WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Bernie Sanders took two out of three races against Hillary Clinton on Saturday and Republican Ted Cruz split 2-2 with Donald Trump, a heartening night for underdogs but one that did little to shake up the campaign for the 2016 presidential nominations.
Cruz won in Kansas and Maine — Trump answered with victories in Louisiana and Kentucky. Sanders prevailed in Kansas and Nebraska — and Clinton answered with a Louisiana win that left her no worse off in her significant delegate lead over her challenger.
Marco Rubio, considered the only other Republican capable of stopping Trump, trailed in the races and the front-runner tried to nudge him out the door. "Marco has to get out of the race," Trump said. "Has to."
Cruz and Sanders both benefited from a caucus system that requires organization from campaigns and commitment — if not passion — from voters.
But because delegates are being awarded proportionally in the weekend races, Trump's GOP rivals and Clinton's sole opponent had limited opportunity to curb the drive of the front-runners. Larger contests ahead, with winner-take-all delegate prizes, afford more of that chance.
Rallying in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Cruz, a Texas senator, declared: "The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together."
Saturday's GOP races in Maine, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana and Democratic contests in Nebraska, Kansas and Louisiana were largely overshadowed by the Super Tuesday races dominated by Trump and Clinton.
But with Trump yet to win states by the margins he'll need to secure the nomination before the GOP convention, every one of the 155 GOP delegates at stake on Saturday was worth fighting for.
On Sunday, Maine Democrats and Puerto Rico Republicans are holding contests.
—"I adore Trump. I think his heart is as big as his hands. And as big as other things, as he says." — Connie Belton, 65, Wichita, Kansas, on why she's backing him.
—"I have never heard someone so idealistic who has the experience to back it up." — Bernie Sanders supporter Brent Crampton, 31, came to a caucus site near Omaha, Nebraska, at 8 a.m. after being up until 4 a.m. because of his DJ job. He said the Democratic race "was just too important to me to sleep in."
—"Donald Trump is a bigot. He's sexist and he's racist, and I would hate to see someone like that as a presidential candidate." — Halie Saldana, 20, of Lewiston, Maine, on why she supported Cruz.
It's easier for GOP hopefuls to gain delegates in the weekend round of voting than it was in the Super Tuesday extravaganza. That means it's harder to have a breakout that changes the nature of the race.
Candidates in Kentucky must get just 5 percent of the statewide vote to get delegates, and in Kansas and Maine the bar is 10 percent. In Louisiana's primary, there is no threshold to earn a portion of the delegates. Contrast this with 20 percent thresholds in some other states.
And in coming Republican contests, like Florida and Ohio, all delegates in a state will go to the winner, for the first time in the campaign.
THE DELEGATE NUMBERS
The weekend contests are divvying up 175 delegates among the Republican candidates and 134 delegates between Clinton and Sanders.
Clinton will gain more than half of Louisiana's 51 delegates, erasing Sanders' modest delegate gain in Nebraska. Including superdelegates, the party insiders who can pick any candidate, Clinton now has at least 1,104 delegates, according to the AP count, while Sanders has at least 446. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.
Until Trump won Louisiana, Cruz was nibbling away at Trump's delegate lead. He picked up 36 by winning in Kansas and Maine. Trump won 18. Rubio won six and John Kasich added three. This was before any delegates were allocated in Louisiana and Kentucky.
In the overall race for delegates, Trump has at least 347 and Cruz at least 267. Rubio has 116 and Kasich, 28. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination.
EYE ON LOUISIANA
Analysts had expected Clinton to do well, as she's done in other Southern states. She's drawn strong support from black voters, a sizable part of the Louisiana Democratic primary electorate.
"Louisiana is identical to the states she has been performing well in and likewise Bernie Sanders has done poorly in," said Joshua Stockley, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
On the Republican side, Louisiana has tended to vote for conservative, evangelical candidates. Although that history may have favored Cruz, Trump proved again he could win in a Southern state with evangelical voters.
In this Republican-leaning state, Barack Obama beat Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin in the 2008 caucuses.
Both Clinton and Sanders seem to have taken a page from Obama's 2008 playbook this time around, putting much energy in the state, along with saturation advertising in recent days. Clinton visited in December; husband Bill Clinton made a pair of appearances Friday.
Vince Powers, the state Democratic chairman, said Sanders' visit to the state two days before the caucuses and a jump in registered Democrats since December were possible boosts for the Vermont senator, the winner.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana in New Orleans, Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Kentucky, David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Margery A. Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.