American businessman Donald Trump is seen as the most popular candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential campaign after taking the lead in the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday, his third win in four early-nominating contests.
After coming second in Iowa, in America’s Midwest, he captured primaries in New Hampshire in the northeast and South Carolina in the south. Nevada was the first western contest.
"If you listen to the pundits, we weren't expected to win too much, and now we're winning, winning, winning the country," Trump said at a victory rally in Las Vegas.
Trump is expected to take the bulk of Nevada's 30 delegates, which would give him more than 80 before February ends, and dwarf the tallies of his closest rivals, US Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Although Trump has a formidable head start, he still needs more than 1,200 delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
Key primaries are ahead on March 1 in states that include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, which are all states that Trump could potentially do well in.
Despite early reports on social media of irregularities in procedure at many Nevada caucus sites, the Republican National Committee and the party’s state chapter reported voting was running smoothly.
Trump had been considered the favorite to win Nevada, although both Cruz and Rubio made strong bids. Historically, few of the state’s citizens participate in the Republican caucus.
Cruz allegedly appealed to the state's libertarian wing, appealing directly to those who supported Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's protest against the federal government in 2014.
Rubio sought to leverage his local roots in the state as well as reach out to the state's burgeoning Hispanic population, most of which votes Democratic.
For Rubio, considered the Republican establishment's best hope to ward off Trump's insurgency, the Nevada result had to be viewed as somewhat of a setback, following his strong second-place win in South Carolina, the withdrawal of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush from the race, and the bevy of congressional endorsements that came his way as a result.
"If you are Cruz and Rubio you have to worry about how far Trump is getting ahead of you," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist in Washington. "These guys have to figure out how to turn their fire on Trump."
Ben Carson and Ohio Governor John Kasich, neither of whom had spent much time campaigning in Nevada, lagged behind with single-digit support in early returns.