WASHINGTON, DC — Five more states are set to deliver their verdicts Saturday in the Republican and Democratic presidential contests in races largely overshadowed by big contests still to come later this month. Yet candidates eager to gather enough support to snag their party’s nomination — or at least stay relevant — are happy to scoop up delegates to their party’s national nominating convention wherever they can.
With the Republican field now down to a quartet, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are competing in Maine, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are vying for support in Nebraska, Kansas and Louisiana.
With the Republican race in chaos, establishment figures are frantically looking for any way to stop Trump, perhaps at a contested convention if none of the candidates can roll up the 1,237 delegates needed to snag the nomination on the first ballot. Going into Saturday’s voting, Trump led the field with 329 delegates. Cruz had 231, Rubio 110 and Kasich 25. In all, 155 Republican delegates are at stake in Saturday’s races.
On the Democratic side, Clinton is farther along than Trump on the march to her party’s nomination. She has 1,066 delegates to Sanders’ 432, including pledged superdelegates, party officials who are can cast votes for the candidate of their choice at the convention regardless of the primary results in their states. It takes 2,383 delegates to win the Democratic nomination. There are 109 at stake on Saturday.
Hunting for delegates, Trump added a last-minute rally in Wichita, Kansas, to his Saturday morning schedule. Cruz, the Texas senator, planned to stop in Kansas on caucus day, too, one day after Rubio, a Florida senator, visited the state.
Trump’s decision to skip an appearance Saturday at a conference sponsored by the American Conservative Union in the Washington area to get in one last Kansas rally rankled members of the group, who tweeted that it “sends a clear message to conservatives.”
The billionaire businessman’s rivals have been increasingly questioning his commitment to conservative policies, painting his promise to be flexible on issues as a giant red flag.
“Donald is telling us he will betray us on everything he’s campaigned on,” Cruz told voters Friday in Maine.
Trump’s rivals, who’ve tried just about everything to disrupt his juggernaut, can take comfort in one thing: The rules for Saturday’s round of voting make it easier for candidates to claim a share of the delegates than was true in the multiple state contests last Tuesday, when Trump rolled up seven wins to three for Cruz and one for Rubio.
Some states require candidates to get at least 20 percent of the vote to claim any delegates, but 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.
While that may offer some encouragement to the also-rans, it also probably doesn’t help to quickly clarify the race overall.
In Louisiana, Clinton was hoping that strong support from the state’s sizable black population will give her a boost. Both Democrats have campaigned heavily in Nebraska and saturated the state with ads. In Kansas, Clinton has the backing of its former governor and onetime Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. Sanders held a pre-caucus rally in Kansas’ liberal bastion of Lawrence hoping to attract voters in the university town.
On the Republican side, Kentucky’s caucuses were tailor-made — and paid for — by a candidate who’s no longer in the race: home-state Sen. Rand Paul. The early March presidential caucus was created so Paul could run for president and re-election to the Senate without violating a state law banning candidates from appearing on the ballot twice in one day.
Trump is the only one of the four to visit Kentucky, promising during a Louisville appearance that he’d lead a comeback for the state’s struggling coal industry.
All four candidates have spent time in Louisiana, where Cruz hopes for strong support from born-again Christians, but so far Trump has been siphoning a considerable share of evangelicals.
Trump’s “tapped into a level of frustration that transcends religiosity,” said Ed Chervenak, who heads the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center.
Trump and Cruz both campaigned in Maine in the past week, but Rubio skipped the state.
More contests are on tap for Sunday, when Maine Democrats and Puerto Rico Republicans are up.