Possibilit­y of party split weighs on Republican­s

A win by Trump is a loss for the GOP, rivals say, as they turn up the heat

- David Jackson

WASHINGTON Republican voters weigh in on the presidenti­al race in 11 states Tuesday amid toxic rancor among the candidates and an emerging party split over the prospect of a Donald Trump presidenti­al nomination.

While Trump predicted a series of victories that would all but end the contest, opponents Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Ben Carson made their final pitches ahead of Super Tuesday — and most argued that a Trump nomination would destroy the GOP’s chances in the fall.

“A vote for Donald Trump tomorrow is a vote for (Democrat) Hillary Clinton in November,” Rubio told supporters in Atlanta.

Cruz, campaignin­g in his home state of Texas, told reporters that a contest between Trump and Clinton would involve “two rich New York liberals” who agree on too many things.

Although Trump leads the polls in nearly all of Tuesday’s states — Cruz’s home base of Tex- as is the exception — the Texas senator said the real goal is delegate acquisitio­n.

“What’s going to matter Wednesday morning is delegate count,” Cruz said. “How many delegates do you have?”

The candidates are scrambling for 595 Republican delegates on Tuesday — nearly half of the 1,237 needed to win the nomination. States holding GOP contests include Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachuse­tts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

Cruz and Rubio have stepped up attacks on Trump, calling him a divisive figure who is not really a conservati­ve. Trump, during an appearance in Virginia, dismissed the complaints of “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted” as the attacks of candidates who are far behind.

In criticizin­g Rubio, Trump said the Florida senator “had to come up with something because he’s getting creamed in the polls.”

The winner of three of the first four Republican contests, Trump is starting to pick up endorsemen­ts from current GOP officehold­ers, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Other Republican­s, however, are questionin­g whether they will ever support Trump if he becomes the nominee.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in a Facebook post, said he would never back the New York billionair­e and would look for “a third candidate” if faced with the choice of him and Clinton.

Citing Trump statements ranging from praise for Russia’s Vladimir Putin to pledges to “open up” libel laws in order to sue more journalist­s, Sasse said that “Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation.”

Rivals continued to hammer Trump on the stump Monday, including his reticence over the weekend to repudiate the support of former Ku Klux Klan official David Duke.

Kasich, the governor of Ohio, is not expected to garner many delegates on Tuesday but predicts he will beat Trump when his state holds its primary March 15.

Retired neurosurge­on Ben Carson repeated his vow not to exit the race anytime soon. In an op-ed on the Fox News website, Carson said, “I refuse to play by Washington’s political rule book, or subjugate myself to the whims of the political class.”

 ?? SCOTT OLSON, GETTY IMAGES ?? Republican presidenti­al candidate Donald Trump speaks Sunday at a rally at the Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Ala.
SCOTT OLSON, GETTY IMAGES Republican presidenti­al candidate Donald Trump speaks Sunday at a rally at the Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Ala.

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