LAS VEGAS — Eva O’Reilly had initially supported Donald Trump and she liked Marco Rubio, but a day before the GOP Nevada caucus, she had settled on Ted Cruz.
“The Constitution. The rights of the people and too much government involved,” she said giving reasons why she had finally chosen Cruz.
Nevada Republicans were to take their turn Tuesday to caucus for their favored candidate for the Republican nomination.
The Latino electorate drew heavy national focus during last Saturday’s Democratic caucus here. By contrast, the focus in the GOP contest is on the staying power of Trump and the struggle between Cruz and Rubio to edge out the other, as well as take down Trump.
Cruz, Rubio and Trump held events in Nevada on the eve of caucus day. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ben Carson were in other states.
O’Reilly, who attended a Cruz rally at the Durango Hills Community Center YMCA in northwest Las Vegas, said she considers Trump to be a good businessman and a smart man. “But to me he is overbearing and the way he talks down to the other candidates shows he’s afraid of them," said O'Reilly, whose grandparents are from Mexico.
While major polls have shown little support among Hispanics for Trump, the man whose name beams from a Las Vegas Strip building remains the frontrunner coming out of South Carolina’s primary last Saturday. And while he may not represent the majority of Republican Latinos, Anthony Osnaya, 36, said he was planning to caucus for Trump. The Mexican-American construction worker said he was supporting Trump because of "the way he is. Not the way he speaks. What he represents. Leader, a strong guy. A winner."
In a rally Monday night, Trump made yet more headlines for saying he would like to punch a protester in the face. He also spoke of the "old days" when "guys like that" who disrupted a political rally would "be carried out on a stretcher."
Jon Ralston, an MSNBC contributor based in Nevada, said Monday that Trump likely could win it by a huge margin.
Marco Rubio addressed Trump’s hold on the top spot in the race in a Reno, Nevada rally the day before the caucus.
“We can’t win if we’re divided. We can’t win if we nominate someone that half of the Republican Party hates. We’re gonna be fighting against each other all the way to November,” Rubio said.
Cruz too joined in the Trump bashing, mocking Trump’s ‘Make American Great Again’ slogan.
“It’s one thing to say ‘Make America great again.’ You can even print a baseball cap with it written on it. It’s another thing to understand the principles that made America great,” Cruz said.
Trump’s comments about Mexicans when he announced his presidential bid and the hard right shift on immigration by Cruz has led a group of Republican Hispanics to denounce Trump and Cruz.
Cruz has backed what he calls an attrition through enforcement view on immigrants in the country illegally, which the GOP Hispanic leaders have said is the equivalent of the self-deportation plan that was championed by Mitt Romney and believed to have hurt him with Hispanic voters.
Cruz told Fox television host Bill O'Reilly he would send immigration enforcement to look for people. Asked by O'Reilly if he'd send them to seek out an Irish immigrant with kids who overstayed his visa, Cruz said "You better believe it."
But those immigration views weren’t largely known by a few Hispanics who attended his rally and spoke to NBC News Latino.
At the rally, Cruz said he’d rescind every “illegal” executive action taken by President Barack Obama.
That would include the actions providing deportation deferrals to millions of immigrants and creating a priority list for deportation that puts criminals and public safety threats at the top.
He said illegal immigration is a “powerful anchor pulling down wages” of working Americans.
Cecilia Soltez, 40, came to the U.S. when she was 14 with her parents who arrived on a legal visa.
She said there needs to be amnesty for people who are already living here and paying taxes, but there also should be rules for people coming illegally and “maybe taking jobs from U.S. citizens.”
About Cruz's remarks opposing amnesty, she responded: “At all? Well, that’s not something I would support, but something that perhaps could be worked out,” she said.
She said his views on other topics such as his stand on abortion still make him a candidate she could support.
Meanwhile, Rubio headed into the caucus with an expanded list of endorsements, as former Bush backers got behind his campaign. That included the three Cuban-American members of Congress – Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart. Bush ended his campaign after a dismal showing in South Carolina.
Alfonso Aguilar, a spokesman for a group of GOP Hispanics who publicly condemned Trump and Cruz, said Latinos will have a bigger say in the Republican field after Nevada, when several states hold their primaries on March 1, Super Tuesday, including Texas and Colorado.
"Cruz could go to Super Tuesday, but the problem is, is he willing to lose Texas to Donald Trump. He is from Texas, or does he want to get out and help Marco win Texas?" Aguilar said.