Sen. Ted Cruz, speaking as the results of the Nevada caucuses were being tallied, argued Tuesday evening that he was the only Republican left in the race who could beat Donald Trump.
“They’re still counting the ballots so we don’t know the exact results, but I want to congratulate Donald Trump on a strong evening tonight and I want to congratulate the grass roots – the conservatives across this country who have come together behind this campaign,” Cruz told supporters at a YMCA in Las Vegas.
Cruz, who was battling with Sen. Marco Rubio for a second-place finish, argued that he had history on his side since he won the Iowa caucuses, the first of the GOP presidential nominating contests.
“When we started this campaign nearly a year ago, there were 17 candidates in the race. The role of the first four primaries historically has been to narrow the field and we have seen the first four states do exactly that – narrow the field,” Cruz said. “Now at this point we’ve had four primaries, history teaches us no one has ever won the nomination without winning one of the first three primaries. And there are only two people who have won one of the first three primaries – Donald Trump and us.”
“The first four states has shown the only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump is this campaign,” he said, urging conservatives and those who want to beat Hillary Clinton to consolidate behind him.
He never mentioned Rubio by name, but he slashed at him as a Washington insider and over his positions on issues such as immigration. And he set sky-high expectations for Super Tuesday, one week from today, when 11 states including his home state of Texas will go to the polls.
“One week from today will be the most important night of this campaign,” Cruz said at the rally, his last event before flying to Houston to start a day of campaigning there Wednesday.
Donald Trump, flanked by his sons at a Las Vegas casino Tuesday evening, exuberantly declared victory in Nevada less than an hour after the caucuses closed, saying that his success would be good for the nation.
“Soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning,” he said.
Trump thanked his volunteers and then predicted success in upcoming states, including Sen. Ted Cruz’s home state of Texas and Gov. John Kasich’s home state of Ohio.
“It’s going to be an amazing two months. We might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest,” Trump said.
He noted that entrance polls showed strong support for him across the board, including evangelicals and Latinos. Early entrance polls suggested that Trump won Republican Latino voters, but they had large margins of error and a small sample size.
He mocked those in the GOP establishment who argued that if other members of the field dropped out, all those who oppose Trump would consolidate against him.
“They keep forgetting that when people drop out, we’re going to get a lot of votes,” Trump said.
Ben Carson captured about 7% of the vote in Nevada's Republican caucuses Tuesday night.
But the results weren't the whole story, he suggested.
"I believe things are starting to happen here," the retired neurosurgeon told his supporters after the vote.
Despite the skepticism from "the pundits and political class," Carson said the analysts were wrong.
He said he's seen "a lot of enthusiasm in all the places that we went, very enthusiastic crowds."
He went on to describe America as a nation in decline, like the Roman empire when "Rome was burning."
"But we have a bunch of fire extinguishers," he said to cheers from his supporters. "And we are going to put the fire out. And we are going to put fire in our bellies."
At Donald Trump’s victory party at the Treasure Island casino resort in LasVegas, a few hundred supporters erupted in cheers when the results were announced on TV monitors the moment the polls closed.
“He stands for the things I like,” said Mike Schoch, a 62-year-old Las Vegas limo driver wearing a “Hillary You’re Fired” cap. “I’d like to see the wall go up. The Vatican’s got one. Why can’t we?”
Shelley Rubin, 62, was enjoying the festive mood as the crowd waited for Trump to speak. She caucused for him earlier in the evening at a local high school.
“So many of us, we’ve given up looking for jobs,” said Rubin, an unemployed Las Vegas resident who wants the government run more like a business. “We’ve been lied to for the last eight years.”
“Donald Trump is no commie, no socialist, and he’s no liar,” she said.
Benny Thomas, 37, a Las Vegas musician wearing a “Washington D.C. You’re Fired” T-shirt, said he appreciates that Trump is not a career politician.
“He’s not owned,” Thomas said. “His strong stance on immigration, his strong stance on ISIS, the Syrian refugees – those are important things to me.”
When a CNN anchor mentioned the name of Trump rival Ted Cruz, a roar of boos filled the ballroom.
