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Story highlights

Arizona allows early voting by mail in the Republican presidential primary, and thousands of Arizona voters likely cast their ballots before Rubio dropped out

The early Arizona results also led to questions from Ted Cruz's supporters about why Kasich is still in the race

(CNN) —  

It was a three-man race, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich came in fourth.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had a stronger showing in the Arizona Republican primary than Kasich – despite the fact that the Florida senator dropped out of the race last week. The reason: Arizona allows early voting by mail in the Republican presidential primary, and thousands of Arizona voters likely cast their ballots before Rubio dropped out. Rubio beat Kasich by nearly 18,000 votes.

That a non-candidate was leading an actual White House contender by five percentage points led some to question the utility of allowing weeks of early voting in a highly volatile primary in which candidates tend to abruptly leave the race if they have a poor showing in a key state, as Rubio did when Donald Trump trounced him in his home state of Florida last week.

The early Arizona results also led to questions from Ted Cruz’s supporters about why Kasich is still in the race. Some argued that Kasich’s ongoing presence on the ballot takes away from Cruz’s potential to beat Trump in the delegate race.

And on Wednesday, Cruz himself criticized Kasich for his inability to win a state other than his own, Ohio.

“You can’t lose every state and expect to be the nominee,” Cruz said in an interview on CNN’s New Day. “Right now Kasich’s role is really being a spoiler. Kasich benefits really Donald Trump.”

In Arizona, where Republicans held a winner-take-all primary, Trump’s lead was so strong that even if every Kasich vote went to Cruz, it still wouldn’t have made a difference in the final outcome, but it could in other states where the delegate selection rules are different.