WICHITA, Kan. – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz coasted to a big win over Donald Trump at the GOP Kansas caucus Saturday.
Cruz was leading with nearly 50 percent of the vote when national news outlets called the race. Trump came in with just over 25 percent of the tally. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich placed third and fourth, respectively.
Cruz’s sizable win is something of a surprise given that recent polls showed him trailing Trump.
A survey released earlier this week by the Trafalgar Group showed Trump leading with support from 35 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers. Cruz polled at 29 percent while Rubio came in at 17 percent. Kasich, who did not campaign at all in the state, polled at 13.
FiveThirtyEight put the odds of Trump winning the caucus at 51 percent. Cruz had a 44 percent chance of winning going into the contest.
But Kansas, with its large evangelical population, is a natural fit for Cruz, who has strong support among religious conservatives. He also likely benefited from the Sunflower State’s closed caucus system, which allows only registered Republicans to participate. Trump has done better in states with open primaries and caucuses, which allow independents and Democrats to vote in GOP contests.
Turnout was huge Saturday, particularly in Wichita, the largest city in the state. While 4,500 caucused here in 2012, local GOP officials estimated that 12,000 caucusgoers would show up Saturday. One estimate put statewide turnout at more than 74,000. That’s compared to just under 30,000 who caucused in 2012.
That massive showing was likely spurred by dual appearances from Cruz and Trump at the caucus kickoff, which was held at an exhibition hall in downtown Wichita.
Cruz spoke prior to the front-runner, and appeared to have more support from the audience of several thousand. Trump took the stage to a mixture of applause and boos. Rubio, who attended an event in Wichita on Friday and was represented at the caucus by Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo , had significantly fewer supporters on hand.
Trump spoke to several thousand supporters earlier Saturday at a convention hall near the caucus site. He offered his standard stump speech, with the promise to “make America great again.”
He also continued his attacks on Cruz and Rubio, who he called “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco,” respectively.
Trump led the delegate count heading into Saturday’s contests with 329. Cruz had 231 while Rubio and Kasich had 110 and 25, respectively. Caucuses were also being held in Maine and Kentucky. Louisiana is holding a primary. Kansas carries 40 of the 155 delegates up for grabs.