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Republicans Take On Kentucky Caucus


No doubt the fireworks will continue. Donald Trump is in Kansas today making a last-minute bid for delegates. Kansas is one of five states holding caucuses and other primaries this weekend. We'll hear now from reporters in three of those states, starting in Kentucky. That state is holding its first Republican presidential caucus since 1984. Kentucky Public Radio's Ryland Barton reports.

RYLAND BARTON, BYLINE: The reason why there's a caucus here this year has everything to do with Senator Rand Paul. He convinced the state Republican Party to switch to a caucus so he could run for president and re-election to his Senate seat at the same time. He was skirting a state law that forbids candidates from appearing on the same ballot twice. It also offered Kentucky another benefit, argues Scott Lasley, a local Republican Party chairman.

SCOTT LASLEY: We're more important than we were, but we're still - it'd still be nice to be a little bit more important (laughter).

BARTON: Kentucky did get a little bit of attention from the candidates. Ben Carson stopped in Lexington on Monday.


BEN CARSON: It's not the evil, rich people. It's the evil government. It's the evil government.

BARTON: And then on Super Tuesday, the Donald Trump show came to Louisville.


DONALD TRUMP: Trump is best on ISIS. Trump is best on military. Trump is best on security. Yeah, don't hurt him. Don't hurt him.

BARTON: But other than that, there hasn't been a whole lot of politicking for Kentucky's 46 Republican delegates. Meanwhile, Republican officials are left with a big question - will people come out to caucus? Here's Scott Lasley.

LASLEY: The biggest challenge is really making sure as many people know about it as possible, and that's probably been a little bit tougher than maybe was anticipated.

BARTON: Most of Kentucky's 120 counties will only have one caucus location. That means some voters will have to drive far to participate. And even though Rand Paul dropped out of the race a month ago, his name will still be on the ballot of the caucus he created. For NPR News, I'm Ryland Barton in Frankfurt, Ky.

JENNIFER MITCHELL, BYLINE: I'm Jennifer Mitchell in Bangor, Maine, where the state's governor, Paul LePage, welcomed a special guest at a political rally this week.


PAUL LEPAGE: The next president of the United States, Donald Trump.

MITCHELL: LePage endorsed Trump recently. The governor is well-known for being outspoken and combative, not unlike Trump. And LePage's conservative policies were the target of another political candidate here this week - Democrat Bernie Sanders.


BERNIE SANDERS: If I'm not mistaken, I think I'm right that you have a governor here who likes to beat up on poor people, right?

MITCHELL: Sanders hopes to do well here. He also won next door in New Hampshire and in his home state of Vermont. For a state with only a few dozen delegates on both sides, there's been an unusual flurry of campaigning.

JIM MELCHER: Timing wise, Maine is hitting this well.

MITCHELL: Maine never gets this many pre-caucus candidate visits, says Jim Melcher, a political science professor at U. Maine Farmington. He says Mainers have a tradition of going their own way, choosing independent candidates or those who fall outside the so-called establishment.

MELCHER: They don't necessarily need somebody who's extremely polished and slick and smooth. And Maine has a political character of really turning out and taking politics seriously.

MITCHELL: In general elections, Maine has voted reliably Democratic for president for nearly 30 years. So after this weekend's caucus, it may be four years before the national political circus stops here again. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Mitchell.

STEPHEN KORANDA, BYLINE: I'm Stephen Koranda in Kansas where candidates have been campaigning all week. At a Ted Cruz event in Overland Park, Elizabeth Foster says she loves the Texas senator.

ELIZABETH FOSTER: I feel like he's someone who will do what he said that he would do. I feel that he stands for my principles, which are Christian values primarily.

KORANDA: Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio are making their pitches to evangelical Kansas voters, a major constituency here. Many of the state's prominent elected officials, including Governor Sam Brownback, have endorsed Rubio. At a Rubio event in Topeka, Chris Maher says he likes some of Donald Trump's policies but thinks Trump goes a little too far at times.

CHRIS MAHER: I like the whole make America great again thing that he does, however, I think it's more than just saying that. You actually have to try to work with other countries rather than just building a wall.

KORANDA: But Trump has been endorsed by the state's well-known secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who told the "PBS Newshour" that Trump is attracting new blood to the party.


KRIS KOBACH: The Republican establishment is looking a gift horse in the mouth and saying, yeah, we don't really want those blue-collar workers who are coming over to the Republican Party.

KORANDA: Polls have Trump leading the field here, but in a low turnout caucus, the results will depend on whose supporters are the most passionate. For NPR News, I'm Stephen Koranda in Topeka, Kan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.