LAS VEGAS, NV- Donald Trump has won the Republican presidential caucuses in Nevada, giving the billionaire businessman three straight wins in the race for the GOP nomination.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are vying for second place, far ahead of John Kasich and Ben Carson.
Preliminary entrance polls taken of Republican caucus-goers show that nearly 6 in 10 are angry at the way the government is working, and about half of them supported the billionaire businessman.
Trump was also supported by about 6 in 10 of those who said they care most about immigration, and nearly half of those who said they care most about the economy.
The race for the Republican nomination now moves on to next week’s Super Tuesday, when a dozen states will hold presidential primaries.
Local reporters, social media and sources on the ground reported ballot shortages and identifications going unchecked at the caucuses. But the Nevada Republican Party tweeted there were “no official reports of voting irregularities or violations.”
In a state where only 33,000 of the state’s 400,000 GOP voters turned out to caucus in 2012 — a mere 7% — the campaigns of Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and one-time candidate Jeb Bush got organized early, snapping up talented operatives and key endorsements, while beginning caucus trainings last fall in the hopes that a strong organization could overcome Trump’s momentum.
But Trump appears to have steamrolled through all of that, dominating not just Nevada’s unreliable polls, but capturing the excitement and buzz in the race with his visits here.
In interviews with dozens of Republican voters across the state over the last week, many said without hesitation that they were standing firmly with Trump and had given little thought to the other Republican candidates.
That has meant a pitched battle for second place here between Cruz and Rubio, who both made a final push in Reno and Nevada’s rural areas on Monday. In a sign of his campaign’s confidence in a strong showing, Trump held just one rally in populous Clark County, dispatching his eldest son to campaign for him in Elko — the biggest town in rural northeast Nevada.
The more traditional campaigns of Cruz and Rubio, said longtime Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston, “are very frustrated by what everyone’s frustrated by: you can’t talk any sense into the Trump voters; they can’t turn them.”
“When you’re hoping that those voters don’t turn out, you know that your campaign is playing for second place,” Ralston said.
Even without Trump in the mix, Nevada posed institutional challenges for all the campaigns because of the quirky rules of the GOP caucuses and the fact that the party did not maintain a reliable list of caucusgoers from 2008 and 2012.
“It’s on a Tuesday night, four hours, with different start times for some of the voting in different counties,” Ralston said. “It’s a totally goofy system: How do you get good turnout with that?”
Given that political operatives are expecting as few as 40,000 voters to turn out, there has been far less advertising in Nevada than in the other early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
According to data from Kantar Media/CMAG, Rubio’s team has spent $920,000 to Cruz’s $790,000. Trump has spent about $490,000, and Ben Carson, whose candidacy has faded, has spent about $330,000. Ohio Gov. John Kasich has spent nothing.
Before Bush exited the race, the Right to Rise super PAC that was supporting him spent $900,000 — some of it on ads targeting Rubio.
Though most are predicting low turnout, Trump’s allies see the uptick in Republican registrations here as a harbinger that could bode well for his candidacy — bringing out first time caucusgoers. (Unlike the Democratic caucuses here last Saturday, there is no same-day registration for Republican voters at caucus sites).
It has been difficult to gauge the Trump’s team level of organization here. But party officials note that his campaign has been doing caucus trainings since last year — and could surprise political observers Tuesday night by forcing a strong turnout.
Over the final days before the caucuses, Trump needled Cruz on Twitter, once again accusing him of dishonest campaign techniques and “dirty tricks.”
The real estate magnate seized on the fact that Cruz’s spokesman resigned Monday after circulating a video that inaccurately depicted Rubio as dismissing the Bible.
“This guy Cruz lies more than any human being that I’ve ever dealt with. Unbelievable,” Trump said during a rally in Las Vegas, a line of attack he would reiterate in Sparks on Tuesday. “He holds up the Bible and he lies. And then he holds up the Bible again and he lies.”
“The evangelicals didn’t vote for him,” Trump said, alluding to the recent South Carolina results that showed him leading Cruz with that key voting bloc. “You know why? Because they don’t like liars. They are really smart people. They don’t want to vote for a liar.”
Cruz has rejected that rhetoric from Trump and dismissed his showing among evangelicals in South Carolina as the product of a “division of opinion” within a primary process that is “an ongoing discussion.”
Evangelical voters are far less of a force here in Nevada, where Cruz has assiduously courted the libertarian voters who once backed Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. At campaign events here, he has cast himself as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, who will fight for voters who want “government the heck out of their lives.” Throwing a dart at Trump, he argued voters should reject any candidate who was willing to cut deals.
While calling Trump “a good man,” Cruz honed his closing argument that conservative voters belong with his campaign and that his effort is the “one campaign that can beat Donald Trump.”
Touching on a theme he has highlighted in his ads, Cruz cited the reasoning of former President Jimmy Carter, who said he would prefer Trump over Cruz because Trump is “completely malleable” while Cruz “is not malleable. He has far right-wing policies … that would be pursued aggressively if and when he might become president.”
“I’m going to utter a sentence I have never uttered in any other context. I agree with Jimmy Carter,” Cruz said in Elko. “We can’t get burned again.”
Glenn Beck, the conservative radio and television host backing Cruz, drove a harder-edged closing argument against Trump, calling him a bully. As the latest evidence, he cited a Trump tweet in which he threatened the Ricketts family for funding an effort to quash his candidacy.
“Today Donald Trump tweeted a threat to the owner of the Chicago Cubs,” Beck said before introducing Cruz in Elko. “When we have a candidate that threatens people… This is not American. This is not equal justice. This is not who were are.”
“If we give in to our anger; if we start to go down that path and we start to listen to the bullies, we lose what made us great,” Beck said.
Rubio, for his part, avoided attacks on Trump, but told reporters during a gaggle on his plane that more than two-thirds of voters don’t want Trump as their nominee and that as the field narrowed “the alternatives to Trump will get stronger.”
“Donald has a base of support and if the majority of our party doesn’t want him as our nominee, we’ll continue to work toward consolidating that,” Rubio said.
He joined Trump in criticizing the tactics of the Cruz campaign, stating that the circulation of the inaccurate video with him discussing the Bible was indicative of the culture of the Cruz campaign: “The culture of that campaign is to make things up and say things that aren’t true every single day,” he told reporters in Las Vegas.
On the stump, however, Rubio largely avoided critiques of his rivals as he continually returned to the argument that he is the most electable argument on the Republican side.
“I am as conservative as anyone else in this race,” he said in Elko. “But I am a conservative who will win this race.”