LAS VEGAS: Republican candidates in the White House race will face off in Nevada on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) in a caucus that will mark the first significant test of where they stand with Hispanic voters.
The contest will be the fourth for the Republican presidential candidates after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But it will be their first in the West of the country and is considered a crucial part of the election cycle as nearly 40 percent of the state’s three-million population is Latino.
Nevada is also considered a swing state, with the state government dominated by Republicans but more Democrats registered as voters.
Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who has consistently held a double-digit lead in the polls, will be going into Tuesday’s race the frontrunner.
But it is unclear how he will fare in the Silver State given that he has alienated many Hispanic voters with his persistent anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Several of the candidates made a final push to win over voters at the weekend, holding town hall meetings and canvassing neighborhoods.
The field of Republican candidates, which once stood at more than a dozen, has whittled down to five, with Jeb Bush the latest to pull out of the race on Saturday following his poor showing in the South Carolina Republican primary.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both Cuban-Americans, stand to gain from Bush’s exit in Nevada, where he had backing from Republican Hispanic leaders.
However the two candidates face a formidable foe in Trump, who barreled to victory in South Carolina, his second win of the nominations race after New Hampshire.
Analysts are predicting that Trump could get about 35 percent of the vote with Rubio and Cruz trailing.
On the Democrat front, Hillary Clinton notched a comfortable win over rival Bernie Sanders in Nevada on Saturday, a victory that breathed new life into her sluggish campaign.
Trump and Clinton’s weekend wins give them a major boost heading into the next crucial phase of the White House race — Super Tuesday on March 1, when about a dozen states go to the polls.
As the race to the White House gets tighter, candidates — especially on the Republican side — have increasingly engaged in mudslinging in one of the most entertaining and unpredictable primary seasons ever.
On the eve of the Nevada vote, Cruz fired his communication director over a video that falsely depicted Rubio disparaging the Bible.
Rick Tyler had shared on Facebook a story from the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper, which reported that Rubio told a Cruz staffer reading the Bible that the holy book did “not have many answers in it.”
The Nevada vote on Tuesday will take place between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. with the results expected shortly after the polls close.
Contrary to primaries, caucuses allow participants to openly show support for candidates with voting often done by raising hands in meetings at schools, community centers and places of worship.
Republicans have more than 1,700 precincts and more than 130 caucus sites in Nevada.
The results of Tuesday’s caucus will be used to determine the number of Republican delegates that will represent the state at the party’s convention in July.