UPDATE: 12:30 a.m. EST — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio narrowly edged Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for second place in complete, but unofficial South Carolina GOP primary results, the Associated Press reported.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was in a tight race with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for second place behind winner Donald Trump in the Republican South Carolina primary Saturday night, a position that may cement his status as the GOP’s establishment candidate. His potential second-place showing comes after surprisingly strong results for the first-term senator in the Iowa caucus earlier this month when he nearly tied Trump to come in third place.
Rubio's victory speech emphasized generational change and a new conservative era. He had kind words for his former mentor-turned-rival Jeb Bush, who had just announced his decision to suspend his campaign.
Rubio beat out the other potential establishment candidates Ohio Gov. John Kasich — who came in second in the New Hampshire primary earlier this month — and former Florida Gov. Bush. The South Carolina results are likely to increase pressure on Kasich to suspend his campaign so that more traditional Republicans can coalesce around a candidate who could potentially beat Trump — and who isn't the widely disliked Cruz.
Before South Carolina, Rubio was considered to be the best choice going forward for establishment Republicans and had felt a boost in the polls in the weeks since the caucus in Iowa.
The candidates are now headed to Nevada, where caucuses will be held next Saturday. Beyond that, the Super Tuesday contests on March 1 loom large as 12 states will cast their ballots for their preferred nominees. Rubio may have an edge in the Nevada caucus — where he spent some time in his youth — but Super Tuesday is another story. While Rubio’s support is largely with more mainstream Republican voters, Super Tuesday's conservative demographic is seen as friendly territory for Cruz.