Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio aimed to capitalize on rival Ted Cruz's recent missteps leading up to Tuesday's Nevada caucus, where a strong finish could bolster his position as the establishment favorite for his party's nomination.
Looming over the tight race between the two first-term Cuban-American U.S. senators is Republican front-runner Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who has won two of the first three state nominating contests for the Nov. 8 election and is expected to dominate the field in Nevada.
With Trump, a blunt-spoken political outsider, commanding a double-digit lead in a handful of Nevada opinion polls, political strategists in the state said Rubio and Cruz had a more modest goal: a clear win over the other, which could propel them through the busy voting month of March.
"They're playing for second," said Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston.
A recent CNN/ORC poll put Trump ahead by 26 percentage points in Nevada, at 45 percent, followed by Rubio, from Florida, at 19 percent, and Cruz, from Texas, at 17 percent.
Lagging behind were retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who stoked controversy on Tuesday by suggesting that Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, was "raised white," and Ohio Governor John Kasich. Carson was at 7 percent and Kasich was at 5 percent.
Kasich, who finished second to Trump in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, kept his focus on bigger states, including Michigan and Virginia.
Trump took to Twitter as polls opened on Tuesday night to encourage voters to turn out and cast ballots for him, taking a jab at Cruz, whom he has continually described as dishonest.