LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won nearly 46 percent of the vote to beat New York businessman Donald Trump in Republican caucuses in Maine, where strong turnout and consolidated voting locations contributed to overflow crowds on Saturday.

Cruz finished with 8,550 votes to Trump’s 6,070, followed by 2,270 for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and 1,492 for Florida U.S. Sen. Rubio. Because no candidate won a majority, the 23 delegates were split with 12 for Cruz, nine for Trump, two for Kasich and none for Rubio.

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Maine Republican leaders said the heavy turnout, more than three times the 2012 total, bodes well for the party in the general election.

“Extraordinary results in terms of raw people coming out and exercising their franchise,” state party Chairman Rick Bennett said. “The Republican party is back in the state of Maine, and we are resurgent.”

The Cruz victory came as opponents of front-runner Trump tried to find a way to stop his momentum after a strong showing on Super Tuesday.

Even a plug from Republican Gov. Paul LePage didn’t help Trump. LePage, who endorsed Trump, spoke on his behalf in Lewiston, calling him a “true blue American” who understands money and is a tough negotiator.

Not everyone was convinced.

“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,” said 20-year-old Halie Saldana, who emerged from her voting location at Lewiston Middle School wearing a Cruz sticker on her shirt.

Many first-time participants joined the throngs at caucus sites as the GOP sought to erase memories of the botched caucuses from 2012, when Ron Paul supporters were furious over Mitt Romney being declared the winner before all of the votes were cast. Paul supporters proceeded to take over the state party convention and elect a slate of delegates pledged to Paul to go to the party’s national convention in Florida.

This year, the outcome of the secret ballot at the GOP caucus sites was binding. Under the rules, all 23 delegates were to be awarded to any candidate who mustered a majority. Failing that, the delegates were to be divided among candidates receiving 10 percent or more of the vote.

Maine’s caucuses get far less attention than those in neighboring New Hampshire, which hosts the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

But Trump, Cruz and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s dueling with former U.S. first lady and secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, visited Maine over a three-day period before the state’s weekend caucuses, starting with Republicans on Saturday and ending with Democrats on Sunday in 400 towns and cities across the state.

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Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett accused Republicans of “playing with fire” with their presidential choice.

“The GOP rallying around Ted Cruz and his extreme, divisive views shows just what’s at stake in this election,” he said after the outcome was announced.

Republican participants brought enthusiasm and a sense of urgency to 22 regional caucuses from Fort Kent to Biddeford. The GOP said 18,650 votes were cast.

In Chelsea, kindergarten teacher Deborah Carey, of Readfield, said she voted for Trump because she thinks he’ll help businesses thrive.

“Our state is just dying as far as business goes,” she said. “We just need people who’re going to get in the trenches and fight for Maine.”

Kathy Smith, of Mount Vernon, who voted for Cruz, described him as a “true conservative” who has consistently upheld the Constitution and the wishes of his constituents.

Clare Lau, 78, of Lewiston, said she saw Cruz as the most honest candidate remaining in the race.

“It’s time for somebody who is honest,” she said. “He will do what he says.”


Associated Press writer David Sharp in Chelsea contributed to this report.

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