Donald Trump has won the Nevada Republican caucuses, giving the billionaire his third victory in two weeks and a huge surge of momentum heading into Super Tuesday.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio held a narrow but decisive lead for second place over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. With all caucus votes in, Rubio had 23.9 percent to Cruz's 21.4 percent, according to the Associated Press.
But it was Trump who towered above his two top rivals, nearly doubling the support of his nearest competitor with 45.9 percent of the vote.
"If you listen to the pundits we weren't expected to win too much, and now we're winning, winning, winning the country," Trump declared shortly after returns came in. "And soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning."
The real estate mogul, whose name adorns a glistening hotel along the Las Vegas Strip, was the heavy favorite heading into the Silver State vote. His win follows triumphs in New Hampshire and South Carolina. No candidate who has won both those states has not gone on to be the GOP nominee.
At stake in Nevada were 30 delegates, which will be awarded both proportionally based on the at-large statewide vote and by who wins the state's four congressional districts.
On Tuesday night, Trump already had his eye on the calendar ahead, boasting as he declared victory that he was creeping up in the polls in Texas, which votes in next week's Super Tuesday contest — a not-so-subtle dig at Cruz. And with his eye on Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump also noted he's on top of polls in Florida and Ohio, which hold their primaries on March 15.
It's becoming increasingly difficult for any candidate to consolidate the type of support they need to topple Trump. Entrance polls showed a breadth of support for the former reality-TV star from across the board, and he was once again the main beneficiary of a frustrated electorate that is hungry for an outsider candidate. Fifty-eight percent of Nevada caucus-goers said they were angry with the federal government, much higher than in Iowa (42 percent), South Carolina (40 percent) or New Hampshire (39 percent.)
Sixty-one percent said they wanted someone in the White House from outside the political establishment, while just 33 percent backed someone with government experience. In the three previous states, voters were more evenly split.
Cruz seemed to raise his campaign's expectations as he took the stage in Las Vegas. Repeating again that he was the only candidate so far to best Trump — in Iowa — Cruz declared that Super Tuesday, now less than one week away, "Will be the most important night of this campaign."
But while the Texas senator sees more fertile ground ahead, Cruz has lately failed to win several voting blocs crucial to his campaign.
Trump captured evangelical voters over Cruz in South Carolina this past Saturday. In Nevada a smaller number of voters described themselves as born-again Christians (39 percent), but Trump again won those voters, this time with a 15-point margin over Cruz.
Trump carried voters across the GOP's ideological spectrum, winning self-described "very conservative" voters by four points over Cruz, "somewhat conservative" voters by 23 points over Rubio and "moderate" voters by 26 points.
Trump has taken heat for controversial comments he's made about immigrants and Muslims, but was still victorious in the first primary or caucus state with a more diverse electorate. Latino voters made up 8 percent of the Republican caucuses (up from just 5 percent four years ago); Trump carried those voters by a 17-point margin over Rubio.
As has been the case in other contests, Trump did particularly well with older, less-educated voters. Among voters 65 and over, who made up a third of Nevada Republican caucus-goers, Trump more than doubled Rubio's support, winning 51 percent to 25 percent.
The biggest gap was between voters whose education did not go beyond high school — Trump won those voters by a 37-point margin over Cruz.
"I love the poorly-educated," Trump declared in his victory speech. Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.