As Sanders, Cruz pick up wins, delegate math favors front-runner rivals

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Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks to supporters during a campaign stop at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook  - RTS9DS2

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders talks to supporters during a campaign stop at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan March 4, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Cook/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Underdogs found something to cheer in the latest run of presidential nomination contests. Whether they are any closer to stalling the drive of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is quite another matter.

Republicans and Democrats in Kansas, Republicans in Maine and Democrats in Nebraska snubbed the front-runners Saturday on a heartening night for Ted Cruz in the GOP contest and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic race.

But their hopes were restrained by victories for Trump in Louisiana and Kentucky, and for Clinton in Louisiana – and by the proportional allocation of delegates that makes it difficult for anyone lagging in the race to make up much ground.

Clinton, in particular, was on track to win a majority of Democratic delegates from the Saturday races despite losing two out of three to Sanders.

THE HIGHLIGHTS

– Sanders won Democratic caucuses in Kansas and Nebraska, two states Clinton also lost, and badly, in 2008 to Barack Obama.

– Cruz won in Maine and Kansas on a night that offered scant encouragement for Marco Rubio. “I think that it’s time that he drops out,” Trump said of the Florida senator.

– Success in Louisiana meant that Clinton and Trump feared no serious erosion of their delegate lead. Trump also prevailed later in a close Kentucky race, while Clinton dominated the contest in Louisiana.

WHAT’S AHEAD SUNDAY

Maine Democrats and Puerto Rico Republicans hold their nominating contests.

VOTERS SAY …

– “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, who came to a caucus site near Omaha, Nebraska, at 8 a.m., after working as a DJ until 4 a.m. 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.

IFFY IMPACT

It was easier for GOP hopefuls to gain delegates in the weekend round of voting than it was in the Super Tuesday extravaganza. That also means it was harder to change the nature of the race.

Candidates in Kentucky only needed 5 percent of the statewide vote to win delegates, and in Kansas and Maine the bar was 10 percent. In Louisiana’s primary, there was no threshold to earn delegates. Contrast this with 20 percent thresholds in some other states.

And in some coming Republican contests, all delegates in the state will go to the winner for the first time in the campaign. Among those winner-take-all states are Rubio’s Florida and Ohio, where John Kasich is governor.

THE DELEGATE MATH

The weekend contests are divvying up 175 delegates among the Republican candidates and 134 delegates between Clinton and Sanders.

Clinton’s substantial margin of victory in Louisiana withstood Sanders’ wins in Kansas and Nebraska. That means Clinton will maintain her substantial delegate lead to date.

Including superdelegates, the party insiders who can choose any candidate, she now has a total of least 1,121 delegates, compared with at least 479 for Sanders. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the nomination.

Cruz was making a small dent in Trump’s delegate lead. He picked up at least 64 delegates Saturday, with Trump gaining at least 49. Rubio got at least 13 and Kasich won at least nine.

In the overall race for delegates, Trump has 378 and Cruz has 295. Rubio has 123 delegates and Kasich has 34. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.

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.

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