave him a distant third in his party’s delegate chase.
Mr. Sanders’ win in Maine was his third of the weekend, and he assured supporters he still had “a path toward victory” and urged the media not to “write us off.”
It came a day after he won the caucuses in both Kansas and Nebraska on Saturday. But Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, also notched a decisive victory Saturday, beating him in the Louisiana primary — which allowed her to amass more delegates overall and continue to expand her delegate lead.
With 25 Maine delegates at stake, Mr. Sanders is assured of winning at least 14 while Ms. Clinton stands to gain at least six. But his victory won’t have much impact on Ms. Clinton’s substantial edge overall, thanks to her support among superdelegates — members of Congress, governors and party officials who can support the candidate of their choice.
When including those party leaders, Ms. Clinton has at least 1,129 while Mr. Sanders has at least 498. It takes 2,383 delegates to win. In Saturday’s contests, out of 109 delegates, Ms. Clinton won 57 while Mr. Sanders picked up 52.
On Tuesday, Michigan will hold its primary, a critical test for both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders as the nominating contests incorporate Rust Belt states. On Sunday night, the Democratic debate was held in Flint, Mich., where the water crisis was the primary focus.
Mrs. Clinton on Friday campaigned in Detroit, laying out her job growth plan, which includes providing incentives for employers to that invest in the United States and “clawing back” tax incentives from companies that move their business overseas.
And for Mr. Sanders, Michigan — with its working-class white voters who should be receptive to his populist message — is the sort of state he needs to win to remain viable and prove he can beat Mrs. Clinton, who decimated him in the South with the strong backing of African-American voters.
In the Republican race, the wary interest in Mr. Cruz from more mainstream Republicans is the latest unexpected twist in a nominating contest where talk of a contested convention or third-party candidate is becoming commonplace.
“If Ted’s the alternative to Trump, he’s at least a Republican and conservative,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said. While Mr. Graham made sure to note that it’s “not like I prefer Ted Cruz,” he encouraged Mr. Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich to “decide among themselves” whether they can be a realistic alternative to Trump.
Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said Mr. Cruz is indeed “emerging” as the chief anti-Trump candidate.
“I think a lot of people were surprised by how well Ted Cruz did,” said Mr. Romney, who has thrust himself back into the political discussion with a searing take-down of Mr. Trump in a speech last week.
Mr. Romney has stepped back into the spotlight at a moment of crisis and chaos for the Republican Party. Leaders in Washington, D.C., who assumed hard-liners such as Mr. Cruz represented a minority view have been left wondering if they’re the ones out of step with their party’s base.
For months, Republican elites have lumped Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz together, arguing that neither could win in November’s general election. Mr. Cruz is an uncompromising conservative who has publicly criticized party leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for what he sees as a pattern of giving in too easily to President Barack Obama.
Mr. Cruz particularly angered Senate leaders when he helped orchestrate the 2013 government shutdown, which failed in achieving the senator’s stated goal of defunding Mr. Obama’s health care reform law.
But Mr. Cruz has built a loyal following among conservatives and evangelical Christians. After winning the leadoff Iowa caucuses, he’s also beaten Mr. Trump in five more states, more than any other candidate.
Mr. Trump still leads the field with at least 378 delegates, while Mr. Cruz has at least 295. Mr. Kasich joins Mr. Rubio in lagging far behind in the race to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination.