Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen inside the Trump International Hotel while voters caucus in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 23, 2016. (Photo: Josh Edelson, Stringer)
LAS VEGAS — Taking another step toward the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump swept to victory Tuesday in Nevada's Republican caucuses, winning his third consecutive contest.
“We are going to have, hopefully, a historic night,” Trump had said during a visit to a caucus site earlier in the evening, looking for a victory to follow up his easy wins in the South Carolina and New Hampshire primaries. “I appreciate everybody being here."
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were battling for a distant second, according to early returns.
As caucuses were ongoing, reports emerged of possible irregularities at some locations.
Voters and journalists in Nevada on social media noted problems at several caucus sites, including organizers wearing Trump and Marco Rubio gear, a lack of ballots, late starts, long lines, and the fact that ballots included the names of 11 candidates, including candidates who have dropped out of the race.
The Nevada Republican Party tweeted that "there have been no official reports of voting irregularities or violations" at caucus sites. It also said it is not against the rules for volunteers at caucus sites to wear campaign gear.
Trump, who led pre-caucus polls in Nevada, expressed confidence during a visit to a caucus site.
Rubio, appearing at a casino Tuesday morning, reminded backers to look up the locations of their caucus sites: "Make sure you know exactly where to go tonight — it's that important."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also were on the ballot, but were considered long shots. Kasich spent his time campaigning in states that vote next week. He was in Georgia on Tuesday.
It appeared to be another record Republican turnout in Nevada, just as in the previous GOP contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
In recent days, Rubio and Cruz spent as much time fighting each other in Nevada as the front-running Trump, though there are signs that is changing.
Rubio appeared to refer to Trump when he told supporters in Vegas that "being angry is not a plan," and voters should not go for "the loudest person in the room."
Cruz, who has argued for days that Trump is more liberal than conservative, told Nevada backers Tuesday that the billionaire's views "change every day" with the political winds.
During a rally in Sparks, Nev., earlier Tuesday, Trump called Cruz a liar who engaged in dirty tricks, and warned supporters to look out for "dishonest stuff" during the caucuses.
As for his other major rival in Nevada, "I've been very nice to Rubio, because he hasn't hit me. When he does, you will see what happens."
Rubio left Nevada early Tuesday, before the caucuses began, to campaign in Minnesota and Michigan.
The caucuses followed a difficult moment for Cruz. On Monday, the Texas senator fired his communications director Rick Tyler over social media postings of an article making the false claim that Rubio mocked the Bible. The Texas senator, who has been criticized by Trump and Rubio for questionable campaign tactics, said Tyler made "a grave error in judgement."
Speaking with reporters, Rubio said that Cruz made Tyler the "fall guy" for a campaign culture of dirty tricks that Cruz embodies. Trump told backers at a Las Vegas rally on Monday that Cruz is a liar and added that "this guy is sick — there's something wrong with this guy."
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that Cruz "panicked" and was "disloyal" to his spokesman.
Rubio, who narrowly edged Cruz for second place in South Carolina, entered the caucuses with endorsements from high-profile Nevada Republicans, such as Sen. Dean Heller. The Florida senator told voters in Las Vegas that "I'm a conservative who can unite this party" ahead of the fall election after a fractious primary process.
Cruz, meanwhile, said he was the only Republican candidate who can beat Trump, having done so in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, while Rubio has not won anything.
Like his opponents, Cruz said turnout is even more important for caucuses.
"Nevada has a voice," Cruz told supporters Monday at a neighborhood YMCA in northern Las Vegas. "You have an opportunity to make a real and meaningful difference."
Cruz, who has attacked Rubio as being weak on immigration, also raised the stakes on that issue in Nevada, vowing to deport an estimated 12 million people who are in the country illegally. Rubio has described that idea as expensive and impractical.
Supporters who turned out to see Trump in Las Vegas on Monday said they like his attacks on the government and that he is a businessman who is financing his own campaign.
Mercedes Fenyves, 45, a family caretaker from nearby Boulder City, said Trump may sometimes be "harsh," but "his being able to speak his mind overshadows everything." Fenyves said she is having trouble making ends meet, and the struggling middle class needs things to change.
Lynn MacFarlane, 57, a Las Vegas businesswoman who attended a Cruz event, said Trump "flip-flops" too much for her taste, while Cruz is a "consistent conservative."
Copyright 2016 DENVER NEWS
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen inside the Trump International Hotel while voters caucus in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 23,