By Steve Holland and Megan Cassella
US Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz showed some fight on Wednesday after his win in Utah despite front-runner Donald Trump’s victory in Arizona, giving hope to establishment Republicans who fear Trump will ruin the party in the race for the White House.
Cruz, the US senator from Texas, on Wednesday also picked up an endorsement from former candidate Jeb Bush, which Cruz said bolstered his case that he is the party’s best chance for winning the Nov 8 presidential election.
“What we’re seeing all across the country is the momentum is with us,” Cruz said in an interview on CNN. “You want to talk about a broad coalition, ideologically diverse – that covers the entire spectrum of the Republican Party.”
Trump easily defeated Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich in Arizona with a hard-line anti-immigration message and tough talk on Islamic militants.
On the Democratic side, front-runner Hillary Clinton routed challenger Bernie Sanders in Arizona to stretch her advantage in the race for her party’s presidential nomination. But Sanders’ wins in Utah and Idaho bolstered his case that he still has a chance despite Clinton’s big lead.
Tuesday’s nominating contests were overshadowed by attacks in Brussels in which at least 30 people were killed and raised security concerns among US voters.
Clinton seized on the attacks to argue neither Trump nor Cruz can be trusted to lead the fight against Islamic State militants.
Trump has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and Cruz said he would send police patrols into Muslim neighbourhoods in the United States.
“This is a time for America to lead, not cower,” Clinton told supporters in Seattle in a victory speech.
Trump’s immigration stance appeared to cement his win in Arizona, where he had the backing of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, one of the most prominent supporters of a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
TRUMP SWEEPS ARIZONA DELEGATES
The win gave Trump all of Arizona’s 58 delegates, furthering Trump’s argument that he will eventually win the Republican presidential nomination and that the party should rally around him.
“Much bigger win than anticipated in Arizona. Thank you, I will never forget!” he said on Twitter. “Hopefully the Republican Party can come together and have a big WIN in November, paving the way for many great Supreme Court Justices!”
The Cruz win in Utah’s caucuses gave hope to Republicans who fear Trump’s proposal to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and build a wall on the US border with Mexico would guarantee Democrats keep the White House.
Cruz appeared to be on track to win all of Utah’s 40 Republican delegates. Since the state’s delegates are awarded proportionate to the popular vote, he needed to win at least 50 per cent of the vote to take all the delegates.
He used his showing there to pressure Kasich, the only other candidate still in the race who is splitting the anti-Trump vote with Cruz, to drop out of the race.
“Right now, Kasich’s role is really being a spoiler,” Cruz told CNN. “Kasich benefits Donald Trump.”
Trump is trying to beat back efforts to deny him the nomination. He now has 678 delegates and opponents want to stop him from securing the 1,237 delegates needed ahead of the July convention.
“I think it is going to be very hard for them to do,” Trump said on CNN of any effort to deny him the nomination if he falls short. “I have millions of votes more than anybody.”
In Utah, Cruz appeared to benefit from Mormons who dominate the state’s Republican vote and rejected Trump’s attack on native son Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee and a leader of the opposition to Trump. Trump had questioned whether Romney, an elder in the Mormon church, was really a Mormon.
Sanders said his Utah and Idaho victories were powered by young people and working-class Americans and “give me confidence that we will continue to win major victories in the coming contests.”
The US senator from Vermont is looking for wins in many of the six Democratic contests this week. Alaska, Hawaii and Washington will vote on Saturday. Clinton will keep adding to her delegate total even if she is not the winner in a given state because Democratic delegates are awarded proportionally in all states.