Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump has emerged as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination in the U.S. presidential race, but two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, are both claiming they can overtake him when a large group of states votes over the next three weeks.
Trump, a political novice, convincingly won his second straight Republican primary election Saturday, collecting nearly a third of the vote in the Atlantic coastal state of South Carolina. Rubio, a Florida senator, edged Cruz, a Texas senator, for second place, with both getting about 22 percent of the vote.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio applauds as he approaches the podium to speak to supporters at a South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, S.C., Feb. 20, 2016.
Surveys show the flamboyant Trump, who has hurled insults at his opponents throughout the months-long campaign, with a sizeable lead over both Rubio and Cruz in the next state to vote, the U.S. gambling hub of Nevada. Republicans are holding party caucuses there on Tuesday.
Voting is set for 27 other states by March 15.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, accompanied by his wife, Heidi, right, pauses while speaking at his South Carolina primary night rally at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia, Feb. 20, 2016.
Trump told CNN Sunday that he expects to win the Republican nomination and face former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic contender, in November’s national presidential election. He said that despite surveys showing him losing a hypothetical race against her, he would give Republicans a chance to win such key states as New York and Michigan that the party normally loses in presidential elections.
Clinton scored a big victory Saturday, winning the Nevada Democratic caucuses, by about a 53 to 47 percent margin over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
The Nevada victory gave Clinton, who was the country’s top diplomat from 2009 to 2013, a much needed boost for her campaign after she narrowly edged Sanders in the Iowa caucuses earlier this month and he routed her in the New Hampshire primary.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, at a Nevada Democratic caucus rally in Las Vegas, Feb. 20, 2016.
Trump hailed his South Carolina victory as “an incredible movement with incredible people.”
Cruz, a conservative thorn in the side of the Washington establishment, told his supporters he is the only Trump opponent who has beaten him so far, in the Iowa caucuses three weeks ago.
But Rubio declared, “This has become a three-person race and we will win the nomination.”
The one-time 17-candidate Republican field has now dwindled to five – Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.