Live: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs during a campaign stop at the Signature Flight Hangar at Port-Columbus International Airport, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo AP
Live: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump signs autographs during a campaign stop at the Signature Flight Hangar at Port-Columbus International Airport, Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) John Minchillo AP

Politics & Government

Cruz wins Texas and Oklahoma, but Trump on a Super Tuesday romp in other states

atinsley@star-telegram.com

March 01, 2016 9:27 PM

Ted Cruz has been declared the winner of the Republican presidential primary in his home state of Texas, a crucial win that he hopes keeps him in the race with Donald Trump, who is riding Super Tuesday successes to a bigger and bigger lead.

The Washington Post also is now projecting that Cruz has won Oklahoma.

The Associated Press and cable news networks earlier declared Trump the winner in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Three takeaways from Super Tuesday

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won the most states in Super Tuesday, but the underdog candidates also took home enough smaller prizes to remain in the race and fight another day. (Natalie Fertig / McClatchy)

Texas was the centerpiece of an 11-state stretch of Republican primaries today that held the potential of dramatically accelerating Trump’s bid for the GOP nomination as Cruz and Marco Rubio battled to emerge as their party’s leading alternative to the New York billionaire.

Cruz, a first-term Texas senator who won the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, was under intense pressure to win his home state of Texas and fare well enough in other states to infuse his outsider bid for the White House with a desperately needed shot of momentum. Anything less than first place in Texas would likely derail his candidacy.

The stakes were equally high for Rubio as the first term Florida senator, who had yet to score a victory in any of the four early contests, sought out a boost to propel him into the next mega-round of contests in two weeks that will also include multiple states, including his home turf of Florida.

Millions of Texas voters swarmed to the voting booth starting at 7 a.m., propelled by the marquee presidential race in both parties as well as hotly tested legislative congressional races.

With its earlier than usual March 1 date in a Republican nomination fight that had up to 17 candidates, Texas became one of the election season’s dominant battle-grounds, as well as the linchpin of Super Tuesday.

The 2016 Texas contest has been depicted by analysts as one of the state’s most pivotal GOP primaries in decades, drawing comparisons to the 1976 race in which Ronald Reagan stormed into the state to beat incumbent President Gerald Ford with two-thirds of the vote.

“It’s a big deal when you dramatically increase the turnout in your primary,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It suggests that there is a lot of turmoil, first, and enthusiasm, second, on the Republican side.”

Even before voters trooped to the polls on primary day, more than 1.1. million voters cast ballots during 11 days of early voting, attracted by the three-way fight between Trump, Cruz and Rubio.

The candidates all made stops in North Texas after the most recent Republican presidential debate in Houston, holding rallies in Fort Worth, Dallas and cities in between, courting supporters and working to build enthusiasm they hoped would translate to more support at the polls.

Cruz cemented his stature as the undisputed Texas favorite son after former Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race well in advance of the first contests. But it was a mantle that also carried liabilities since anything less than a first place finish in Texas would be judged as a devastating embarrassment that would likely end his campaign — particularly if he didn’t win elsewhere.

Cruz, who was the longest serving solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, skyrocketed to national attention in 2012 after defeating Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a battle for U.S. Senate that turned into a classic Tea Party-versus-establishment-Republican, David-versus-Goliath fight.

He became the first Republican to enter the 2016 presidential race when he announced his candidacy a year ago, in March of 2015 at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. His campaign launch at a university founded by the late evangelist Jerry Falwell signaled the start of what would be a protracted bid for evangelical support to his conservative candidacy.

Cruz also uncorked unwavering support from energized Tea Party supporters, including Republican state Sen. Konni Burton of Colleyville, and consistently led in polls of Texas Republican voters until Trump began competing for the same anti-establishment constituency.

One poll in September showed Trump with a 21-16 lead and the latest WFAA Texas TEGNA showed that Trump and Cruz were tied. But Cruz supporters were heartened by a recent average of six polls showing Cruz with 35.5 percent in Texas, Trump with 27.5 percent and Rubio with 18.8 percent.

Cruz was often back in the pack in the early jockeying in 2015 before an aggressive ground game in Iowa vaulted him to victory over second-place Trump in the first-in-the- nation Iowa caucuses.

But he finished third in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada and came into his home state facing a must-win situation.

By contrast, Trump rebounded from his second-place Iowa finish to rack up three back-to-back victories while Rubio, after being roughed up in New Hampshire, narrowly came in ahead of Cruz to secure second place in South Carolina and Nevada.

