Ted Cruz wins Republican presidential caucuses in Utah

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/John Locher)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ted Cruz has won Utah’s Republican presidential caucus to score a key victory in his bid to close the gap on front runner Donald Trump.

Cruz is on pace to take all of the state’s delegates by finishing with more than 50 percent of the vote.

His win follows endorsements in the last week from Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert and Mitt Romney, the GOP’s last presidential nominee who holds clout among the state’s predominantly Mormon voters. Romney and Herbert backed Cruz in an effort to derail Trump’s path to victory

Bernie Sanders won Utah’s Democratic presidential caucus. He remains hundreds of delegates behind Hillary Clinton in the national race.

Utah voters flooded presidential caucuses in unprecedented numbers Tuesday — creating long delays and leading some Democratic sites to run out of ballots and send caucus workers scurrying for paper to print more.

Caucusing capped a busy five-day stretch that put Utah in the spotlight of the presidential race with campaign stops by all three Republican candidates.

Trump’s visit Friday night ignited tension outside the Salt Lake City venue where he delivered his speech. Protesters chanting “Dump Trump” and “Mr. Hate Out of Our State” clashed with Trump supporters as police in riot gear blocked the entrance to the building, after protesters tried to rush the door and got into dozens of screaming matches with Trump supporters who didn’t make inside.

In his speech, Trump said he loves Mormons and jokingly questioned Romney’s Mormon faith in the latest salvo in the two powerful politicians’ war of words over the last month.

Cruz made a pair of campaign stops in the state over the weekend alongside his ally and supporter, Utah Sen. Mike Lee. His former-rival-turned-supporter Carly Fiorina also appeared with him, calling Cruz and Lee “fearless fighters.”

Fresh off his victory in his home state of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich made a series of campaign stops Friday and Saturday in hopes that his longtime governing experience would net him delegates. Herbert appeared with him at a campaign stop Saturday before endorsing Cruz on Monday.

Kasich invested heavily in Utah, spending $215,000 on ads, including one that falsely implies Romney backed him, rather than Cruz in Utah.

Romney inserted himself into the race by announcing he would vote for Cruz because the Texas senator represented the party’s best hope of stopping Trump. Herbert used the same logic in explaining his decision to back Cruz.

On the Democratic side, Sanders’ rallies drew thousands, many of them young voters.

Sanders told Utah voters at a rally Monday in Salt Lake City that they were compassionate people who should embrace his “political revolution.” He vowed to raise the minimum wage, provide equal pay to women and alleviate student debt. He decried an economy that favors the wealthy and a flawed criminal justice system.

Clinton didn’t come to Utah in the lead-up to voting, but her daughter and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan campaigned on her behalf. She raised more money in Utah than Sanders, but political scientists say the caucus system favors Sanders because people who caucus tend to be more liberal.

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Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst, Michelle L. Price and Hallie Golden contributed to this story.

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