Trump Supporter Carl Alter at Donald Trump Rally in Wichita before the caucus Saturday.
(AP) – Kansas Republican leaders reported heavy turnout early Saturday as supporters began meeting to weigh in on the 2016 presidential race, while Democrats would start indicating their preferences later in the day.
Conservative GOP activists hoped the caucuses would prove rocky soil for GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who held a rally in Wichita and later appeared at a caucus site. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also addressed a Wichita caucus on Saturday, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had three campaign events Friday.
State GOP Executive Director Clay Barker said Saturday that even small counties were reporting more voters than they had anticipated. The party printed up 60,000 paper ballots in case the turnout was about twice as large as it was in 2008 and 2012, but told workers at the 103 caucus sites to be prepared to copy extra ballots.
Trump leads the Republican race nationally, but in Kansas, most of the party establishment was wary of the billionaire businessman and were instead split between Cruz and Rubio. Trump told thousands of supporters in Wichita that he had been scheduled to attend an annual gathering of national conservative leaders today, but backed out to attend the Kansas rally.
"If I lose, I’m going to be so angry," he said of the Kansas caucuses.
Connie Belton, 65, a retired homemaker from Wichita, watched Trump’s rally in Wichita.
"I adore Trump. I think his heart is as big as his hands," she said. "And as big as other things, as he says."
For the last 10 years she has voted Republican, switching her allegiance from previous elections, in which she voted as an Independent or Democrat.
"If the big, fat GOP don’t like him, they don’t like me," she said, adding that if the party kicks him out at the last minute she is going to write his name in on the ballot.
Cruz supporters responded in kind when the senator pledged to rescind all of President Barack Obama’s executive actions and order the Department of Justice to investigate Planned Parenthood.
In Johnson County, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder wasn’t saying who he would vote for but promised to support the eventual GOP nominee. Yoder visited the GOP caucus site at Olathe South High School, where several hundred participants had gathered. Yoder said he wasn’t publicly endorsing a candidate because people are tired of hearing politicians tell them how to vote.
Democrats were to caucus Saturday afternoon, and the leading contender, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has a different challenge. Though she is the choice of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and other state party establishment figures, Clinton must figure out how to prevent a surge of new voters and energized progressives from bolstering the challenge from Sanders, the Vermont senator.