On February 20th Donald Trump won the Republican primary in South Carolina, pushing Jeb Bush out of the race, and Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucus.
The Republicans have their Nevada caucus on February 23rd, and the Democrats call in South Carolina four days later. Here are a few takeaways from the first swing around these two states.
Hillary wins, but may be losing hispanics
Hillary’s has enjoyed an advantage with hispanics over Bernie Sanders, the anti-Wall Street populist senator from Vermont, but this may be falling apart. A national poll shows her lead with that demographic group greatly reduced, and in Nevada the hispanic vote broke for Bernie by 7%.
This is a real problem for Hillary Clinton. Many strategists believe her route to the Democratic nomination relies on non-white voters, who compose roughly 40% of Democratic voters. These analysts believe that the more racially diverse states in the south and west are Hillary’s key to the eventual triumph over the insurgent Sanders.
The Nevada result is promising for Hillary in broad terms, as she was able to build a strong coalition of different groups for a clear victory. However, the signs that she may be losing hispanic votes will be causing concern in Camp Clinton.
What’s more, if Rubio can surge past Trump now that Jeb Bush has aborted his campaign, these hispanic voters will be the key demographic battleground in 2016.
Rubio bounces back
Marco Rubio had a difficult time in New Hampshire, coming in fifth after a disastrous and amateurish debate performance. The South Carolina result might revive ‘Marcomentum’.
The young senator from Florida has beaten Ted Cruz by a whisker to second place in South Carolina. While still lengths behind Trump (who takes all the delegates of South Carolina, unlike the more proportional system in New Hampshire), Rubio has exceeded expectations, taking along an important endorsement from South Carolina governor, rising star Nikki Haley, in the process.
Added to which, with Jeb Bush out of the 2016 race, major donors and the Jeb-faithful will be looking for a new horse to back. Marco Rubio is the logical choice, especially since it is doubtful how long John Kasich will remain in the race.
If Rubio can pull in a strong second place finish in Nevada on the 23rd then he is fantastic position for Super Tuesday, on March 1st.
Ted Cruz losing core, evangelical support
Cruz’s vitality in this Republican primary largely depends upon his ability to connect with very conservative, deeply religious sections of the party. While this worked out well for the Texan senator in Iowa, there are portents for concern from the South Carolina primary.
Reporting shows that South Carolina’s evangelicals shifted for Trump: The billionaire pulled 33% of the evangelic vote, compared to 27% for Cruz and 22% for Marco Rubio.
The result was that Cruz, who looked poised to score well in the conservative and religious state, fell to third behind Trump and Rubio. If South Carolina is any indication, Cruz may not have his ‘southern firewall’ of evangelical voters that will keep his campaign in contention.
Trump wins again, but is not untouchable
Trump scores his second win of this primary season, besting his Republican rivals to take all of South Carolina’s delegates. Though his recent fracas with the Pope failed to have any discernible fallout on the result of the South Carolina primary, Jeb Bush’s exit may instead change the complexion of the Republican race.
Since February Marco Rubio has seen his poll numbers surge, and he has translated this into surpassing expectations in Iowa and South Carolina. Now that Bush has left the race, his supporters and financiers may flock to Rubio, the best-chance candidate to prevent Donald Trump positioning the Republican Party for a general election defeat in 2016.
When will Ben Carson quit?
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who stormed to newspaper headlines last year when he overtook Trump in national polls, must be considering suspending his campaign soon.
His national poll figures have gradually been dropping throughout January and February, and Carson’s debate performances do not suggest a second surge is on the horizon.
Added to which, Carson has done badly in the three state contests so far. He came in fourth in Iowa, with 9.3% of the vote, a damning eighth in New Hampshire with 2.3%, and a last-place sixth in South Carolina with 7.2% of support.
Nevada is coming up soon too, and the outsider candidate is projected to come last again.
It’s time for Ben Carson to get out of this race.
Trump takes Nevada
As projections suggested, Trump won an emphatic victory in the Nevada caucus. Taking 46% of the vote share, he was 22 percentage points clear of Marco Rubio, who slipped past Ted Cruz to take second.
What is worrying for Cruz and Rubio, and indeed many Republicans, is that Trump’s resounding victory was not limited to the poorly educated. Trump won with a cross section of support, with moderates, firm conservatives, urbanites and rural voters all pulling for Trump.
Meanwhile, the two men sitting on the outside, Carson and Kasich, vow to remain in the race despite consecutive poor results and flagging media attention.
The Republicans are careening towards Super Tuesday with Donald Trump running far ahead of Cruz and Rubio. Party stalwarts are hoping that Rubio will surge, dinting the billionaire’s current dominance, but unless this surge takes place very soon it might be too late.
Setback for Sanders
Bernie Sanders suffered a setback in South Carolina. The progressive Senator from Vermont did not expect to notch a win in the southern state, but the extent of his loss to Hillary Clinton, 74% to 26%, was unnerving for the Sanders campaign.
The worst part? Hillary Clinton won 87% of African American voters, a key demographic in the Democratic presidential nomination. Even Barack Obama did not win that big when he defeated Hillary in South Carolina back in 2008.
Sanders needs to do better with African Americans to have any chance of keeping his campaign viable.