WASHINGTON (AP) — Five more states were taking their turns Saturday in the 2016 presidential race with caucuses and primaries largely overshadowed by Super Tuesday and potentially make-or-break contests soon to come.
“After making this huge U-turn to Kansas, if I lose, I’m going to so angry at you,” Republican front-runner Donald Trump told a crowd in Wichita, getting in one last Kansas stop just before the state’s caucuses.
“You’re going to see us win, win, win,” said the billionaire businessman, who ditched a conference of conservatives in the Washington area — a snub that organizers said “sends a clear message to conservatives.”
Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were competing in Maine, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off in Nebraska, Kansas and Louisiana.
Trump’s rivals are increasingly questioning his commitment to conservative policies, saying that his promise to be flexible on issues is a warning flag.
With the GOP race in chaos, establishment figures frantically are looking for any way to stop Trump, perhaps at a contested convention if none of the candidates can roll up the 1,237 delegates needed to snag the nomination.
“The Republicans are eating their own. They’ve got to be very careful,” Trump said in Wichita. “We have to bring things together.”
A Trump backer had a stern warning for those trying to block the Trump juggernaut: “If the big, fat GOP don’t like him, they don’t like me,” said 65-year-old Connie Belton, a retired homemaker from Wichita.
Kasich acknowledged that a sure way to grab the spotlight for his campaign would be to hurl insults at Trump. But he won’t take the bait.
“I’m with Harry Potter – I’m not going to the dark side,” he told reporters after a rally in Traverse City, Michigan, ahead of the state’s Tuesday primary.
But Rubio, in a question and answer session at the conference Trump skipped outside the nation’s capital, said: “It’s not enough to say, ‘Vote for me because I am angrier and over the top and am going to do and say things no one is going to do.'”
The audience booed at Trump’s name when Rubio was asked about his rival’s absence. “This is the American Conservative Union, and so it’s usually reserved for conservatives,” Rubio said to loud cheers.
Going into Saturday’s voting, Trump led with 329 delegates. Cruz had 231, Rubio 110 and Kasich 25. In all, 155 GOP delegates were at stake in Saturday’s races.
The rules for the latest round of voting made it easier for candidates to claim a share of the delegates than was true in some Super Tuesday states, when Trump rolled up seven wins to three for Cruz, including in his home state, and one for Rubio.
Rubio, going all-out for victory in Florida on March 15, predicted he would take the state. He was to campaign in Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon.
Cruz’s schedule had him in Kansas and Idaho, which votes Tuesday.
Kasich is focusing on Michigan, also a Tuesday contest, and Ohio, which holds its primary March 15, as he looks for political survival with victories in the Mideast. “The crown jewel’s going to be Ohio,” he said.
On the Democratic side, Clinton has outpaced Sanders with 1,066 delegates to his 432, including pledged 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. There were 109 at stake on Saturday.
Ahead of a debate Sunday night in Flint, Michigan, Clinton met with about 20 African-American ministers in Detroit on Saturday and said “the future” of the Supreme Court was on the ballot in November’s general election.
Clinton urged the GOP-controlled Senate, where she once represented New York, to do its constitutional duty and “make a decision” about any nominee President Barack Obama may submit to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Republican leaders say they will not consider a nominee and will leave that choice to the next president.
Her criticism of Republicans on that issue and their opposition to restoring a key part of the Voting Rights Act wasn’t new, but allowed her convey her message to an important constituency in the majority-black city.
Sanders had events in Ohio on Saturday as the Democrats kept close watch on those two big states and their upcoming delegate hauls.
One ironic twist to Saturday’s voting was the backstory to the GOP contest in Kentucky.
The caucus was created so Kentucky’s Rand Paul could run for president and re-election to the Senate without violating a state law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in one day.
Even though Paul is long gone from the presidential race, he’s still on the hook to pay $250,000 plus other expenses for a caucus that will choose between four people not named Paul.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana in New Orleans; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Kentucky; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; and Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.
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