Cruz, Rubio in Desperate Race for Second in Nevada

Trump tower Las Vegas (Ethan Miller / Getty)
Ethan Miller / Getty

After Donald Trump’s emphatic 10-point win in the South Carolina primary, the Republican race heads west for the first time, to the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday. Trump leads the field by more than twenty points in poll averages.

Theoretically, the Nevada race should be wide-open. The most conservative candidate in the race, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has a libertarian streak that should appeal to voters in a state where Ron Paul always had strong support. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has the support of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and his hawkish focus on national security has earned him many friends in the Silver State, notably casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.

Together, Cruz and Rubio’s support nearly equals Trump’s. But neither is willing to yield to the other. Rubio feels a second wind after edging Cruz by a few tenths of a percent in South Carolina, while Cruz is determined to compete for every vote until his large southern organization kicks into gear for the “SEC primary” on Super Tuesday, Mar. 1.

Cruz and Rubio are also competing for the small but significant percentage of votes left behind by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who ended his campaign on Saturday night. Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is trying to elbow into the “establishment” space left vacant by Bush, and Dr. Ben Carson may simple be looking for a graceful exit.

A field that remains divided ensures that Trump will continue to march towards the Republican nomination with a plurality of the vote, and with roughly two-thirds of the GOP electorate favoring someone else. Early analysis had suggested that Trump might struggle in Nevada, but just like the Trump tower, which is “off-Strip” but towers over the Las Vegas skyline anyway, The Donald has found a way to dominate the Nevada race while the others squabble.