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Rubio bags Puerto Rico, Sanders takes on Hillary after Maine win

world Updated: Mar 07, 2016 23:07 IST

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders during a CNN debate at the Cultural Center Campus in Flint on Sunday night. (AFP)

Desperately looking for a victory to stay in the US presidential race, Senator Marco Rubio won the Republican primary in Puerto Rico on Sunday, only his second so far.

And Bernie Sanders won the Democratic caucuses in Maine, bringing up his tally of states to eight, and clashed fiercely with his only rival Hillary Clinton at a debate in Michigan.

Rubio, a first-time Senator from Florida, is the Republican party establishment’s last hope of stopping frontrunner Donald Trump, who has the party in complete panic.

But he has performed indifferently to poorly in the nominating contests so far — winning only the one in Minnesota before Sunday, and is already facing calls to drop out.

Ted Cruz, another first-time Senator, has emerged as the chief alternative to Trump after winning two of the four nominating contests on Saturday, adding to four from earlier.

Read | Cruz emerges top Republican contender again st Trump

Trump remains way ahead of them, winning 12 of those contests so far, and leads Cruz 35.6% to 19.8% in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls.

A panicky party establishment is going all out to try and deny him the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination.

Party patriarch and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Trump a “fraud” and a “conman” in a blistering attack last week, and other party leaders have followed up.

Rubio is the man who, according to them, can potentially rally anti-Trump, but he has failed to live up to expectations, and Cruz, on the other hand, is pushing hard for that mantle.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio shakes hands with his supporters at a rally in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, on Saturday. (AP)

And he may well win it, despite scoring only marginally better than Trump with the establishment, if Rubio fails to win Florida, his home-state, in the March 15 primaries.

On the Democratic side, Sanders, who is trailing Clinton 498 to 1,129 in the delegates count (winner needs 2,383), attacked her support for free trade agreements.

The exchange got testy at times, with Sander angrily snapping at Clinton to not interrupt him, something that he hasn’t done before, and it was widely noted.

“Excuse me, I’m talking,” he said to her during an exchange on Wall Street bailouts (government help during the 2008 financial crisis).

Four states hold their nominating contests on Tuesday.