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u.s. election 2016

Billionaire Donald Trump won in Nevada, adding to his growing pile of committed delegates in the Republican high-stakes game for presidential nominee and upping the ante for his rivals who continue to split the anti-Trump vote.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio came a distant second, followed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz in third. The other two Republicans still in the race, Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson attracted scant support.

"If you listen to the pundits, we weren't expected to win too much, and now we're winning, winning, winning," Mr. Trump told wildly cheering supporters at a victory rally in Las Vegas. "Soon the country is going to start winning, winning, winning."

Mr. Trump won the backing of 45 per cent of Republicans who gathered for evening caucuses across the Silver State on Tuesday night. Mr. Rubio received 24 per cent; Mr. Cruz 21 per cent; Mr. Carson 5 per cent; and Mr. Kasich 4 per cent, with all but a handful of votes counted. And with more than two dozen states due to hold primaries in March, time is rapidly running out for the Republican establishment to find a way – and rally behind a candidate – to stop Mr. Trump, who many in the party's leadership regard as certain to lose against the expected Democratic nominee, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Trump says he wants to run the table.

"It's going to be an amazing two months," Mr. Trump said. "We might not even need the two months, folks, to be honest."

Mr. Rubio left Nevada even before the count was finished. The charismatic young senator, who has yet to win a state, had hoped for a stronger showing in Nevada. Instead, he headed for Michigan, one of the handful of "winner-takes-all" states that don't divvy up delegates proportionally, and thus crucial to those candidates seeking to close Mr. Trump's widening lead.

Making the best of a disappointing result, Mr. Rubio was spinning himself Wednesday morning as the only credible alternative to Mr. Trump.

"The majority of Republican voters do not want Donald Trump … that's pretty clear now," he said on Fox & Friends. "The problem is that they're divided up among four people …. so until there is some consolidation here, you aren't going to have a clear alternative to Donald Trump. And the argument we have made: I'm as conservative as everyone in this race, but I am the conservative that can unify the Republican Party."

But Mr. Rubio, whose immigrant parents worked for six years in Las Vegas as a maid in the Imperial Palace and bartender at Sam's Town, has hoped his childhood years in Nevada and his fluent Spanish would deliver a better result than the distant second to the New York property magnate whose gold-gilded Trump Las Vegas hotel glitters above the casino strip.

After finishing third in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and then two seconds in South Carolina and Nevada, and ousting his Florida rival former governor Jeb Bush, which should provide an infusion of money and seasoned political operatives to his team, Mr. Rubio needs to find a state to win.

So does Mr. Cruz, whose pitch to fiercely independent rural Nevadans, even those who backed the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion that seeks to occupy and retake federal lands, failed to overcome his campaign stumbles and accusations of lying that led to the firing of his chief spokesman.

"One week from today will be the most important night of this campaign: Super Tuesday," Mr. Cruz told subdued supporters in Nevada.

Super Tuesday could determine which of the also-rans drop out of the still-crowded Republican field, already winnowed from 17 but still splitting the moderate, mainstream vote.

Mr. Trump's triumph, his third straight victory in states as varied as New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, underscores the power of his appeal to angry, frustrated voters fed up with politics as usual and unfazed by some of the bombastic billionaire's sometimes offensive rhetoric and outrageous positions.

An unofficial delegate count after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, compiled by The Associated Press, shows Mr. Trump with 81 delegates, followed by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio with 17 each. Kr. Kasich has six delegates and Mr. Carson has four. It takes 1,237 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president.

The AP also conducted entrance polls at 25 caucus sites in Nevada. Responses found that six in 10 caucus goers said they were angry with the way the government is working, and Trump got about half of them. About two in 10 want one who "tells it like it is."

Mr. Trump was supported by nearly 9 in 10 of the "tell it like it is" voters.