Ted Cruz Takes 2 States, Tests Boundaries of Where He Can Win

Ted Cruz

The favored candidate of social conservatives, Sen. Ted Cruz, took home a win in the Maine primary and Kansas caucus on Saturday. But it hasn't changed the state of the race and Trump's lead. 

“God bless, Kansas,” said Cruz in a rally celebrating, early in the day.

Heading into contests this weekend — in Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine and Puerto Rico — Donald Trump had claimed the most wins and the most delegates. And Trump racked up a big lead in Louisiana on Saturday that will preserve his lead, despite it neighboring Cruz's home state of Texas and boasting a large contingent of social conservatives. Plus, he won a close race in Kentucky — home to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Starting with a win in Iowa, Cruz has emerged as the hardest opponent for Trump to beat. But the real test is whether Cruz can win in places that aren’t strongholds for social conservatives, like he did in Maine tonight. Trump had won the endorsement of that state's Tea Party governor, Paul LePage.

Kansas is another state that Rick Santorum had won the last time around in 2012. Like Mike Huckabee before him, Santorum won Iowa and became the favored candidate of social conservatives. Santorum went on to win 11 states: and Huckabee won eight in 2008. Common among them were Iowa, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas and Louisiana.

But Trump has proven he can scramble the usual unity of social conservatives. On Super Tuesday, Trump finished strong among evangelicals and was able to steal away Alabama and Tennessee. In Tennessee, according to exit polls reported by CNN, Trump beat Cruz among voters who are born-again or evangelical Christians by 41 percent to 27 percent. The spread was even bigger in Alabama, with Trump winning 43-22. Cruz, the Texas senator who won his home state, was able to keep hold of neighboring Oklahoma — which Santorum also won.

Presumably helping Cruz in his quest to solidify the social conservative votes, this is the first round of contests with Ben Carson out of the race. The former neurosurgeon already has a new job, as executive director for My Faith Votes, which works to increase turnout among Christians. Carson — who accused the Cruz campaign of spreading rumors in Iowa that he'd dropped out — had taken just single digits in recent states, but every little bit matters.

Last time around, Santorum wasn’t able to win in his home state of Pennsylvania. And Cruz is lucky that Texas is a big prize for delegates, especially compared to Arkansas — the home state that Huckabee kept hold of in 2008.

Outside of the Santorum-Huckabee formula, so far Cruz has won in Maine and Alaska, with more tests coming. Puerto Rico votes on Sunday, followed by Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio is the only other candidate to have won a state, taking Minnesota on Super Tuesday. And he won the primary in Puerto Rico on Sunday. But the senator's immediate test is whether he can win his home state of Florida, which votes on March 15.