REPUBLICANS South Carolina
▪ After a bruising debate last weekend, and slippage in a national poll, Donald Trump’s overall strength will be tested again in Saturday’s primary despite the formidable lead he had in the state going into this weekend. The ascendant Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio vie for second place in an increasingly acrid battle. Key questions: Can Cruz find enough support beyond evangelical voters here to keep him in the spotlight as Super Tuesday looms? Can Rubio bury the after-effect of his debate wound in New Hampshire and regain the anti-Cruz and anti-Trump banner? Will Gov. Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Rubio help? If Jeb Bush fails to overtake Rubio — he was closing the gap late in the week — would that spell the end of the line?
▪ The only candidate with his name in lights high above the Las Vegas Strip will continue to dominate as Cruz and Rubio continue to rap Trump and battle for second place and honors as the party’s most conservative candidate — no, I am, no, I am. After the party caucus on Tuesday, they may well push the remaining also-rans further behind.
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Super Tuesday and beyond
▪ Fourteen states (plus American Samoa) make up the powerful dance card on March 1, and Cruz’s Texas carries the biggest prize (155 delegates). By March 15, 36 states and territories will have registered results in this long campaign. But it’s quite possible the Republican shootout will be far from over. John Kasich has a chance to hang around by showing strength in Michigan (March 8) and, on March 15, moderate Massachusetts and his home state of Ohio. Kansas (March 5) and Missouri (March 15) could make meaningful statements for Trump, Cruz or Rubio, who has landed endorsements from Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts.
▪ Bernie Sanders apparently is making the race closer than expected in this highly diverse state, whose Democrats caucus on Saturday. Hillary Clinton’s presumed margin of victory could foretell either a long, embattled summer or a moment of relief. Sanders might be making inroads among Latinos, who comprise an increasing share of Nevada’s voter population. Still, Clinton’s network of support and ground game has a good chance of forestalling the Sanders surge. If that doesn’t happen, doubts will continue to grow.
▪ Early conventional wisdom pointed to a Clinton slam dunk in the Feb. 27 primary, but Sanders has picked up some fast-break action. African American voters, assumed to be solid for Clinton, are getting to know Sanders and some are moving his way. Clinton’s margin of victory, especially among minority voters, will be telling.
Super Tuesday and beyond
▪ Clinton’s superior ground game will confront the passion of Sanders’ youthful go-getters. Her commanding lead among convention super delegates so far — mostly party stalwarts — should hold up as she continues to convince that she’s the better-equipped candidate. It’s as yet unclear what kind of signal Vice President Joe Biden was sending when he said this week that he could live with either candidate.