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By David Adams @dadams7308
Donald Trump appears headed for another emphatic win in Nevada as the field of Republican presidential candidates narrows.
Trump’s two main challengers, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are in a neck-and-neck race for second place, effectively splitting the anti-Trump vote. With no sign of either of them willing to back down, analysts say time may be running out for a coalescing of forces to beat back Trump in the countdown to so-called ‘Super Tuesday’ on March 1 when 12 states cast primary votes.
“Either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz could eke out a win, but they cannot do it while they are both in the race,” said Al Cardenas, former chair of the Republican Party of Florida and a supporter of former candidate Jeb Bush.
Trump is leading in 10 of the 14 states set to vote in Republican primaries or caucuses over the next two weeks, according to Real Clear Politics. Polls also indicate Trump holds a commanding lead in Florida, the nation’s third largest state which votes on March 15.
“Unless either Cruz or Rubio drop out before March 15 it will be very hard for them to stop Trump securing the delegates he needs,” said Cardenas, noting that the first three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina showed the New York billionaire’s support was well tested and holding strong.
“Once you build a Teflon candidacy it’s very difficult for anyone to get to you,” he said. “Trump supporters are almost like a cult.”
Support for Cruz and Rubio also appears to be very committed making it more unlikely that either would fade or that they would join forces to try and defeat Trump, analysts say.
“The tie in South Carolina is really tell-tale,” said Helen Aguirre Ferre, a Hispanic consultant on the Jeb Bush campaign. “If it stays that way Trump wins. This is math, it’s not algebra, its simple addition.”
Rubio and Cruz, both sons of Cuban immigrants, might have hoped to make gains in Nevada where Hispanics make up 17% of eligible voters, the sixth largest voter share nationally, according to the Pew Research Center .
But that is easier said than done in Nevada where 53% of Hispanics are registered as Democrats, compared with 20% for Republicans, according to Latino Decisions.
Despite their Hispanic roots, neither Rubio nor Cruz have made inroads with Latino voters in Nevada, in large part due to their legislative records in Congress on social issues such as healthcare and immigration reform, according to David Damore a political scientist at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Bottom line, beyond Latino surnames there is little that either candidate is offering that is likely to resonate favorably with Latino voters.”
Rubio famously withdrew his support for comprehensive immigration reform that he originally co-sponsored in 2013, while Cruz is an outspoken opponent of creating a pathway to citizenship for would-be immigrants who entered the country illegally.
A study earlier this year by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller found that Rubio enjoyed an 11-point lead over Trump and Cruz among Hispanic voters nationwide.
But there are so few non-Cuban Hispanics registered as Republicans they are not a factor in the primaries, points out Damore.
Rubio is targeting a small Cuban-American community in Nevada, where he lived for six years as a young boy until he moved to Miami aged 14. However, Cuban-Americans make up only 26,000 of Nevada’s 800,000 Latinos, mostly Mexican-Americans, according to the Pew center. Older Cuban-Americans lean more towards the Republican Party, largely due to historical reasons dating back to the role of the Democrat president John F Kennedy during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.
A spokesman for Cruz in Nevada told Univision that the campaign hopes to win the votes of evangelical Latinos in the state. Rubio is also hoping to pick up the support of the state’s large Mormon community who made up almost 25% of caucus voters in 2012. Rubio is a former Mormon who converted to Catholicism.
The only Republican candidate with strong national appeal among Hispanics, both Cuban and non-Cuban, was Bush, the former Florida Governor, who is married to a Mexican and speaks fluent Spanish.
After Bush’s departure many analysts are asking what will become of the moderates and Hispanics in the Republican race?
A friend of Hispanics
"He had one foot in the lives of those who control power, whites, and one foot in the nation’s fastest growing community, Hispanics," said political analyst Arnoldo Torres.
Bush is a passionate advocate of immigration reform, while stopping short of advocating a pathway to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally.
Mercedes Schlapp, a political consultant and former White House spokeswoman for Hispanic media under George W. Bush, said the party had not given up on winning support from Latinos after the exit of Jeb Bush.
"Jeb Bush could communicate in a very unique way with the community, and Marco Rubio can do the same," she said. "The Democrats, who talk so much about diversity, have candidates who don’t speak Spanish and, in contrast, Republicans now have two Latino candidates. With Jeb Bush, it was like having three Latinos," she said.
But others see Bush’s departure as huge blow, both to the moderate wing of the party and Hispanic outreach. “One contribution Jeb made was to lift the tone and the importance of the office and the corresponding responsibility. That leaves a vacuum,” said Cardenas, who is also Cuban-American.
While the Hispanic vote is not a major factor for Republicans in most primary states, negative statement about Hispanic immigrants made by candidates during the primaries could hurt them later. “It’s very difficult for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to walk it back,” he said. “Marco Rubio might have a chance.”