On Tuesday night, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in third place in the Nevada caucus with 21.4% of the vote, behind businessman Donald Trump, who won a resounding 45.9%.
The third finish is disappointing after Cruz came in third-place only days earlier in the South Carolina primary, a state with large numbers of evangelical voters known for “picking presidents.”
In Nevada, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio came in second with 23.9% of the vote.
In the days before the Nevada primary, Cruz trailed Donald Trump by anywhere between 26 and 16 points, depending on the poll. But the race between Cruz and Rubio was narrower.
In his speech after the results were called, Cruz called on his fellow Republicans to unify around him as the candidate to defeat Trump, saying that he was the only one who can defeat Hillary Clinton in the fall.
Less than a week before the caucus, Cruz released a video targeting Nevada voters, particularly ranchers, who have concerns over government-owned land:
Federal land ownership was one of the major concerns of an armed militia who occupied a federal wildlife refuge building in Oregon earlier this year. And Nevada is home to rancher Cliven Bundy, who drew international attention by forcing an armed standoff in 2014 over the right to graze his cattle on the public land.
According to a Congressional Research Service report in 2012, the government owns 27.7% of all land nationwide, but the percentage of federal land in individual states varies widely. In Nevada, that figure is more than 84%:
Cruz's invoking of the the land management dispute is in sharp contrast to Trump who, when asked about transferring federal land to the states in an interview with Field and Stream magazine, said:
“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land. And we have to be great stewards of this land.”
Notably, while campaigning before the Iowa primary last month, Trump also said that federal regulators should increase the amount of ethanol blended into the American gasoline supply, a subsidy popular with corn farmers in Iowa.
Cruz, who opposed ethanol subsidies, ended up pulling an upset over the Trump in Iowa. But the billionaire candidate came back to win both New Hampshire and South Carolina.
With Nevada in the rear-view mirror, the next pivotal stage in the campaign begins as candidates compete in the 12 states voting on Tuesday, March 1st, known as Super Tuesday. Of the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination, 595 are at stake that day.
Trump is poised to perform well on Super Tuesday, as he leads in the Real Clear Politics polling average in nine of the 12 states. Cruz leads in two: Texas and Arkansas. Retired neurosurgeon leads in one other: Colorado.
Real Clear Politics, however, only includes one poll for its Colorado totals, and that's from November.
Going into Super Tuesday, Cruz is the best financed candidate in the Republican contest. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission this weekend, Cruz began February with $13.6 million cash on hand:
Even with his third place finish, Cruz's path to the presidency narrows without a strong showing on Super Tuesday.
Nationally, Cruz is polling at 20.4% on average, behind Trump who is at 33.6%.