By Ben Kamisar
Donald Trump, with friends Mr. and Mrs. Phil Ruffin , owners of the Treasure Island Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, and Mr. and Mrs. Steve Wynn, owner of the hotel casino that bears his name, emerged victorious in Tuesday night’s Nevada caucuses in a win that continues to bolster his momentum.
ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN all called the race for Trump just as the caucus sites closed at 9 p.m. Pacific Time. The projection came with none of the precincts reporting.
With 7.2 percent of precincts reporting, Trump was ahead with 43.18 percent of the vote, followed by Rubio with 24.45 percent and Cruz with 21.62 percent.
Trump’s win comes as he sweeps all ideological segments, according to MSNBC’s exit polling. He edged out Ted Cruz with the very conservative segment, 38 percent to Cruz’s 34 percent. And he blew out the field with somewhat conservatives, of which he won 47 percent, and with moderates, of which he won 56 percent.
He also topped Ted Cruz with evangelical voters, winning 41 percent of the bloc.
Trump also won with Hispanic voters in Nevada, according to entrance polls. He won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in MSNBC’s entrance polls, compared to Rubio’s 29 percent and Cruz’s 18 percent.
“This is not a factional candidate, this is a candidate with broad appeal across the board in the Republican Party,” MSNBC analyst Steve Kornacki said as he went through the exit poll numbers.
Trump’s victory had been expected on the heels of two consecutive victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina. But a lack of regular polling added an air of uncertainty to the mix in the hours before the race was called.
It’s yet another jolt of momentum for the GOP front-runner and a blow to those looking to knock Trump off the top of the totem poll. The real estate magnate will end the first month of the nominating cycle with about three quarters of the delegates awarded. That puts him in a strong position to expand his lead going into the pivotal Super Tuesday, where one-quarter of the total delegates are up for grabs.
Now that Trump has emerged victorious, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio continue to spar for second place. The race for second won’t likely have a significant effect on the delegate count, since the state awards 30 proportionally based on results across the state. But it will provide a moral victory and an important boost into Super Tuesday.
Next week’s Super Tuesday has almost 600 delegates up for grabs, almost four times as many than had been awarded up until that point.
That gives Rubio and Cruz an important chance to cut into Trump’s delegate lead, so capturing the momentum and media narrative into next week could prove pivotal.
Going into Tuesday’s caucuses, Trump led with 68 delegates to Cruz’s 11 and Rubio’s 9. A total of 1,237 delegates are needed to win the nomination.
The Cruz-Rubio rivalry has deepened over the past days with Cruz continuing to cast Rubio as too liberal and Rubio accusing Cruz’s campaign of dirty tricks. Those accusations boiled over into Cruz firing his national spokesman, Rick Tyler, after Tyler posted video of
Rubio that inaccurately claimed he dismissed the Bible.
Both John Kasich and Ben Carson, the other candidates remaining in the race, failed to mount a serious challenge in the state as expected.
Carson, placing a distant fourth, pledged shortly after the caucuses closed that he would continue to press on despite his dismal financial situation.
Kasich, who has spent little time in Nevada, placed behind Carson and appears to be holding out on Michigan and Ohio in mid-March. Trump’s victory became even more likely with reports Tuesday afternoon suggesting record turnout. Veteran Nevada journalist John Ralston tweeted that 37,000 people had preregistered for the caucus, more than the number of voters who ultimately turned out for the entire caucus in 2012.
While not all of those who preregistered were going to turn out, that number combined with the significant portion expected to show up, without giving the party advanced notice stoked predictions for record turnout.