South Carolina, Nevada could shape presidential race for both parties

Photos courtesy of RealClear Politics, image by Pablo Roa.

After a year of campaigning, the 2016 presidential race has reached the point where things start to happen quickly. Three weeks ago, the actual race hadn’t even started. Now Super Tuesday is right around the corner, and in another three weeks, the delegate race may very well be over.

Before that happens, however, millions of Americans will head to the polls to vote and caucus for the man or woman they want to see on the general election ticket in November. And while dozens of states will vote over the next couple of weeks, the most critical stage of the nominating process may very well be today in South Carolina and Nevada.

Nevada: First test to Clinton’s ‘firewall’, and it’s not looking great for her

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long been the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Even after her brutal loss to Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, many pundits were still confident that she would breeze to the nomination this summer, in large part because of her popularity among non-white liberals in the South — which many believed would give her candidacy a southern “firewall” that Sanders wouldn’t be able to breach.

But the race in Nevada has tightened up significantly in recent weeks, and a loss today would be a big blow to Clinton’s “firewall” and her campaign as a whole.

Iowa and New Hampshire were important for Clinton, but both electorates consisted of a white liberal majority — a group with which Sanders has always seen great success. Southern states like Nevada are far more diverse, thus giving Clinton a likely advantage.

But polling averages on RealClear Politics show Clinton’s lead in Nevada narrowing to just 2.4 points — a dramatic drop from the 23-point lead she held in the state just two months ago. A loss in Nevada would not only hurt Clinton’s campaign heading into South Carolina and Super Tuesday, but it would also further the narrative that Sanders can win anywhere, regardless of the electorate’s diversity.

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Courtesy: RealClear Politics

On the flip side, a decisive win by Clinton would ease concerns about her campaign and give her some much-needed momentum going forward in the race.

The race for the Democratic nomination wasn’t supposed to be close, but it has become as unpredictable as the race on the GOP side. And after today, things could get even more heated between Clinton and Sanders.

South Carolina: The Trump Train keeps rolling, and a win could make him unstoppable

After a disappointing loss in Iowa, real-estate mogul Donald Trump regrouped and took home a major victory in New Hampshire. He defeated Ohio Gov. John Kasich by 19 points, showing for the first time that his support isn’t limited to just high-profile endorsements and rallies but that it translates into actual votes as well.

Despite the fact that his national lead appears to be slipping away, momentum is on Trump’s side as the race heads to South Carolina — a state where his lead is only getting bigger. Indeed, Trump is immensely popular in South Carolina right now, leading Texas Sen. Ted Cruz by 16 points.

Courtesy: RealClear Politics
Courtesy: RealClear Politics

Much like New Hampshire, it looks like the real race in South Carolina will be for second place. Kasich surprised many with his second-place finish in the Granite State but he’s unlikely to repeat that feat in South Carolina. Instead, second place appears to be a two-man contest between Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and the result could alter the remainder of the race on GOP side.

Rubio — whose fifth-place finish in New Hampshire made many question whether he could really be the establishment alternative to Trump — has a chance to surprise Cruz with a second-place finish tonight. According to RealClear Politics, polling averages have Rubio just a half point behind Cruz — well within the margin of error.

Anything short of second place would be a substantial blow for Cruz, whose entire candidacy hinges on his ability to win in the South. A disappointing showing for Cruz today could hurt him going into Nevada and the so-called “SEC Primary” on March 1, when six southern states will hold nominating contests on Super Tuesday.

As for Trump, another convincing victory would further cement his frontrunner status and give him critical momentum heading into Super Tuesday. While Rubio and Cruz battle it out for second place, Trump could continue to pile up delegates. And by the time anti-Trump Republicans coalesce around another candidate, Trump may be well on his way to the GOP nomination.

Looking ahead

After today’s GOP primary in South Carolina and Democratic caucuses in Nevada, we should have a clearer picture of what the remainder of the nominating process will look like for both parties. A win for Sanders in Nevada could turn the Democratic race into a close contest that could carry over well into the spring. A resounding win for Trump in South Carolina could give him a clear path to the nomination.

One way or another, today marks a major milestone in the 2016 presidential election.

Election dates to remember:

Saturday, February 20: 
Nevada Democratic caucuses
South Carolina Republican primary

Tuesday, February 23:
Nevada Republican caucuses
Saturday, February 27:
South Carolina Democratic primary
Super Tuesday, March 1:
Alabama, Alaska Republican caucuses, American Samoa Democratic caucuses, Arkansas, Colorado caucuses, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota caucuses, North Dakota Republican caucuses, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wyoming Republican caucuses