Sen. Ted Cruz trounced Republican rival Donald Trump in Saturday’s Kansas caucuses hours after the two candidates converged on Wichita to rally supporters.
The Texas Republican won 48 percent of the vote statewide and 60 percent in Sedgwick County.
Trump, who had boasted about his prowess for winning earlier in the day in Wichita, had 23 percent statewide, followed by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida with 17 percent and Ohio Gov John Kasich with 11 percent.
“God bless Kansas,” Cruz declared later during a rally in Idaho, which votes in three days. “The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington, D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together.”
Despite the support of many elected officials in Kansas, Rubio came up short, raising questions about his viability in the race. Cruz suggested it was time for some Republican candidates to quit.
Cruz, who received an uproarious reception from a crowd of thousands at the Sedgwick County Republican Caucus at Century II in the morning, said his message was for “men and women with calluses on their hands.”
He pledged to “take the boot of the federal government off the backs of small businesses” by repealing the Affordable Care Act and enacting a flat tax so that “every American can fill out our taxes on a simple postcard.”
Cruz’s victory may have been foretold when more than 100 caucus-goers walked out during a speech by Trump, who took the stage immediately after Cruz.
“He’s a pompous blowhard,” said Erin Buller, a stay-at-home mom from Wichita who left the caucus hall with 5-month-old daughter Norah on her shoulder. “He doesn’t represent what I think America needs in a president. I think he’s arrogant. I think he’s uninformed, I don’t think he’s a conservative, I don’t trust him.”
Sedgwick County saw more than 7,000 ballots cast in the GOP caucus, including provisional ballots.
Across the state, more than 73,000 Republicans turned out to vote, not including provisional and absentee ballots and the 600 Shocker fans who voted in St. Louis. GOP officials said turnout could top 81,000 when those votes are counted. They credited visits by the presidential candidates, nice weather and more active, organized campaigns. In 2012, 31,000 voted.
This weekend, Kansas – often overlooked in presidential politics – was the epicenter of the political universe, said Kelly Arnold, chair of the Kansas Republican Party.
“For us, it’s great. It just shows how important the voters are in Kansas,” said Arnold, who noted that both Trump and Cruz canceled previous commitments to attend the caucus in Wichita.
Trump had originally planned to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland. “After making this huge U-turn to Kansas, if I lose, I’m going to be so angry at you,” he told supporters at his Wichita rally.
A poll released by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs last week had shown Trump with a double-digit lead over Cruz, but it also showed that a plurality of voters were undecided.
Cruz’s Kansas caucus victory “really solidifies his status as the de facto evangelical candidate in this race,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political scientist at the university. He added that few voters mobilize better than evangelicals.
Caucuses are particularly good for evangelical Republicans, Rackway said, because they are low-turnout events.
This is Cruz’s fifth victory. He previously won in Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Alaska.
Based on the initial count, Cruz will come away with 24 delegates from Kansas, Trump will net nine, Rubio will take six and Kasich one.
Trump still leads in overall number of delegates. After Kansas but before other Saturday state results were in, Trump led Cruz 338 to 255 in the delegate count, according to RealClear Politics. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the nomination.
“This is Bible belt,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell, a Cruz supporter. “There’s a moral component people recognize in Cruz. They don’t see it in Trump.”
Cruz focused on religious liberty in his caucus speech, telling the crowd that two branches of government are at stake in the election after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month. “We are one left-wing justice away from the Supreme Court taking away our religious liberty,” he warned, vowing he would not vote to confirm a justice before the election.
“I will not compromise away your religious liberty,” he said. “And I will not compromise away your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
Pat Schuessler, a 52-year-old registered nurse from Wichita who cheered loudly at this statement, said the court vacancy is one of the main reasons she supports Cruz.
“Because of the Supreme Court nomination ... I don’t trust Donald Trump to put somebody highly conservative in that position.” She said she agrees with Cruz that there needs to be stronger protections for religious freedom.
