Tomorrow will feature two contests in two states, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton facing off against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Nevada Democratic caucuses while the Republican field faces the voters in the South Carolina GOP primary. Polls show a potentially tight race in Nevada, and in South Carolina there appears to be significant movement that could produce a surprise or two – good or bad, depending on where one stands.
Politico this morning features its survey of political strategists, activists, and operatives from the two states, offering their opinions on where the candidates will finish and helping to set expectations that will be met, exceeded, or neither, which will drive the media narrative following the contests.
Donald Trump is poised for his second win of the Republican presidential primary season on Saturday in South Carolina. And Hillary Clinton looks as if she'll eke out a victory in Nevada….
It wasn’t quite so overwhelming among South Carolina Republicans, however. Just three-in-five chose Trump as the winner – and a number of those who did predicted a closer-than-expected race.
“Trump's margin of victory will be narrower than many think, and the difference between second and fourth will be tight,” said one South Carolina Republican, who, like all the insiders, answered the survey anonymously….
Republican insiders were also offered the chance to project the most likely order of finish. The most common standings: Trump first, Cruz second, Rubio third, Bush fourth, John Kasich fifth and Ben Carson sixth.
As for who might knock Trump out of the top spot, Rubio seems to be the favorite, following his endorsement by South Carolina’s popular governor. Some also think Cruz’s strong organization will give him the edge heading into Saturday. A poll released this morning by NBC News suggests a good ground game could indeed have Cruz well positioned to repeat his upset over Trump in the Iowa caucuses:
Trump gets support from 28 percent of likely Republican primary voters in the state, while Ted Cruz gets 23 percent. They're followed by Marco Rubio at 15 percent, Jeb Bush at 13 percent, and John Kasich and Ben Carson at 9 percent each.
In the January NBC/WSJ/Marist poll — conducted before this month's Iowa and New Hampshire contests — Trump held a 16-point over Cruz, 36 percent to 20 percent, with Rubio at 14 percent and Bush at 9 percent.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s once-formidable lead in Nevada appears to have crumbled, leaving her locked in a tight battle with Sanders, though the Politico insiders still expect her to pull out a win:
In Nevada, there was a split in predicting Saturday’s Democratic caucuses: Most Democrats expressed confidence Hillary Clinton would eke out a narrow victory over Bernie Sanders based on the strength of her organization, but Republicans put their chips on the insurgent Vermont senator.
“It's going to be close and it shouldn't be, but momentum sometimes can catch up to organization,” said one Nevada Democrat. “I still think organization wins the day.”
Even winning the caucuses could hurt Clinton, however, depending on just how the delegates are awarded:
[A]nother Republican cautioned that, if Clinton emerges with a disproportionate number of delegates out of the state because of superdelegates and other allocation differences, it would only inflame Sanders backers who think the deck is stacked against their candidate.
“The more she prevails on a delegate level in spite of losing real votes,” the Republican warned, “the more Bernie supporters will be motivated.”
A straight-up loss for Clinton would be a significant problem for the frontrunner, according to a Bloomberg Politics analysis:
Clinton was believed to have the advantage in the western state because of a heavily Hispanic electorate, but a smattering of recent polls shows the race tied. A Clinton loss in Nevada, after a crushing 22-point defeat by Sanders in New Hampshire, would further stoke doubts about her staying power in a general election against a Republican.
Reflecting the urgency of the Nevada situation for Clinton, her top surrogate and husband, former President Bill Clinton, will headline his own midday event Friday in Reno, before joining his wife and daughter for an evening event in Las Vegas.
Bloomberg also weighed in on what a second-place finish for Rubio might mean:
A second-place showing in South Carolina for Rubio would do much to anoint him as the establishment Republican favorite to confront Trump and Cruz. It could also go a long way toward extinguishing the flame of the campaign of his one-time mentor, Bush.
The 2016 race for both parties is still in the phase of setting narratives and meeting expectations, with relatively few delegates to be won but huge stakes nevertheless. It seems likely that Nevada and South Carolina will confirm some narratives while overturning others, setting the stage for next week’s Republican caucus in Nevada and Democratic primary in South Carolina. After that, the campaign will largely shift into raw delegate-accumulation mode, where in most cases the candidate who wins the most delegates is the winner, period.