ELKO, Nevada (AP) — Republican presidential candidates crisscrossed Nevada on Monday on the final day of campaigning ahead of the state’s GOP caucuses. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were looking to derail Donald Trump’s lead and boost momentum, looking ahead to next week’s critical Super Tuesday contests.
While five men officially remain in the race for the Republican nomination, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy billed it as a two-man contest between front-runner Trump and Rubio. Speaking to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, McCarthy said Trump’s victory and Rubio’s second-place finish in South Carolina dealt a blow to Cruz’s strategy to win the nomination. The California congressman predicted voters in Florida, Rubio’s home state, would determine whether Rubio continues or Trump easily rolls on to the nomination.
Cruz on Saturday characterized a two-man contest as well – between him and Trump, but Rubio has repeatedly pushed the notion of a three-man race since the South Carolina primary. Rubio, however, has yet to win a state.
Rubio, meanwhile, lashed out at Cruz and Trump Monday during a campaign stop in Elko, Nevada, as the Florida senator looks to lower expectations for his own campaign in the state where he spent six years of his childhood.
“Obviously, I have ties to Las Vegas that run deep, given my time growing up here,” Rubio said. “I haven’t lived here in 25 years; the city has changed a lot. So, we have a lot of friends here and a lot of family, but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to be a determinant factor in the caucus.”
He reminded voters that Nevada is just one stop on the primary calendar with upcoming contests throughout March.
Rubio also addressed the latest development in his intensifying feud with Senate colleague Cruz, whose campaign helped promote a video on Sunday that incorrectly suggested Rubio had criticized the Bible. Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler apologized on Monday for posting the story that misquoted Rubio.
“It’s every single day something comes out of the Cruz campaign that’s deceptive and untrue, and in this case goes after my faith,” Rubio told reporters when asked about the incident. “I guess one of their spokespersons apologized, and I accept their apology.”
Cruz apologized to rival Ben Carson earlier this month after his campaign promoted a news story suggesting that Carson was getting out of the race. Cruz’s campaign has also acknowledged creating a website that used a computer program to create a fake picture of Rubio shaking hands with President Barack Obama.
Trump was scheduled to hold two rallies in Nevada – one in Elko and later in Las Vegas. Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Monday that the billionaire businessman has been seeking advice from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as he gradually expands his tight inner circle.
Across the country, Kasich turned his attention to Virginia, which is among the dozen states voting on March 1.
Kasich, who finished second in New Hampshire’s primary, won the endorsement of Tom Ridge, a former secretary of the Homeland Security Department and Pennsylvania governor.
Ridge had supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for president since early 2015 and campaigned with him in South Carolina. Bush quit the race Saturday after a disappointing finish in the Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
Kasich’s campaign says Ridge is signing on as a national co-chairman.
Democratic presidential hopefuls coming off a tight battle for Nevada kicked off the week on opposite ends of the country Monday. Hillary Clinton was fundraising in northern California, while Sanders held a rally in Massachusetts, another Super Tuesday state. South Carolina votes in the next Democratic primary on Saturday.