Schuessler said she is impressed with Cruz’s stances on gun rights, Planned Parenthood and religious freedom.
“Ted still stands for what he stands for even if you don’t like it,” she said. “If you have a strong religious conviction, you should be able to hold to that without your business being closed or penalized. … I think Ted will stand for those.”
Paul Rosell, a certified financial planner from Wichita, said he has followed Cruz’s career for a long time.
“He did a great job at the Supreme Court (as an attorney) when he argued for states’ rights and other causes and for the Second Amendment, and I just think he’s an admirable man. .... He was an outsider when he got elected, and he’s still an outsider, because he does what he promised to do,” Rosell said. “He doesn’t serve Washington. He serves the voters.”
Difference in tone
In Wichita, some people lined up as early as 6 a.m. to attend a Trump rally before the caucus. By midafternoon, a line still wrapped around Century II as voters waited for a chance to vote, with the last ballot being cast around 4 p.m., two hours after the caucus was slated to close.
During the rally, held in an adjacent hall, Trump boasted about his skill at negotiating contracts, the number of times he has been on the cover of Time magazine and the size of his hands, rebutting jokes that Rubio, a Florida Republican, has been making on the campaign trail.
He referred to his opponents as “Lying Ted” and “Little Marco” and called 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney a loser and “stiff guy.”
Cruz struck a contrast with that tone during his caucus speech. “This process doesn’t need to be mean. It doesn’t need to be nasty … filled with personal attacks,” he said. “We can focus on substance.”
He promised to “tell the truth with a smile” through November, contending that would be the way to defeat Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Several Cruz supporters cited their disdain for Trump as one of their main reasons for backing Cruz.
“I think he’s our last chance of trying to stop Trump,” said Matt Carr, a 40-year-old Cessna engineer. “He’s the only opportunity. If you do the delegate math, it’s a very hard road for Marco.”
Both of Trump’s speeches in Wichita focused on winning. He told the crowd that a Trump presidency would deliver wins on everything from defeating terrorist groups to improving health care to the point that people would eventually plead “we can’t stand it anymore; we’re winning too much.”
He also asserted he would succeed in forcing Mexico to pay for the construction of a wall along the border to stop illegal immigration. “Oh, it’s going to be tall,” Trump said. “Every time Mexico protests it, it’s going to get 10 feet higher.”
Trump’s supporters said they were fed up with political insiders and that Trump offered the best chance for change.
“Politicians have got everything screwed up, so I think we ought to get a businessman in and see what he can do,” said Bill Haynes, a 65-year-old Wichitan who works in construction and attended the caucus for the first time Saturday.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Wichita Republican, served as a surrogate for Rubio at the caucus and offered stinging critiques of the other candidates.
“It’s time to turn down the lights on the circus,” Pompeo said. He said Trump would be an authoritarian president and that Rubio had managed to change laws as a member of the U.S. Senate as opposed to reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” like Cruz.
“He didn’t just filibuster,” Pompeo said. “He made a difference.”
Asked why he thought Kansas Republicans opted for Cruz over Trump and Rubio, Arnold said, “We’ve just been a very conservative state when we have selected our presidential nominee.
“I mean, you can look at (Mike) Huckabee. You can look at (Rick) Santorum,” Arnold said of winners of the past two GOP caucuses in Kansas. “A lot of people are fed up with what’s going on in Washington, and Ted Cruz is really the one who’s standing up.”
Contributing: Dion Lefler and John Albert of The Eagle; Associated Press
Ted Cruz: 48 percent, 24 delegates
Donald Trump: 23 percent, nine delegates
Marco Rubio: 17 percent, six delegates
John Kasich: 11 percent, one delegate
Ben Carson: 1 percent
Sedgwick County results
Ted Cruz: 60 percent
Donald Trump: 20 percent
Marco Rubio: 13 percent
John Kasich: 5 percent
Source: Republican Party initial results