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Ted Cruz Scores Major Win Over Donald Trump in Utah Caucuses

The Texas senator held off the Republican frontrunner in Utah, thanks in part to Mormon voters who are turned off by Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric.
Photo by Jeff Haynes/EPA

Senator Ted Cruz won big in the Utah caucuses on Tuesday night, defeating Donald Trump by a huge margin in a key state for the Texas senator's campaign.

The biggest question for Cruz heading into Utah was not whether he would win but by how much. Utah awards its delegates on a winner take all basis, so any candidate who picks up more than 50 percent of the vote tonight will sweep all 40 of the state's delegates.


Cruz was favored to win Utah by a landslide, with the most recent poll showing him leading Trump by a whopping 42 points. Not only did Cruz deliver on those expectations on Tuesday, but he managed to top 50 percent of the vote and will take all of the state's delegates. Importantly, that means that Cruz prevent either Trump and Ohio Governor John Kasich, from picking up any delegates in the state.

Trump didn't even make it into second place, picking up 14 percent of the vote compared to Kasich's 16.9 percent. Cruz scored 69.2 percent.

Cruz's victory in Utah won't get him close to clinching the Republican nomination. He still has 274 fewer delegates than Trump and it is essentially impossible for him to win the 1,237 necessary to become the nominee. But winning Utah does provide momentum to the anyone-but-Trump movement, by adding further weight to Cruz's claim that he is the only viable challenger to the bombastic frontrunner.

Hours after Cruz's win in Utah, former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced his endorsement of the Texas senator, saying Cruz was a "principled conservative" and the party's best chance at countering the "divisiveness and vulgarity" of Donald Trump's campaign. Bush suspended his own campaign last month after an embarrassing fifth place finish in South Carolina.

Related: Ted Cruz Calls for Crackdown on 'Muslim Neighborhoods' in the US After Brussels Attacks

Trump did not go home empty handed. He picked up a win in Arizona, with 47.1 percent of the vote, nabbing all 58 of the state's delegates.


Trump's victory in Arizona was aided in part by his hardline stance against immigration, which is a top issue in the state and a centerpiece of Trump's campaign. He has called for building a wall on the Mexican-US border and wants to deport millions of undocumented workers from the country.

But those stances also worked against him in Utah, where 60 percent of the population is Mormon.

As New York Times pollster Nate Cohn pointed out, the heavier the Mormon population has been in previous primaries, the worse Trump has performed. In part, that's because Trump's hardline stance toward immigration goes against some of the central tenets of the Mormon faith which center on tolerance and inclusion. The church has spent years lobbying hard for "compassionate" immigration reform that prioritizes the unification of families over deportation of undocumented workers.

Related: Donald Trump Wins Arizona Primary, Adding to Delegate Lead

Trump had not devoted very many resources to winning Utah in the days leading up to Tuesday, perhaps because he knew how unpopular he was there. Cruz, on the other hand, had the support of several key Utah politicians, including Senator Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee. Romney, who is Mormon and lives in Utah, said he was planning on caucusing for Cruz.

Trump's first visit to Utah came just last Friday, when he held one of his smallest rallies yet in Salt Lake City. Trump told the crowd that he "loves" Mormons, who are "amazing people," before questioning the faith of Utah's native son, Mitt Romney. "Are you sure he's a Mormon?" Trump said. "Are we sure?"


The Utah Republican contest was unique this year, holding the first-ever online election for president in the US. In addition to voting in person, the state GOP allowed registered voters to cast their ballots online Tuesday night, although some voters reported issues.

Although Cruz trailed Trump by double digits in Arizona polling, he didn't give up on the state. His campaign has been airing television ads there since March 12, focusing on his toughness toward border security. A win there, coupled with Utah, would have brought him closer to stopping Trump from getting the 1,237 delegates required to secure the GOP nomination. But given Arizona's winner-take-all scenario, Trump left the state with all 58 delegates.

Hillary Clinton Takes Arizona to Widen Delegate Lead over Bernie Sanders

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is struggling to make inroads in the Republican race, came in second in Utah on Tuesday. But in Arizona, Kasich actually came in fourth place, falling behind Senator Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race last week. Kasich was bumped thanks to a huge number of early voters in Arizona who cast their ballots over the last month.

Kasich is quickly running out of money to continue his campaign for the nomination. He has only won his home state of Ohio and currently trails Cruz in the race by more than 300 delegates.

The Republican candidates will compete again in Wisconsin on April 5.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

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