Politics & Policy

Cruz Takes Utah, but Can’t Shake Rubio’s Ghost in Arizona Loss

Cruz campaigns in Utah ahead of Tuesday’s primary. (George Frey/Getty)

Tuesday’s primary in Arizona could have been the test case for how Donald Trump fares in a head-to-head race with a single other Republican competitor. John Kasich opted not to compete in the state, giving anti-Trump Republicans hope that Ted Cruz might have a shot to pull off a surprise win over Trump.

Instead, Trump won handily, taking all of Arizona’s 58 delegates. And it was partly because of Marco Rubio.

Rubio’s exit from the GOP presidential primary last week shook up the race, narrowing the field and rewriting the math for Republicans looking to stop Trump. But although he was gone, on Tuesday, he was not forgotten. When early voting began in Arizona on Feb. 24, Rubio and Ben Carson were still candidates. Back then, Rubio was riding a wave of momentum after his second place finish in South Carolina. And as results slowly trickled in on Tuesday, it was clear that that momentum had ultimately hurt Cruz, siphoning away votes he needed to stay close to Trump. With 51 percent reporting, Trump had 47 percent, Cruz 24 percent, Rubio 15 percent, Kasich 10 percent, and Carson 3 percent.

With half the vote still outstanding in the wee hours of the morning on the east coast, it is not yet clear just how much of a factor Rubio was. But it is clear that for now, at least, Trump continues to benefit from a fractured field.

RELATED: What We Learned from Utah and Arizona

Arizona was always expected to be a favorable state for Trump. He has focused much of his campaign on immigration and closing the border with Mexico, and the Republican electorate in Arizona, a border state, is particularly hawkish on that issue. Trump was endorsed by two Arizona politicians known for their hardline immigration stances: former governor Jan Brewer and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

#share#The bigger question, moving forward, is what impact Kasich’s continued presence will have on Cruz’s effort to thwart Trump. Anti-Trump forces have long clamored for the field to consolidate, forcing Trump to face just a single foe, and most of them believe Cruz is the best choice for that role, given Kasich’s comparatively meager delegate total and resources. For that reason, Kasich’s decision to remain in the race for the nomination — which he has said he hopes to win at the convention —and to compete in Utah left some Republicans apoplectic.

RELATED: Sanders Wins Utah and Idago, but Still Can’t Catch Clinton

By 3:00 AM on the east coast, Cruz had been declared the winner in Utah, and looked poised to take over 50 percent of the vote there, claiming all of the state’s 40 delegates. Such outright wins are a high priority for anti-Trump forces, who hope to prevent the brash front-runner from getting the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the nomination before the convention.

#related#Kasich both campaigned in Utah and ran ads there, efforts that some anti-Trump Republicans believed would have little effect except to keep Cruz from hitting 50 percent and sweeping the state’s delegates. With 27 percent of Utah precincts reporting, those fears appeared to be overblown. Cruz led with 71 percent of the vote. Kasich was a distant second, at 16 percent.

But whatever narrative emerges from Tuesday’s contests could be short lived. Over the next month, the primary process will slow considerably. There are only two contests during that period: Wisconsin on April 6 and New York on April 19. (Colorado will also bind its delegates to a candidate at a state convention.)

The breakneck pace resumes with a slate of east-coast primaries on April 26. By that time, the state of the race may have changed entirely.

— Alexis Levinson is the senior political reporter for National Review.

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