Donald Trump has won the Republican presidential caucuses in Nevada, giving the billionaire businessman three straight wins in the race for the GOP nomination.
“We will be celebrating for a long time tonight,” he said, add that a prediction that he'll soon claim the GOP nomination.
“It's going to be an amazing two months,” he said. “We might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest.”
“If you listen to the pundits, we weren’t expected to win too much, and now we’re winning, winning, winning the country,” Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas. “Soon, the country is going to start winning, winning, winning.”
Trump vowed to keep the open the military dentention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, telling supporters: “We're going to load it up with a lot of bad dudes out there.”
Marco Rubio elbowed out Ted Cruz for second place, far ahead of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who was endorsed by the New York Times for the GOP nomination, and Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon.
Trump is expected to take the bulk of Nevada’s 30 delegates, which would give him more than 80 before February ends, and dwarf the tallies of Cruz and Rubio.
While more than 1,200 are needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination, Trump has a formidable head start.
“If you are Cruz and Rubio you have to worry about how far Trump is getting ahead of you,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington. “These guys have to figure out how to turn their fire on Trump.”
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.
In the Democratic race, front-runner Hillary Clinton was looking for a commanding victory over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Saturday's South Carolina primary to give her a boost heading into Super Tuesday. Polls show the former secretary of state with a huge advantage among African-Americans which bodes well for her prospects in South Carolina and then the Southern states which vote on Super Tuesday where blacks make up a large segment of the Democratic primary electorate.
Trump’s victories — in the West, the South and Northeast — a testament to his broad appeal among the mad-as-hell voters making their voices heard in the 2016 presidential race.
Nevada was a critical test for Rubio and Cruz, the two senators battling to emerge as the clear alternative to the GOP front-runner. Rubio was out to prove he can build on recent momentum, while Cruz was looking for a spark to recover from a particularly rocky stretch in his campaign.
Rubio, already campaigning in Michigan as caucus results rolled in, was projecting confidence that he can consolidate the non-Trump voters who have been splintering among an assortment of GOP candidates, saying, “we have incredible room to grow.”
Cruz, a conservative popular among voters on the GOP's right, finished a disappointing third in South Carolina after spending much of the past two weeks denying charges of dishonest campaign tactics and defending his integrity. Another disappointing finish in Nevada would raise new questions about his viability heading into a crucial batch of Super Tuesday states on March 1.
“There's something wrong with this guy,” Trump said with his usual measure of tact during a massive Las Vegas rally Monday night. The former reality television star tweeted on Tuesday: “He used him as a scape goat — fired like a dog! Ted panicked.”
Nevada's caucusing played out in schools, community centers and places of worship across the state — a process that's been chaotic in the past.
Nevada was the first Republican election in the West, the fourth of the campaign. And it's not one that's gotten much attention from the GOP candidates.
Through Tuesday, the Republican candidates and the super PACs supporting them had spent a combined $3.8 million on television and radio advertisements in Nevada — less than a tenth of the $39.3 million spent ahead of last weekend's South Carolina primary, according to Kantar Media's CMAG data.
That primary reduced a GOP field that included a dozen candidates a month ago to five, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush the latest to drop out after a disappointing finish in South Carolina. Kasich and Carson could play spoilers as the trio of leading candidates, Trump, Cruz and Rubio, battle for delegates with an increasing sense of urgency.
Trump's rivals concede they are running out of time to stop him.
The election calendar suggests that if the New York billionaire's rivals don't slow him by mid-March, they may not ever. Trump swept all of South Carolina's 50 delegates, giving him a total of 67 compared to Cruz (11) and Rubio (10).
After finishing third in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and second in South Carolina, Rubio needs a win soon to support the idea that he is the prime heir to Bush's supporters.
Indeed, Republican establishment heavyweights have been flooding to Rubio in recent days, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. South Florida's three Cuban-American members of Congress announced their support for him in the hours before the Nevada contest.