LAS VEGAS — Sen. Ted Cruz probably shouldn’t hit the roulette tables.
The Texas Republican is on a three-state losing streak heading into Super Tuesday, amid a senior campaign official’s resignation and a blowout loss in Nevada to businessman Donald Trump.
The loss couldn’t have come at a worse time: Only seven days remain until 11 states vote on March 1, the single day when the Republican Party will award the most delegates. Trump nearly doubled the support obtained by either Cruz or fellow candidate Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday evening.
The Cruz campaign set up its election night party in the gymnasium of a local YMCA, but the event was sparsely attended—the assembled crowd wasn’t large enough to fill even half of the basketball court’s space.
And there were foreboding signs: After Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke at Cruz’s rally, someone set off a shrill, piercing alarm in the gymnasium; then someone accidentally hit a switch, flooding the room with uncomfortably bright light. Not to mention that the day before the caucuses, Cruz fired his national campaign spokesman for circulating a news story that falsely questioned Rubio’s faith.
As the evening went on and early results began showing Sen. Marco Rubio pulling away from Cruz for second place in the state, the campaign turned off their feed of the Fox Business channel and showed a generic photo of Cruz. As it happened, the energy in the room dipped, as the crowd waited for the senator to deliver a concession speech.
When he finally arrived, after 10 p.m., Cruz delivered a 10-minute speech in which he took on both Trump and Rubio. Nobody has ever won the nomination without winning one of the first three primaries, Cruz said—and only he and Donald Trump have done so—a not-so-subtle jab at Rubio. And as for Donald Trump, Cruz appealed to the majority of Republican voters who dislike the billionaire.
“The only campaign that has beaten Donald Trump, and the only campaign that can beat Donald Trump, is this campaign,” Cruz told a crowd of supporters. “If you are one of the 65 percent of Republicans who doesn’t think Donald is the best candidate to go head-to-head with Hillary… then the first four states have performed a vital function, of narrowing this race and providing a clear choice.”
Cruz’s poor showing coincided with disarray across the state’s voting locations. High turnout in Nevada led to reports of chaos at various caucus sites across the state—anecdotes of voter irregularities, including failure to check ID and ballot stuffing, marred the process.
“I have heard, just anecdotally, people in the precincts express concern that IDs weren’t checked, signatures weren’t had, people walking out with envelopes with ballots in them,” Nevada Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, a supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio, told reporters at a caucus site where such irregularities allegedly occurred. “I have heard reports of people concerned with what they saw in their caucuses.”
At the caucus site where Hutchison made that statement, in a Las Vegas suburb called Summerlin, throngs of eager caucus-goers caused delays as the process got underway Tuesday evening. Then, due to this high turnout, the caucus site ran out of ballots, further delaying caucus-goers. Reporters spoke to locals who said there were some who voted more than once, and that no party volunteers were checking identification.
The Nevada GOP denied that there had been any “official reports of voting irregularities or violations,” but reports circulated among the presidential campaigns that alleged a small number of improprieties.
“I’m not aware of any such situations. If there was anything occurring that someone found problematic, it was addressed at the time,” Jim Small, a Republican Party volunteer who managed that caucus site, told The Daily Beast. “I certainly didn’t see it, and none of my volunteers reported that to me... Now, could some of the sites been run a little tighter? Of course they could have, because the sites are run by volunteers.”
The caucus process frustrated more than a few participants, who complained about long wait times and a slow process.
“It was basically a more laborious primary. You just stand in line. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Mark Reynolds, a caucus-goer at Durango High School in Las Vegas who supported Trump. Asked about Trump’s controversial comments, Reynolds replied, “I like that. I think a lot of controversial things—most people do.”
The large number of caucus-goers buoyed Trump’s margin of victory. Eduardo Gonzalez, a Cuban-American who grew up in Havana, told The Daily Beast that he caucused for the very first time, and chose the billionaire businessman over the two Cuban-Americans in the race, Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
“I like [Trump]. I like his style, he calls it like he sees it,” Gonzalez said. It was this sentiment—combined with higher-than-expected participation in the state’s caucus process—that propelled Trump to a blowout win.