Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
STAFFORD — Ted Cruz has added three more wins in the Republican presidential primaries, claiming victory at home and in two other states in a night that illustrated just how much Donald Trump has threatened the Cruz campaign's best-laid plans.
Cruz had hoped to be closer than ever to the nomination by now, propelled by a Super Tuesday that seemed to play to his strengths with its largely southern electorate. Instead, Cruz emerged from the day with a strengthened case that he is the chief alternative to Trump — but short of the high expectations he had set for himself for months in the South.
The U.S. senator from Texas won his home state and the Sooner State by a narrower margin, while billionaire Donald Trump swept most of the 11 nominating contests of the day. Cruz ultimately edged out Trump in the Alaska caucuses, a result that came early Wednesday morning.
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By Wednesday morning, Cruz was expected to carry two thirds of the 155 delegates at stake in Texas. Cruz won 104 delegates to Trump's 48 and Rubio's three, according to unofficial estimates from the Secretary of State.
In a less expected outcome Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio captured his first state, Minnesota, undercutting Cruz’s argument that his Senate colleague from Florida is not a viable alternative to Trump.
Addressing supporters here, Cruz nonetheless wasted no time urging his non-Trump rivals to reassess their campaigns in an effort to present a unified front against the billionaire.
"Tomorrow morning we have a choice," Cruz said. "So long as the field remains divided, Donald Trump's path to the nomination remains more likely, and that would be a disaster for Republicans, for conservatives and for the nation."
While Cruz’s pair of victories Tuesday night no doubt bolstered his case that he deserves a one-on-one matchup with Trump, it was not the outcome his campaign had originally hoped for on March 1. His team had long imagined Super Tuesday as a kind of springboard to the nomination, propelled by Cruz’s appeal to voters in the group of mostly southern states.
Cruz’s campaign had invested significant resources in the South, sending the candidate there for a weeklong bus tour last summer when his rivals were camped out in Iowa and New Hampshire. The effort did not go unnoticed by Cruz’s opponents — including Rubio, who called it a “bad night” for Cruz.
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“Tonight was the night it was supposed to all come to an end,” Rubio said in an interview Tuesday night on Fox News.
At the end of the day, Trump proved to be a formidable opponent in the South, upending Cruz's intent to put his stamp on the region. Trump won 7 of the 11 contests Tuesday — four of them below the Mason-Dixon line —notching double-digit margins in most states.
In Texas, Cruz had been favored to beat Trump, but the billionaire had emerged as a credible threat, tying Cruz there in one recent poll and narrowly trailing him in a few others. Cruz’s campaign tried not to take any chances, sending the candidate on an 11th-hour tour of the state Monday to shore up support. In the final week before the primary, Cruz's campaign unveiled the long-awaited endorsement of Gov. Greg Abbott.
With nearly all precincts reporting Wednesday morning, Cruz led Trump in Texas by 17 points, 44 percent to 27 percent. Rubio was placing third at 18 percent, below the 20 percent threshold required to tap into the pool of statewide delegates.
In Oklahoma, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Cruz was beating Trump by six points, 34 percent to 28 percent. In recent days, Cruz’s campaign had signaled they saw an opening in the Sooner State, the only place Cruz spent more time in the past week than he did in Texas. Cruz had suggested he would benefit from the state’s closed primary system, which only allows Republicans to vote in the GOP primary.
Alaska was the other state that voted Tuesday in a closed nominating contest. With all precincts reporting, Cruz won its caucuses by 2 points, beating Trump 36 to 34 percent.
Speaking at his election night party here at the Redneck Country Club, Cruz argued his first two wins — the Alaska victory came hours later — continue to demonstrate why he is best positioned to take on Trump one-on-one. He pled for GOP unity, stopping short of calling on any of his rivals to drop out of the race but leaving little mystery about what he would like to see happen.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was more explicit with reporters after Cruz spoke, calling on Rubio specifically to head toward the exits before his home state votes in two weeks.
“He needs to be out of the race by the 15th for the good of the party and the good of the country, but also for his own good,” Patrick said. “Why would he want to run on the 15th and lose his home state by 15 or 20 points? He’s a young guy. He’s got his political career ahead of him. But if he goes home in his home state and gets crushed, his political career is over.”