GWEN IFILL: Now to the campaign trail, where the men and woman who would be president are in the midst of a critical week.
And as political director Lisa Desjardins reports, they have already embarked on the all-important hunt for convention delegates.
LISA DESJARDINS: If anything, the war of words between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump has heated up ahead of tonight’s GOP caucuses in Nevada. The charge from Cruz today, in Fernley, Nevada: that Trump can’t be trusted.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: Look, I frankly don’t care what position Donald decides to support today or tomorrow or the next day. They change every day. I don’t care what they are. But pick one and defend it and don’t pretend, whenever people suddenly point out what you said, oh, never mind.
LISA DESJARDINS: But in Sparks, Nevada today, the front-runner kept up his attacks, that Cruz is the dishonest one.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: He’s like a little baby, soft, weak, little baby, by comparison. But, for lying, he’s the best I have ever seen.
LISA DESJARDINS: Beyond charge and countercharge, the fight increasingly has a new focus, the only race that matters, the delegate count, where Trump has a big lead. After the three contests so far, he’s amassed 67 delegates, according to the Associated Press. That’s far shy of the 1,237 needed to win the nomination, but it puts him well ahead of his two closest rivals, Cruz and Florida senator Marco Rubio.
Rubio, though, is now riding a wave of Republican endorsements. And in his final pitch to Nevadans today, he stressed his ability to unify the party and the country.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Republican Presidential Candidate: If you make me president of the United States, I’m not going to tell everyone is going to agree with me. That doesn’t even exist in my home.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: I am telling you that I will never divide you against each other to win an election.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LISA DESJARDINS: As for the Democrats, the name of their game is also the delegate count. After their first three races, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are just about even in delegates earned from votes, again according to AP analysis.
But add the superdelegates. Those are Democratic Party leaders who get an automatic convention vote. They have gone heavily to Clinton so far, giving her a whopping overall delegate lead.
Sanders is pressing ahead with delegate-rich Super Tuesday on the horizon, his first stop today, one of the states that will vote on March 1, Virginia.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: All over this country, including Virginia, we are closing, closing, closing that gap. And with your help, we are going to win here in Virginia.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: This is Johnson Controls. When the auto industry was going under…
LISA DESJARDINS: Clinton, too, was looking toward the Super Tuesday states, making a splash on Minnesota’s airwaves, the target, a Wisconsin company that she says moved profits out of the U.S. to dodge taxes.
HILLARY CLINTON: It’s an outrage. If I’m president, when companies walk out on America, they will pay a price.
LISA DESJARDINS: Clinton and Sanders make back-to-back appearances tonight at a CNN town hall, before facing off in the South Carolina primary on Saturday.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.