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Western Tuesday: Good, bad or ugly for Trump?

Ted Cruz is looking to slow Donald Trump in a pair of Western states voting on Tuesday and gain fresh momentum heading into the slowest stretch of the Republican nominating calendar.

The elections in Arizona and Utah represent a relatively tiny haul after three successive “super” Tuesday elections in which a combined 20 states cast their ballots. But with Arizona offering 58 winner-take-all delegates to the victor and Utah offering all 40 of its delegates to any candidate that can top 50 percent, the contests will help define whether anti-Trump forces within the Republican Party still have a shot to stop him at a contested convention.

Trump entered Tuesday with 680 of the 1,237 delegates he needed to secure the nomination before the GOP convention in Cleveland. Cruz lagged more than 250 delegates behind, with 424, and John Kasich was a distant third, with 143. Kasich has already been mathematically eliminated from winning the nomination outright.

Results will trickle in late Tuesday and into early Wednesday morning on the East Coast, with Arizona polls closing at 10 p.m. Eastern, and Utah results only beginning to be released at 1 a.m.

Heading into the election, Trump has been favored in Arizona and Cruz in Utah.

During a press conference in Washington D.C. on Monday, Trump was bullish on his chances in Arizona, where he predicted a “big night,” but less so on Utah, where he said only, “I think we’ll do fine.”

In a sign that Cruz is pulling for an Arizona upset, he added a last-minute stop on Sunday outside a church near Phoenix, the state’s largest media market.

In Utah, the crucial number to watch is 50 percent. If Cruz tops that threshold, he would win each of the state’s 40 delegates. But Kasich has campaigned in the state in the closing days and bought television ads, as well, hoping to win a share of the delegates for himself.

The move has frustrated some anti-Trump forces because if Kasich helps keep Cruz below 50 percent it would likely be to Trump’s benefit. Then every candidate who received at least 15 percent of the vote would win delegates.

And each delegate Trump wins brings him closer to the magic 1,237 number.

After Arizona and Utah, only one state — Wisconsin — votes in the next 27 days, magnifying the impact of the outcomes in those contests for nearly a month.

Cruz has slowly picked up support heading into Tuesday’s election, as Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he was voting for Cruz, rising star Rep. Mia Love endorsed him Tuesday and Mitt Romney, a popular figure among the state’s large Mormon population, said Cruz now represented the best shot to stop Trump.

“A vote for John Kasich is a vote for Donald Trump,” Romney said in a recorded call that went out to Utah voters this week.

The two states also represent the first contests since Marco Rubio dropped out of the race on March 15, and an early test of how his supporters will divide themselves among Trump, Cruz and Kasich. Rubio has called Cruz the only “true conservative” left in the contest but stopped short of endorsing him.

But complicating matters in Arizona is that the state has among the most robust early-voting programs in the country. As much as half the expected turnout had actually cast their ballots before Rubio even withdrew from the race.

It’s one of the reasons the Cruz campaign has tried to downplay expectations in the state, even though its haul of 58 winner-take-all delegates is the third-largest of the nominating calendar so far, after only Florida and Ohio.

The Arizona turnout was expected to set records. As of Monday, in Maricopa County, the state’s largest, turnout was already nearly equal to the total turnout in the 2012 GOP primary.

The enormous role of early voting could limit, at least in Arizona, the fact that elections took place Tuesday with the backdrop of unrest in Europe, as terror attacks rocked Brussels, the epicenter of the European Union. At least 31 were killed and dozens more wounded.

Trump quickly called into a round of morning television shows and predicted more such bloodshed. “This is just the beginning,” he said. He pushed again for his ban on all Muslim immigrants into America, “We can’t allow these people, at this point we cannot allow these people to come into our country. I’m sorry.”

Cruz used the tragedy in Belgium to hammer Trump for his suggestion on Monday that the United States pull back from its commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“Donald Trump is wrong that America should withdraw from the world and abandon our allies,” Cruz said.

But Cruz also staked out some hardline positions, calling for limiting the flow of refugees “from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence” and for heightened patrols of Muslim communities in the United States. “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” he said.

Trump later on Tuesday endorsed Cruz’s proposal as a “good idea.”

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