GOP candidates make final pitch to Nevada voters

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Elko, Nevada – — Republican presidential candidates crisscrossed Nevada on Monday on the final day of campaigning ahead of the state’s GOP caucuses. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were looking to derail Donald Trump’s lead and boost momentum, looking ahead to next week’s critical Super Tuesday contests.

While five men officially remain in the race for the Republican nomination, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy billed it as a two-man contest between front-runner Trump and Rubio. Speaking to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, McCarthy said Trump’s victory and Rubio’s second-place finish in South Carolina dealt a blow to Cruz’s strategy to win the nomination. The California congressman predicted voters in Florida, Rubio’s home state, would determine whether Rubio continues or Trump easily rolls on to the nomination.

Cruz on Saturday characterized a two-man contest as well — between him and Trump, but Rubio has repeatedly pushed the notion of a three-man race since the South Carolina primary. Rubio, however, has yet to win a state.

Rubio, meanwhile, lashed out at Cruz and Trump Monday during a campaign stop in Elko, Nevada, as the Florida senator looks to lower expectations for his own campaign in the state where he spent six years of his childhood.

“Obviously, I have ties to Las Vegas that run deep, given my time growing up here,” Rubio said. “I haven’t lived here in 25 years; the city has changed a lot. So, we have a lot of friends here and a lot of family, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to be a determinant factor in the caucus.”

He reminded voters that Nevada is just one stop on the primary calendar with upcoming contests throughout March.

Rubio also addressed the latest development in his intensifying feud with Senate colleague Cruz, whose campaign helped promote a video on Sunday that incorrectly suggested Rubio had criticized the Bible.

Cruz later told reporters Monday that he had asked his campaign spokesman, Rick Tyler, to resign for tweeting a story that falsely alleged Rubio insulted the Bible.

Trump lashed out at Cruz over Twitter on Monday, saying that Cruz “has now apologized to Marco Rubio and Ben Carson for fraud and dirty tricks. No wonder he has lost Evangelical support!” He reiterated his calls for disqualifying Cruz because of “his fraudulent win in Iowa.”

Trump was scheduled to hold two rallies in Nevada — one in Elko and another later in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, establishment heavyweights continued to back Rubio, with many saying they see him as the candidate who can unite a disharmonious Republican Party. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch were the latest to endorse Rubio. South Florida’s three Cuban-American members of Congress also said that they shifted their support to Rubio, having previously supported for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s now defunct bid.

Former Sen. Bob Dole told ABC News on Monday that he too had been backing Bush, but he’s now supporting Rubio because “he wants to grow the party as opposed to Cruz. I don’t know what he wants to grow.”

Since Friday, Rubio has added 12 new Congressional or gubernatorial endorsements, while Trump and Cruz have added none.