Florida Sen. Marco Rubio clinched second place Wednesday after he was locked in a close race for the position with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican Nevada presidential caucus. With Donald Trump emerging as the winner of the night, a second place showing could frame Rubio as the establishment candidate.
With 100 percent precincts reporting, Rubio received 23.9 percent of the votes, while Cruz won 21.4 percent, according to Bloomberg. Trump had 45.9 percent of support in Nevada.
Nevada was a critical test for Rubio. Despite two second-place finishes, he has not secured the position in the battle for the Republican nomination, only narrowly coming in second Saturday in the South Carolina primary. He emerged as fifth in the New Hampshire primary and third in the Iowa caucus.
Rubio also beat out retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who won 4.8 percent of support, and another potential establishment candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who came in fifth with 3.6 percent, but recently received a key endorsement from billionaire financier Stanley F. Drunkenmiller.
Rubio's campaign has also garnered big donors and endorsers, including former presidential nominee Bob Dole and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
Only four states have voted. Rubio has a slew of contests to look forward on Super Tuesday, which will help elucidate his future in the 2016 race. Republicans in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming will all go to the polls March 1.
The Florida senator could be a close contender to Trump for first in some of the Super Tuesday states. “Oklahoma goes for Trump. Rubio will compete with Trump in Colorado and perhaps Massachusetts and Vermont. I’d rate those states to close to call,” Marc Rotterman, a GOP consultant, told NewsMax.
All of the remaining Republican candidates are headed Thursday to Houston, Texas, for the CNN debate. It will be the final showdown before Super Tuesday.