UPDATED: Ky. GOP presidential caucus goes to front-runner Donald Trump, who saw early double-digit lead shrink to 4 percent margin

03/05/2016 07:47 PM

UPDATED: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has won Kentucky’s presidential caucus, edging Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by 4.4 percent on Saturday.

The New York real estate mogul topped Cruz 35.9 percent to 31.6 percent with all counties reporting, according to results posted on the Republican Party of Kentucky’s website.

Trump and Cruz traded wins throughout the state, placing first and second in every reported county so far. Trump picked up wins in populous Jefferson County; eastern Kentucky; GOP-rich counties in the so-called “Old 5th” of south-central Kentucky like Pulaski, Laurel, Whitley, Adair, Knox and Russell; and smaller counties throughout the state.

Cruz’s victories came in Fayette County; northern Kentucky; large western Kentucky counties like Warren, Daviess and McCracken counties; and a handful of counties in central and western Kentucky. His wins in the west allowed him to narrow an early 12-point margin for Trump as central-time returns began to be reported.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has 16.5 percent support and Ohio Gov. John Kasich trails the pack with 14.5 percent. Kasich finished third in counties near or bordering Ohio, pushing him to a close fourth-place finish.

Trump thanked voters in Kentucky and Louisiana for his wins in those states during a Saturday evening press conference from West Palm Beach, Fla. He won 16 of Kentucky’s 46 delegates, with Cruz collecting 14, Rubio netting seven and Kasich taking six on a proportional basis after earning at least 5 percent of the vote.

“Rand Paul, your senator from Kentucky, fought very, very hard today and for the last number of weeks, fighting us every inch of the way, and we won and we won by quite a few votes,” Trump said before calling on Rubio to end his candidacy.

“Personally, I call for him to drop out of the race,” he said, saying that a one-on-one contest with Cruz would be “easy” for him. “I think it’s time now that he drop out of the race.”

Paul’s spokeswoman, Kelsey Cooper, responded to Trump’s shot from the stump at Paul by noting that the senator had not endorsed a candidate in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s caucus.

Voters swarmed their counties’ caucus sites throughout the state to cast ballots in support of their preferred GOP presidential candidate.

Nearly 18 percent of registered Republicans voted at caucus sites with 229,667 ballots cast, a higher turnout than the 15 percent average turnout in past GOP presidential primaries since 1984 and the third-most behind the 19.7 percent turnout in 2008 and 19 percent turnout in 1992.

Most counties only had a single caucus location open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., creating lengthy waits throughout the day.

Still, some of those who stood in line longer than normal said they would like to see the Republican Party of Kentucky host another caucus during the 2020 presidential election cycle.

Ken Pettiune, of Shelbyville, said Kentucky’s earlier place in the 2016 presidential nominating calendar is appealing since many contests are all but decided by the state’s May primaries.

“I think it really helps that we’re getting earlier in the year, so maybe we’ll have a little more voice in what happens to the party,” Pettiune, 50, said after casting a vote for Trump at Shelby County West Middle School.

Saturday’s caucus was meant as a means for Paul to compete for Kentucky’s 46 presidential delegates while mounting a re-election bid, circumventing a constitutional ban on appearing more than once on a ballot.

Nick Atkins, of Louisville, had supported Paul in the presidential contest until the senator’s decision to drop his campaign following a fifth-place finish in Iowa’s Feb. 1 caucus. Paul’s name still appeared on the caucus ballot, but he and his wife, Victoria Atkins, voted for Cruz at Burhans Hall on the University of Louisville’s Shelby Campus.

“He was the purest constitutionalist of the remaining candidates, and so I was super excited to be able to vote for him today,” said Nick Atkins, 28.

“I was looking at the polls beforehand and it actually looks like Marco Rubio actually had a little bit of lead and we thought in order to combat Trump that might’ve been the right one to go with, but in the end it’s proportional delegation, so hopefully it’ll all go to Cruz in the end anyway. I think he has the best chance to beat Trump.”

The only presidential poll conducted in Kentucky — a survey of 532 likely caucus voters released Feb. 29 by Western Kentucky University — showed Trump ahead of the pack with 35 percent support followed by Rubio at 22 percent, Cruz at 15 percent and Kasich at 6 percent, with 15 percent undecided and a 4.25 percent margin of error.

