LAS VEGAS (AP) — With a big win in Nevada, Donald Trump claimed a third straight commanding victory in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. A tight race for second between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz offered little evidence that Republicans were ready to coalesce around one strong alternative to the businessman billionaire.
With victories now under his belt in the West, the South and Northeast, a gleeful Trump was oozing even more confidence than usual Tuesday night that the GOP nomination is within reach.
“It’s going to be an amazing two months,” he told a raucous crowd at a Las Vegas casino. “We might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest.”
Trump’s rivals know they are running out of time to stop his juggernaut.
Rubio, who was already in Michigan on caucus night, didn’t speak after the results came in but earlier sought to project 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.”
But after finishing third in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and second in South Carolina, Rubio needs a win soon to support the idea he can beat Trump.
Cruz, for his part, skipped right past Nevada’s underwhelming verdict for him in his caucus-night speech and pinned his hopes on the big round of voting that’s coming up next, saying: “One week from today will be the most important night of this campaign: Super Tuesday.”
The candidates were fanning out to their next targets of opportunity as the lights went out in Las Vegas: Trump was campaigning Wednesday in Virginia, then on to Texas and Oklahoma. Rubio and Cruz both headed for Texas.
Entrance polls in Nevada captured the sentiment propelling Trump’s insurgent campaign: Six in 10 caucus goers said they were angry with the way the government is working, and Trump got about half of them.
Cruz, a fiery conservative popular among voters on the GOP’s right, had 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. Nevada raises more questions about his viability.
But Cruz harked back to his win in Iowa’s leadoff caucuses to remind supporters that his is “the only campaign that has defeated Donald Trump is this campaign.”
The election calendar suggests that if Trump’s rivals don’t slow him by mid-March, they may not ever.