Trump claims big victory in Nevada GOP caucuses

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses caucus goers as he visits a Nevada Republican caucus site at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas, Nevada February 23, 2016. © Jim Young
Donald Trump has won a resounding victory at the Nevada caucuses to confirm himself as the frontrunner to become the Republican presidential candidate. He finished comfortably ahead of his nearest rivals, with Marco Rubio just edging out Ted Cruz for second place.

The billionaire’s win was emphatic, with television networks quickly calling the state for Trump, while the state Republican Party soon followed suit. This is Trump’s third successive victory in the Republican race and sets him up perfectly for Super Tuesday, where 12 states will hold votes on March 1.

"It's going to be an amazing two months," Trump told a raucous crowd at a Las Vegas casino, as cited by AP. "We might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest."

Trump managed to win 45 percent of the vote, with Rubio finishing in second on 23 percent, fewer than 2,000 votes ahead of Cruz, who was third.

"If you listen to the pundits, we weren't expected to win too much, and now we're winning, winning, winning the country," Trump added at his victory rally.

Iowa was for the evangelicals, New Hampshire the independents, South Carolina for the national security conservatives. Nevada, however, is a demographic puzzle.

The first Western state to caucus for the GOP, Nevada is relatively new to the process, and is noted for Latino and Mormon constituencies.

Another factor differentiating the Nevada caucuses is that they begin and end on a workday evening, running from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. local time.

Early into the political evening, unpredictable drama was already taking place. On Twitter, Politico reporter Marc Caputo and Mashable reporter Emily Cahn shared troubling scenes at the polling stations:

One eyebrow-raising moment came when a Trump supporter decked out in a campaign shirt and hat was seen performing official ballot-counting duties.

More Trump supporters were spotted doing the same thing.

That, however, does not seem to be a violation of Nevada caucus rules. The state party tweeted that no official reports of voter fraud or other problems had been made so far. 

The bigger problem seemed to be the large turnout, causing some stations to run out of ballots.

"Obviously we take reports of double voting very seriously and we will be reviewing ballots," the Nevada Republican Party said in a statement first given to famed Nevada reporter Jon Ralston. "There is a master sign in sheet and that we will be checking closely as well. In terms of running out of ballots, we were prepared for that and more were on site in a matter of minutes. Other thing to know is because you have multiple precincts in one spot, not the entire place was in chaos, just a select few that were rushed which contained the problems."

The type of voters the candidates need to win are hard to pin down. The fact that Nevada is among the states with the highest unemployment in the country – with 6.4 percent out of work – could mean more discontent that can be tapped into. 

Nevada residents also tend to move in and out at a higher rate than most other states, making polling a challenge and voter turnout impossible to predict. Though just 7 percent of registered Republicans participated in the 2012 caucuses, there are many new voters this year, and their turnout could spell another landslide victory for front-runner Donald Trump.

Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas are spending heavily to get a good result in the state. So far, Rubio has spent $920,000 and Cruz has spent $790,000 compared to Trump’s $490,000, according to Kantar Media/CMAG figures.

Then there are other two candidates not expected to make as big a splash: retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson who spent $330,000 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich who didn’t spend anything in Nevada.