WASHINGTON — Republican Ted Cruz defeated Donald Trump in Kansas and looked to blunt the front-runner's showing elsewhere as voters in five states had their say in weekend presidential nominating contests.
Benefiting from a caucus system that requires organization from campaigns and commitment from voters, Cruz took the first prize Saturday with his Kansas win.
Because delegates will be awarded proportionally in the weekend races, Trump's GOP rivals and Hillary Clinton's Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders, had limited opportunity to curb the drive of the front-runners toward the nominations. Larger contests ahead, with winner-take-all delegate prizes, afford more of that chance.
Cruz was collecting at least 17 delegates for winning Kansas, with Trump taking at least six.
Rallying in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, the Texas senator declared: "The scream you hear, the howl that comes from Washington D.C., is utter terror at what we the people are doing together."
Saturday's GOP races in Maine, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana and Democratic contests in Nebraska, Kansas and Louisiana were largely overshadowed by the Super Tuesday races dominated by Trump and Clinton.
But with Trump yet to win states by the margins he'll need to secure the nomination before the GOP convention, every one of the 155 GOP delegates at stake on Saturday was worth fighting for.
"Everyone's trying to figure out how to stop Trump," the billionaire marveled of himself during an Orlando, Florida, rally that was interrupted frequently by protesters. "It's sort of exciting, isn't it?" Trump asked of the demonstrators.
On Sunday, Maine Democrats and Puerto Rico Republicans are holding contests.
—"I adore Trump. I think his heart is as big as his hands. And as big as other things, as he says." — Connie Belton, 65, Wichita, Kansas, on why she's backing him.
—"I have never heard someone so idealistic who has the experience to back it up." — Bernie Sanders supporter Brent Crampton, 31, came to a caucus site near Omaha, Nebraska, at 8 a.m. after being up until 4 a.m. because of his DJ job. He said the Democratic race "was just too important to me to sleep in."
—"Donald Trump is a bigot. He's sexist and he's racist, and I would hate to see someone like that as a presidential candidate." — Halie Saldana, 20, of Lewiston, Maine, on why she supported Cruz.
Republican Marco Rubio campaigned Saturday in home-state Florida, which holds a March 15 primary crucial to his hopes. Trump was also there, staging his large rally in Orlando.
Trump had a late rally in New Orleans followed Saturday morning by one for Wichita, Kansas. Maine also drew considerable attention, with visits in recent days from Sanders, Trump and Cruz.
It's easier for GOP hopefuls to gain delegates in the weekend round of voting than it was in the Super Tuesday extravaganza. That means it's harder to have a breakout that changes the nature of the race.
Candidates in Kentucky must get just 5 percent of the statewide vote to get delegates, and in Kansas and Maine the bar is 10 percent. In Louisiana's primary, there is no threshold to earn a portion of the delegates. Contrast this with 20 percent thresholds in some other states.
And in coming Republican contests, like Florida and Ohio, all delegates in a state will go to the winner, for the first time in the campaign.
THE DELEGATE NUMBERS
The weekend contests are divvying up 175 delegates among the Republican candidates and 134 delegates between Clinton and Sanders.
After Kansas, Trump led the overall race with at least 335 delegates and Cruz had at least 248. Rubio had 110 and John Kasich, 25.
Clinton is farther along in the hunt. She led the Democratic race coming into the weekend with 1,066 delegates to 432 for Sanders. It takes 2,383 to win the Democratic nomination.
A phantom hung over the Kentucky GOP caucuses, that of home-state Sen. Rand Paul. The new caucuses were arranged so he could run for president and his Senate seat at the same time, a step that required Kentucky to move away from its usual May primary to avoid a legal challenge. Paul even paid for the switch, donating $250,000 to cover the party's expenses.
But his presidential bid failed. He and other departed candidates are still on the ballot and party leaders are posting signs at caucus locations listing who is out of the race but still on the ballot.
Republican political consultant Scott Jennings said he didn't see the "basic mechanics of what you would expect in a get-out-the-vote operation."
EYE ON LOUISIANA
Analysts expected Clinton to do well, as she's done in other Southern states. She's drawn strong support from black voters, a sizable part of the Louisiana Democratic primary electorate.
"Louisiana is identical to the states she has been performing well in and likewise Bernie Sanders has done poorly in," said Joshua Stockley, associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
On the Republican side, Louisiana has tended to vote for conservative, evangelical candidates. That history might favor Cruz but Ed Chervenak, who heads the University of New Orleans Survey Research Center, said Trump has proved he can win in Southern states with evangelical voters: "He's tapped into a level of frustration that transcends religiosity."
In this Republican-leaning state, Barack Obama beat Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin in the 2008 caucuses.
Both Clinton and Sanders seem to have taken a page from Obama's 2008 playbook this time around, putting much energy in the state, along with saturation advertising in recent days. Clinton visited in December; husband Bill Clinton made a pair of appearances Friday.
Vince Powers, the state Democratic chairman, said Sanders' visit to the state two days before the caucuses and a jump in registered Democrats since December may bode well for the Vermont senator.
Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana in New Orleans, Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Kentucky, David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Margery A. Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.