Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump each saw wins in two states on March 5. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders won in two states, and his rival Hillary Clinton won in one. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

At 9:22 p.m. Eastern time -- 22 minutes after polls closed in Louisiana -- the Associated Press called the state's primary for Donald Trump.

That appears to have been based on the first votes to be counted, absentee votes that came in before voting began today. With those votes in, Trump had 48 percent of the total to Ted Cruz's 23 percent and Marco Rubio's 20. That was a 25-point margin. The AP and television networks felt comfortable enough with the lead to call it.

But then more votes started to come in, and it was clear that something had shifted.

With 30 percent of precincts in, Trump's lead had been cut by more than half; he led Cruz 43 percent to 34.3 percent, with Rubio dropping to 20 percent. With 41 percent in, the margin was 7.4. At 64 percent in? 4.8 percent. As we write, Trump leads by 4.4 percent -- with a fifth of the vote still out.


Much of Cruz's gain has come at Rubio's expense. Rubio has dropped 9 percentage points since the early returns were in, nearly half of his support. That's been to Cruz's obvious benefit.

The important thing here isn't that the networks might have called the race too early. The important thing is that there appears to be a wide gap between how people felt about Trump (and Rubio) as they were filling out their early ballots and how they felt once election day arrived. We noted on Friday that Rubio's deficit in Florida polling likely meant that early voters there were putting him at a disadvantage. We don't yet have exit poll data in Louisiana, but it seems like Trump's lead in the early votes may have save him the state -- if he ends up winning.

Why? Maybe people changed their minds about the candidates after Thursday's debate or after seeing campaign ads. Or maybe this goes back to the argument that we've made for some time: Cruz has a strong get-out-the-vote operation to ensure voters go to the polls -- and Trump and Rubio have basically nothing.

Time will tell.

Update: Results by county, charted by a user on Twitter.