New York Times
By Alexander Burns and Nick Corasaniti
February 23, 2016
Donald J. Trump was declared the winner of the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday night, according to The Associated Press, gaining a third consecutive victory in an early-voting state and strengthening his position in the Republican presidential race before the wave of Super Tuesday elections on March 1.
Mr. Trump was seen as a favorite going into the contest, and his victory serves as a setback for his chief competitors, Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, who must now try to break Mr. Trump’s winning streak in the larger states that vote in the coming weeks.
Mr. Trump was declared the winner on Tuesday night, and final returns reported by The A.P. put him 22 points over his nearest challenger, Mr. Rubio, with Mr. Cruz trailing in third place. Turnout in Nevada was reported to be high compared with previous caucuses.
For Mr. Trump, the outcome in Nevada is another sign of his campaign’s durability and the breadth of his appeal: He has now handily won primary elections in New England and in the South, and a caucus fight in the far West. He won over independent voters in New Hampshire and evangelicals in South Carolina, and prevailed in Nevada, where Mormon voters and rural activists wield influence.
Mr. Trump said in his victory speech that he expected to consolidate his grip on the Republican Party as more of his competitors left the race. He said he would compete hard in his rivals’ home states, and projected optimism that he could lock down the nomination quickly.
“It’s going to be an amazing two months,” Mr. Trump said. “We might not even need the two months, to be honest.”
This latest triumph may only encourage Mr. Trump in the brash campaign style that has alienated many Republican officials and mainstream voters. In the two days leading up to the Nevada caucuses, Mr. Trump called Mr. Cruz a liar and threatened to deliver vicious attacks on Mr. Rubio as well.
At a rally in Las Vegas on Monday evening, Mr. Trump ridiculed a protester in his audience and told supporters that he would have liked to “punch him in the face.”
His supporters in Nevada were jubilant on Tuesday night. Holding Trump signs and flags and a few Bud Lights, the crowd at the Treasure Island casino in Las Vegas erupted into a minute-long cheer when Mr. Trump was projected the winner on a CNN broadcast, and chanted the candidate’s name. The audience booed any mention of Mr. Cruz from the television networks.
“We’re seeing a backlash in the United States that we’ve never seen before,” said Neville Cramer, 65, a Trump supporter from Las Vegas.
The results are likely to reinforce the sense among national Republican leaders that only direct confrontation can block Mr. Trump from claiming the party’s nomination, because none of the party’s most powerful voting blocs seems likely to thwart him on its own.
Mr. Trump’s success in Nevada is also likely to increase the pressure on his opponents to somehow join forces against a common enemy.
Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio have attacked each other angrily in recent days, as each has struggled to establish himself as Mr. Trump’s strongest rival. Mr. Cruz has intensified his hawkish comments on immigration to compete with Mr. Trump, and has argued that only a conservative running well to the right of Mr. Trump can challenge him effectively.
Addressing supporters on Tuesday night, Mr. Cruz reiterated that case. He acknowledged the high stakes for his bid in the Super Tuesday primaries, calling March 1 the “most important night” of the race. Citing his victory in the Iowa caucuses, he said, “The only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign.”
Mr. Rubio, on the other hand, has sought to unite Republican leaders behind his bid, casting himself as the only candidate capable both of defeating Mr. Trump and winning a difficult general election race. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, appeared to open a wider path in the race for Mr. Rubio when he ended his campaign on Saturday after a disappointing finish in the South Carolina primary.
A host of senators and members of Congress and a few governors have backed Mr. Rubio in recent days, bolstering his claim on support from the national party establishment. And Mr. Rubio has criticized Mr. Cruz in increasingly personal terms, calling him a dishonest politician who has routinely lied to voters.
Mr. Rubio has still finished no better than second in any nominating contest, but hope remains high among his supporters. Debby Elliott, 56, said at Mr. Rubio’s election-night event in a Las Vegas pizzeria that Mr. Trump was unacceptable to her.
“I can’t stomach Trump, and Rubio is what this country needs,” Ms. Elliott said. “He can compromise and do what’s best for the country. It’s not over yet.”
Mark Hutchison, Nevada’s Republican lieutenant governor and a top Rubio supporter in the state, said the results had narrowed the race down to a clear choice between two candidates. “It’s now between Rubio and Trump,” he said, “and let’s find out what America wants.”
Two other candidates, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, competed in the Nevada caucuses, but they never appeared to be in a position to win.
Their chief role might have been to siphon away votes from Mr. Rubio and Mr. Cruz — Mr. Carson drawing votes from religious Republicans, and Mr. Kasich pulling away support among more centrist voters.
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