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COLUMBIA, SC - FEBRUARY 20:  Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz addresses the crowd at a watch party for the candidate Saturday, February 20, 2016 in Columbia, South Carolina. Donald Trump won decisively in the South Carolina Republican Presidential Primary, the
A little more than 1,000 votes made the difference between second and third place for Cruz. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Donald Trump established himself as a solid favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination after taking a third of the vote in South Carolina and leaving Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz fighting for second, 10 points behind.

A win in Nevada on Tuesday would propel Trump into the March 1 primaries, with nearly a third of GOP delegates up for grabs, where he already holds a solid lead in several states.

Cruz finished around a thousand votes behind Rubio in a state that he was at one time banking on. But he couldn’t capture the state’s large evangelical vote, which doesn’t bode well for the March 1 primaries, where he was seen as the evangelical favorite.

Jeb Bush’s withdrawal from the Republican presidential race narrows the establishment vote between Sen. Marco Rubio, who bounced back from a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, and pesky Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s looking ahead to March primaries in Michigan and his home state.

Here’s what we learned from Saturday:

“The clock is now ticking faster against establishment Republicans as Donald Trump begins to knock down the early primary states. With his win in South Carolina, Trump is quickly building solid momentum like a rolling bowling ball running fast down the lane once again knocking Ted Cruz and everyone else to the side.

“The stakes are getting higher and Jeb Bush made the right decision to drop out for the good of the establishment wing of the party. We will likely see the floodgate of donors and grassroots support now shift over from Bush to Marco Rubio.

“However, he also desperately needs John Kasich to drop out to further consolidate the field if Rubio to help him have a good shot at taking any of these upcoming states. It remains an open question whether or not Trump can be stopped in his tracks.

“If the past is prologue that could be tough to accomplish, but the race is growing deadly serious and tough decision by Katich needs to be made imminently.”

Ron Bonjean, a veteran GOP strategist and former top Capitol Hill communicator

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