WASHINGTON Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz solidified his claim to be front-runner Donald Trump's prime challenger by splitting four nominating contests with the real estate mogul, and both turned their attention to a crucial showdown in Michigan on Tuesday.
The wins for Trump and Cruz on Saturday were a setback for a Republican establishment that has largely lined up behind Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator who was shut out in the four contests.
"I think it's time that he dropped out of the race," Trump said of Rubio afterward. "I want Ted one on one."
The Republican campaign now moves to Puerto Rico on Sunday and contests on Tuesday in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii, where Trump will be looking to expand his lead in the battle to pick nominees for the Nov. 8 presidential election to succeed President Barack Obama.
On the Democratic side, front-runner Hillary Clinton won on Saturday in Louisiana and rival Bernie Sanders won in Kansas and Nebraska in results that slightly expanded Clinton's delegate lead over the U.S. senator from Vermont.
Next up for Democrats is a contest in Maine on Sunday and a nationally televised debate on Sunday night from Flint, Michigan, a majority-black and impoverished city that has suffered a health crisis caused by a contaminated water supply.
Democrats in Michigan and Mississippi also will vote on Tuesday.
"Now all eyes turn to Michigan," Clinton said on Saturday night at a rally in Detroit.
The Republican race has been marked by a growing wave of attacks on Trump from the Republican establishment, which has blanched at his calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico, round up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the United States.
But Trump has shrugged off the attacks and won contests on Saturday in Louisiana and Kentucky. Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, won in Kansas and Maine.
The party's establishment has not been much happier with Cruz, who has alienated many party leaders in Washington, than they have been with Trump.
Cruz said the results showed he was gaining momentum in the race to catch Trump.
"The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington D.C., is utter terror at what 'We the People' are doing together," Cruz told supporters in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after his early win in Kansas.
Cruz, 45, has run as an outsider bent on shaking up the Republican establishment in Washington. A favorite of evangelicals, he has called for the United States to "carpet bomb" the Islamic State militant group and has pledged to eliminate the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service and four cabinet agencies.
"What we're seeing is the public coming together, libertarians coming together, men and women who love the Constitution coming together and uniting and standing as one behind this campaign," Cruz said in Idaho.
Trump still has a substantial lead in the race for delegates who select the presidential nominee at the nominating convention in July.
The four Republican contests on Saturday together accounted for just 155 delegates. Cruz won 64 delegates on Saturday, while Trump took 49.
(Editing by Kim Coghill)
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Published Date: Mar 06, 2016 18:00 PM | Updated Date: Mar 06, 2016 18:00 PM