Trump is the lone presidential candidate still in the race who campaigned in Kentucky ahead of Saturday’s caucus, drawing thousands to the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville March 1. Cruz landed in Grayson County in September as Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis was released from jail in her defiance of a federal court order to issue marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, although he did not speak because that rally was arranged by the presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who drew 7 percent support in the WKU poll, held a town hall in Lexington on Monday before suspending his presidential campaign on Friday, the same day Rubio had been scheduled to campaign in Lexington until he cancelled on Wednesday.

Rubio’s decision to skip Kentucky didn’t affect Traci Bennett’s decision to vote for the Florida senator at Georgetown’s First United Methodist Church.

“I think that he is the one that might be able to bring the party together and is going to be able to, I want to say, negotiate some things,” said Bennett, 49.

Les Kowat, 27, also voted for Rubio because he agrees with most of the candidate’s positions and sees him as an alternate to Trump’s “abrasive” style.

“I didn’t want to vote for Trump, so in many ways a vote here is a vote not for Trump,” he said at the U of L caucus site.

Still, Kowat said he would vote for Trump in the fall if the businessman secures the GOP nomination.

“There are a lot more things I agree with him on than with the Democratic Party,” he said.

That’s not the case for the Atkinses, who both said they might look for a third-party candidate to support over Trump.

“I’ve been kind of debating on that one back and forth, personally,” Nick Atkins said. “As of right now, I don’t think in good conscience I could vote for Trump, so we’ll have to see how I feel on the line.”

Victoria Atkins, 27, said she has voted in every election since turning 18, but she might also consider staying home Nov. 8.

One thing she made clear: former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, will not be a contender for her vote should Trump prevail one the GOP side.

“It depends on who the third party would be,” she said. “That can be a consideration, but I would not vote for Hillary.”

Plans to derail Trump’s path to his party’s nomination through a contested Republican National Convention have been raised in order to give a more establishment-friendly candidate enough delegates for the win, but Pettiune said that would be disrespectful to those who have voted for the front-runner.

“Our voice needs to be heard,” he said. “… The reason why Trump is getting so many votes now is people are tired of the mess they put us in.”

Yet Pettiune stopped short of saying whether he would support Trump as a third-party candidate, a possibility the candidate has raised if he feels the Republican Party treats him unfairly.

“It makes a difference,” he said. “It would split the party, and I don’t think that would be good for us at all. It’ll just make it that much harder to beat the Democrats when we have to.”

Another Trump supporter — 50-year-old James Riddle Jr., of Waddy — declined to speculate on a brokered national convention, but said he called the possibility “a mistake” if it comes to fruition.

The caucus seemed to be a hit among those Republicans interviewed by Pure Politics, although some suggested improvements for the party should it pursue another one in the future included additional caucus locations, more private voting areas and electronic voting.

Even one Scott County voter who said he preferred the May primary had few qualms with the process.

“This has run a lot better than I thought it would,” the 66-year-old Georgetown resident said inside First United Methodist Church’s gymnasium.

Smyth said he voted for Cruz “because he’s more of a constitutionalist, I think, than Mr. Trump.”

“But I’ll support whoever’s the nominee,” he said.

Kentucky was one of five states holding presidential contests on Saturday, joining Kansas, Louisiana, Maine and Nebraska. Trump also won Louisiana while Cruz also picked up wins in Kansas and Maine, and Democrats in Nebraska picked U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, over Clinton.


Republican presidential caucus results

A map of Kentucky’s presidential caucus results by county. Counties won by Donald Trump are maroon and those carried by Ted Cruz are orange. Graphic courtesy Republican Party of Kentucky.

Donald Trump, 82,493 votes (35.9 percent)

Ted Cruz, 72,503 votes (31.6 percent)

Marco Rubio, 37,579 (16.4 percent)

John Kasich, 33,134 (14.4 percent)

Ben Carson, 1,953 (0.9 percent)

Rand Paul, 872 (0.4 percent)

Uncommitted, 496 (0.2 percent)

Jeb Bush, 303 (0.1 percent)

Mike Huckabee, 174 (0.1 percent)

Chris Christie, 65 (0.03 percent)

Carly Fiorina, 64 (0.03 percent)

Rick Santorum, 31 (0.01 percent)


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