LAS VEGAS (AFP) - Mr Donald Trump stormed to victory in the Republican caucuses in Nevada, giving the billionaire businessman his third straight victory in the race for the White House.
Projections on TV networks gave Mr Trump 46 per cent of the vote, with senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas trailing some 20 points behind.
“We will be celebrating for a long time tonight,” Mr Trump told cheering supporters in a victory speech.
The lopsided result underscored the enormous challenge Mr Trump’s rivals face as the candidates head into next week’s all important “Super Tuesday” contests involving 11 states.
As early returns came in, CNN and Fox News had Mr Rubio in second place with about 24 per cent of the vote and Mr Cruz in third place with about 21 per cent.
Turnout was high, exceeding all expectations, with some caucus sites running low on ballots.
The remaining two candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Ohio Governor John Kasich, came in at about six and four per cent respectively.
The results underscored the enormous challenge Mr Trump’s rivals face as the candidates head into next week’s all important “Super Tuesday” contests involving 11 states.
The real estate mogul had been all but certain to triumph in Nevada, with the big question being which candidate would come in second.
The contest was the fourth for the Republican presidential candidates, with Mr Trump so far winning in New Hampshire and South Carolina. He came in second in Iowa.
Although the caucus in Nevada is not expected to have a significant impact on the overall race – only 30 delegates or slightly more than one per cent of the total are up for grabs – it was the first contest for the Republicans in the US West.
It is also the first test of Republican voter sentiment after Mr Jeb Bush pulled out of the race last week following a poor showing in South Carolina.
And candidates here faced the most diverse electorate thus far in the race, more representative of the US population as a whole.