Donald Trump Easily Wins Nevada Caucuses as Rubio, Cruz Trail

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada, on February 23. Trump won Nevada's Republican caucuses Tuesday night, adding to his early lead in the primary race. James Glover II/REUTERS

For years, his name has loomed above the Las Vegas Strip, and on Wednesday night Donald Trump strode like a colossus across the Republican political landscape, winning the Nevada caucuses easily and standing poised to win upcoming contests in the South, while Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were once again left fighting for a distant second place.

"We love Nevada," Trump said at his announcement speech, flanked by two of his sons. "Tonight, this was a great evening. I love Las Vegas." He left the stage to chants of "USA! USA!"

The outcome in Nevada proved that even without the meticulous ground operations or super PAC spending of some of his rivals, the fervency of Trump's supporters can propel him to victory in a caucus as opposed to a primary. (Trump came in second in the Republican caucuses in Iowa and won the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.) Enthusiasm is a particularly important factor in Nevada, where turnout is traditionally very low. In 2012, just 33,000 Republicans voted in their party's contested presidential caucuses.

Trump won across every ideological category, including very conservative, conservative and moderate Republicans, according to exit polls. He won evangelical white voters. He won a full 50 percent of non-college-educated Republicans, while Rubio and Cruz won 21 percent each. ("I love the poorly educated," Trump said at his victory celebration.) Trump even won a plurality of the Hispanic vote. He also won those with college degrees. Small solace for Rubio came in two bits of data. Late deciders—a plurality, 41 percent of them—voted for Rubio, suggesting his attacks on Cruz and Trump may have worked. And the very youngest voters, aged 17 to 29, opted for Rubio.

The Trump win adds to the mogul's delegate count. Thanks to his big win in South Carolina, Trump has amassed an early lead in the delegate count in the Republican race, and he'll build on that with Wednesday night's win in Nevada. The state's Republicans award their 30 delegates proportionally, which means Cruz and Rubio will also add to their totals.

The remaining Republicans in the race, Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, were trailing far behind in single digits.

In March, major states like Florida, Texas and Ohio will vote in massive multi-state contests each week. Trump seems well positioned to add to his count and to develop what could be an insurmountable lead, although his three leading opponents will try to stop him and try to avoid the campaign-ending embarrassment of losing their home states which are Ohio for Kasich, Texas for Cruz, and Florida for Rubio.

The contest between the two Cuban-American freshmen senators, Cruz and Rubio, to be the Trump alternative has become increasingly nasty in recent weeks, with each accusing the other of playing dirty. On Monday, Cruz fired his chief spokesman, Rick Tyler, for sharing an erroneous news report claiming Rubio had made a dismissive remark about the Bible. Early on, Nevada looked like it would be a race between the two men, but those hopes faded as Trump's star rose.

The campaigns have no room to dwell on Tuesday's results. Even before Nevada voted, most already has their eyes on the big series of elections in March, beginning with Super Tuesday on March 1. Between then and March 15, 28 states will vote, with nine times as many delegates up for grabs than in the whole month of February. And unlike the four early states, which drew the whole field's attention, the campaigns are now scattering to try to consolidate their advantages in different parts of the country.

Rubio left Nevada early Tuesday to hold rallies in Minnesota and Michigan, both of which vote in early March. Ohio Governor Kasich had already thrown in the towel in Nevada, spending the day in Georgia, a Super Tuesday state. Just Cruz and Trump stayed in Las Vegas to watch the caucus results roll in Tuesday night, early Wednesday morning on the East Coast.

For his part, Cruz took to the microphones to declare next week's Super Tuesday contests as "the most important night of this campaign." He touted himself as the only candidate other than Trump to win one of the early electoral contests. He quickly ticked off a list of hot-button issues designed to energize conservatives. "I've been told folks in Nevada kind of like their guns. As a Texan, I can understand," Cruz said, noting that he would sleep in his bed for the first time in a month.