Donald Trump won the Nevada Republican presidential caucuses on Tuesday, strengthening his bid for the party’s nomination after similarly decisive victories in the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
The New York billionaire’s victory came a week before a dozen Super Tuesday contests that could move Trump closer to becoming the prohibitive favorite in the competition for party delegates.
Nevada Republicans far prefer an outsider candidate to an experienced politician, according to entrance polls for tonight's presidential caucuses.
More than 60% of those surveyed said they wanted a candidate who does not hail from the political establishment. Just a third of the respondents want the next president to have experience.
The voters are also angry: The poll found that nearly 60% of caucusgoers are mad at the federal government, a notably higher voter anger level than what polls found in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The economy and jobs topped the list of issues Nevada Republicans care about; 3 in 10 cited money matters as their top issue. About a quarter of respondents ranked government spending as the most pressing concern. Immigration and terrorism were both cited as the top issue by 20% of those asked.
Three in 10 caucusgoers were looking for a candidate who shares their values. Slightly fewer people -- 25% of respondents -- said they most wanted a candidate who could win in the November general election. The rest of the voters were nearly evenly split between desiring someone who "can bring needed change" and someone who "tells it like it is."
The survey was conducted by Edison Research at 25 randomly selected caucus sites in Nevada. The early results were based on interviews with 925 Republican caucusgoers and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The line outside Reed High School in Sparks, Nev., was still growing at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
"We have hundreds of people who still have to get in," said Tom Dickman, coordinator of the caucus site.
They have until 8:30 p.m. to make it inside. Otherwise, they will not be allowed to vote.
Officials with the state Republican Party estimated that 4,400 of their registered voters would cast ballots at the school.
The caucus site covers 23 precincts.
Brushing off accusations of misconduct by Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign insisted Tuesday night that its suggestion to Nevada caucusgoers to watch for mischief and record it on their cellphones is permissible.
Trump's attorney wrote to the Nevada Republican Party earlier, complaining that filming Tuesday's caucus proceedings could amount to voter intimidation. Cruz's attorney then sent a letter of his own, calling such accusations "outrageous."
"Mr. Trump has once again sent his lawyer on a fool's errand to advance discredited political allegations fueled by faulty legal theories," wrote Chris Gober, Cruz's campaign attorney.
The Nevada GOP has said no member of the public may film the caucuses, but it did say people could observe the action and report suspicious activity.
That vigilance was behind the campaign's suggestion, Gober wrote, adding the campaign would "instruct [supporters] accordingly."
The campaign "was simply urging its supporters to do nothing more than observe, report and document, if possible, questionable behavior at caucus sites," Gober wrote.
After posing for scores of selfies with supporters at a caucus site on the western edge of Las Vegas, Donald Trump made an impromptu campaign speech.
“Our borders are going to be strong,” he told a crowd of several hundred people at Palo Verde High School. “We’re getting rid of Obamacare.”
His speech drew cheers from supporters, who chanted: “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
“We love you, Trump!” one woman yelled.
“Make America great again!” another hollered.
Outside the caucus site, MSNBC reporter Jacob Soboroff stopped Trump for an impromptu appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show."
“I actually like Rachel,” the Republican presidential hopeful said of the liberal cable anchor.
“This is amazing,” Trump said to the camera about the big turnout in the school cafeteria. “They’ve never seen anything like it. It’s record-setting stuff already, and it just started.”
The Nevada Republican Party disputed reports of irregularities at its caucuses Tuesday evening.
The tweets follow early reports of problems, including people voting more than once, overseers improperly wearing campaign paraphernalia and some failing to check voter IDs.
Donald Trump looked to Nevada for a third straight victory Tuesday to propel him closer to the Republican nomination while Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz battled for an upset or strong enough finish to slow the billionaire before his momentum becomes impossible to stop.
A scant 30 delegates were being contested in Nevada, a relative newcomer to early presidential balloting.
But the candidates competed fiercely in the state’s precinct caucuses, mindful of how the results might shape the race a week later on March 1, or Super Tuesday, when the stakes grow exponentially higher.