Ted Cruz and Donald Trump were both successful in Saturday's GOP primaries and caucuses, with Trump staying ahead in the delegate race by winning in Kentucky and Louisiana but Cruz notching two victories himself.
Cruz had one of his best nights of the campaign. The Texas senator won easily in Kansas and Maine. Cruz also nearly upset Trump in Louisiana and Kentucky, losing by fewer than five points in both states. That was a strong performance for Cruz, since both Louisiana and Kentucky are states of full of white, working-class voters, who generally favor Trump.
And in the wealthier counties in Kentucky, the kind of voters who backed Marco Rubio in past primaries instead embraced Cruz on Saturday.
Rubio finished far behind Cruz and Trump in all four states that voted on Saturday. If anti-Trump Republicans are looking for a candidate to rally around, Saturday bolstered the argument that Cruz should be that person, not Rubio or Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Cruz has now won six caucuses and primaries in the GOP race (Alaska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas), compared to just one victory for Rubio (Minnesota).
In the race to clinch the GOP nomination, little changed on Saturday night, since the delegates in all four states were awarded proportionately. Trump remains the clear delegate leader ahead of key primaries on March 8 and March 15.
But the results suggested that Mitt Romney's forceful denunciations of the real estate mogul this week and Trump's own bizarre performance in a Thursday night debate may have hurt him.
Trump's numbers in all four states were worse than expected. Maine was his first loss in a state in the Northeast region, after Trump won New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. And Cruz won by nearly 25 percent over Trump in Kansas.
At the same time, there was some good news for the mogul: he won the two biggest states.
And Trump's base largely remained with him. In rural, working-class counties in Kentucky and Louisiana, Trump was far ahead of his rivals, repeating the pattern from other Southern states that have held primaries or caucuses.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders won caucuses in Kansas and Nebraska, but Hillary Clinton carried Louisiana. These results were not surprising, because Clinton tends to do better in states with large black populations, while Sanders is stronger in states that hold caucuses and those with very small black populations.
Saturday's results illustrated the stability of each candidate's coalition. Sanders won by a whopping 35 percent in Kansas, which has few black voters. But Clinton won by more than 48 percent in Louisiana, where about half of the Democratic electorate is black.
Sanders also won Nebraska by about 13 percent. But because of Clinton's huge victory in Louisiana, Sanders did little to close the former secretary of state's delegate lead