South Carolina and Nevada head to polls as turning point looms for Republicans and Democrats

Donald Trump hopes to consolidate his front-runner status in South Carolina, while Hillary Clinton struggles to contain her lead in Nevada

David Usborne
Charleston
Saturday 20 February 2016 16:52 GMT
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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine worshippers were shot dead in June 2015
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine worshippers were shot dead in June 2015 (AFP/Getty Images)

The scramble for the White House reaches a critical milestone today as voters help to pick the eventual nominees for the Republicans and the Democrats in two states on different sides of the country.

Polls are already open in South Carolina where Donald Trump, the New York billionaire, is hoping to consolidate his front-runner status with a big win over his nearest rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. It could also be a do-or-die moment for Jeb Bush, meanwhile, the former Governor of Florida.

Democrat voters were preparing to hold caucus meetings all across Nevada this morning to decide whom between Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders they favour as their party’s standard bearer in the 2016 race. The wide lead once enjoyed by the former first lady in the state appeared to be withering in polls last week, opening the possibility of a from-behind win for Mr Sanders.

Campaigning even as voting was under way in South Carolina today, Mr Bush seemed to be counting on a last-minute turn of the tide in his favour to give him a strong enough placing to keep his floundering campaign viable. He said he was "excited where we stand".

Charleston represents a big challenge for Jeb Bush
Charleston represents a big challenge for Jeb Bush (Reuters)

Outside a polling station in Greenville in the north of the state, Mr Bush said he planned to "work hard for the day", adding that it was "interesting that a lot of people claim they’re undecided". He conceded that he needed to "be able to beat expectations…I think we’ll do that."

Any weakening of Mr Trump’s hold on the voters could be good news for Senator Cruz, who, like him, has been courting evangelicals and hard conservatives in particular. But it could also give last minute wind to Mr Bush and two others trying to emerge as the establishment alternative to Messrs Cruz and Trump. They are Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Nevada
Hillary Clinton campaigns in Nevada (AFP/Getty Images)

A poor result for any of the lower tier Republican candidates could force them out of the Republican field, which will face their own caucuses in Nevada on Tuesday. One week later comes Super Tuesday when a total of 14 states will be making their nominee picks.

The stakes may be highest today, however, for Mrs Clinton, who was suffered a 20-point clobbering by Mr Sanders in New Hampshire earlier this month. If she loses again in Nevada today, the perception will take hold that her campaign is in serious trouble. The Democrats, however, will hold their South Carolina primary next Saturday when a large black vote could help Mrs Clinton bounce back.

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