LAS VEGAS — Donald Trump won the Nevada Republican caucuses by a near-landslide early Wednesday, his third straight victory with high-stakes "Super Tuesday" just days away.
“We weren’t expected to win too much and now we’re winning, winning, winning,” Trump said at his victory rally late Tuesday. “And soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.”
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Florida Sen. Marco Rubio claimed the crucial second-place slot, edging out Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. As of 2:45 a.m. ET, NBC News had allocated 22 of Nevada's 30 delegates — with 12 going to Trump and 5 each for Rubio and Cruz.
The five remaining Republican candidates have less than a week until the Super Tuesday contests on March 1. The so-called “SEC primaries” present a massive haul of 595 delegates up for grabs across 11 states, which is likely to winnow down the field of candidates battling for the GOP nomination.
Officials said Nevada become the fourth consecutive state to see Republicans hit record turnout.
However, there were issues in the caucus process with confusion over poll closing times in the largest county spanning Las Vegas led to voters being either turned away or forced to cast provisional ballots.
Other reports suggested disorganization in how ballots were being collected and reported.
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Two candidates were not in Nevada to see the results roll in — Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Rubio held just one campaign rally in Nevada early Tuesday before jetting off to Minnesota and Michigan, two states that offer the best chances for him to eke out wins. Kasich, meanwhile, put little to no resources into making a play for the Silver State.
For Rubio — who grew up in a diverse, working-class neighborhood in Las Vegas — a second-place finish could prove crucial in signaling to party elites that he is the best candidate to chip away at Trump’s resounding lead.
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Even a strong third-place finish could dent Cruz’s momentum. He entered the Silver State after finishing third just days earlier in South Carolina. On Monday, Cruz fired his communications director for circulating a false rumor about Rubio.
Appearing visibly disappointed that his event Tuesday night was not a victory party, Cruz congratulated Trump for his win. He also reminded supporters that he is the only candidate to best the property tycoon and frontrunner in any race so far.
“The undeniable reality that the first four states have shown is that the only campaign who has beat Donald Trump and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign,” Cruz said.
The overall tenor Trump’s rhetoric has turned increasingly hostile in recent days — even by Trump’s standards. The billionaire on Tuesday suggested that he could commit murder and his supporters would still remain loyal. A day earlier, he mused about physically assaulting a protester during a Las Vegas rally. “I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump told supporters.
According to early entrance polls, Nevada voters were feeling upset too. A sweeping 94 percent of Republican caucus-goers said they were either angry or dissatisfied with the way the federal government was working. Another 61 percent said they preferred an outsider to the Washington establishment.
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Trump stated plainly on Tuesday that he hopes to beat his Republican opponents in each of their home states. In particular, claiming a sizable chunk of the Texas' 155 delegates would be a major windfall for the Trump campaign, not to mention an embarrassment for Cruz.
“I’m leading in Ohio, I’m leading in Florida, but I’d like to really win in Texas. Wouldn’t that be great? I love Texas,” Trump said at a rally just hours before Nevadans went to caucus.
Later while celebrating his projected win in the Silver State, Trump said: "We won the evangelicals, we won with young, we won with old, we won with highly educated, we won with poorly educated — I love the poorly educated."
He added: "I tell you what we're going to do. We get greedy, right? Now we're going to get greedy for the United States. We're going to grab and grab and grab. We're going to bring in so much money and so much everything — we're going to make America great again, folks."