Gloves off

Consequently, the already tumultuous GOP nomination scramble deteriorated into a gloves-off food-fight when the candidates reached Texas just over a week ago.

Cruz and Rubio intensified their competing bids to establish themselves as the sole alternative to Trump, who in turn hoped to vault from Super Tuesday with an unstoppable final drive toward the nomination. Carson and Kasich chose to soldier on through Super Tuesday but nevertheless faced a bleak outlook about their chances.

The three leading candidates tore into each other at a chaotic, name-calling debate in Houston last week, described as a GOP “embarrassment” by Fox News host Chris Wallace. They then followed up with even saltier language and accusations in subsequent appearances.

At a Fort Worth rally the day after debate, Trump scored a surprise coup when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary, appeared alongside the New York businessman to announce his endorsement.

Rubio, at a Dallas rally the same day, said he feared Trump may have wet his pants during the Texas presidential debate and read from emails to belittle Trump’s literary skills. Trump responded by calling the Florida senator a “choker” and said he sweats so much that at one point he looked as though he jumped into a swimming pool with his clothes on.

Cruz staged a swing through the Metroplex on Monday, appearing before about 1,000 supporters at Gilley’s a well-known Dallas bar. He portrayed himself as the only viable Republican nominee who could prevail in the November general election, saying that Trump “is not the right candidate” to take on Hillary Clinton.

Three top-ranking Republican leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Perry — have all endorsed Cruz and campaigned in his behalf, both in Texas and other states. Cruz also raised more money in Texas than any another candidate: $15.5 million.

When asked, after his politically star-studded Monday rally that included Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry, how big his win needs to be, Cruz said “a win in Texas is a win in Texas.”

He predicted that at the end of Super Tuesday, “Donald Trump is likely to have a big chunk of delegates. I think we will have a big chunk of delegates.”

Cruz’s campaign was mum up upcoming campaign events, but Tuesday morning released an advisory that the candidate would be holding a rally in Overland Park, Kansas, Wednesday evening.

Last minute moves

There was a last minute flurry of emails and robo-calls to Texans on Tuesday, as candidates hoped to sway undecided voters.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson sent an email reminding voters that Rubio is his choice for five reasons: a conservative track record, an optimistic vision, his foreign policy experience, his efforts to expand the Hispanic vote for Republicans and his electability.

Abbott sent out a note to Texas Republicans. “Today is the last day for Texans to vote for Ted Cruz for president,” he wrote. “Let’s make sure Texas stays RED in November.”

Trump’s campaign likewise sent out emails asking for Texans’ support. “It is so important that you participate in this election to prove to the pundits that the Silent Majority is no longer silent — together we will Make America Great Again,” the email read.

Carson himself sent out a note asking all the GOP presidential candidates to participate in a private meeting before the March 3 debate. “The American People deserve so much more from the candidates who are seeking the most powerful position in the free world, and I share their concern that this race has taken a turn for the worse, to the point of embarrassment on the world stage,” his email read.

Texas impact

Despite being the nation’s second largest state — both in population and geography — Texas has traditionally had a small voice in the Republican nominating contest, since past nominees have largely sewn up the race by the time the contest reached Texas.

But, with its influential placement on the 2016 primary calendar, candidates began eying Texas more than a year ago, recognizing that it could potentially play a decisive role after the four early contests in February.

Thirteen Republican candidates filed in the primary but only five remained — Cruz, Trump, Rubio, Carson and Kasich — after the four opening contests. The current scenario constitutes a sharp turn-around from expectations well over a year ago when the race was just taking shape.

At one point, the Texas race was being projected as a clash between two Texas heavyweights — Cruz and Perry, who began planning a second run for the White House almost immediately after his first bid ended disastrously in 2012. But he was never able to gain traction and stayed in the 2016 race for only 100 days before dropping out in September, well before the first votes were cast.

Another high-profile casualty was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was touted as an early front-runner with deep ties to Texas, including a father and brother who both served as president. His son, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a former Fort Worth investor, oversaw his father’s campaign in Texas.

Carson, who for a time enjoyed a national surge that made him a leading rival to Trump, ran strong in Texas for awhile before he began to slide in the polls. The retired neurosurgeon from Florida has raised $2.8 million in Texas, the third largest amount after Cruz and Bush.

Two other candidates, who have since left the race, also had Texas connections — Austin-born executive Carly Fiorina and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the son of long-time Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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