Liveblog: South Carolina and Nevada Vote

GOP Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Holds SC Primary Night Party In Spartanburg
Trump's poll numbers held up, it seems.Photo: Spencer Platt/2016 Getty Images

Welcome to Daily Intelligencer’s liveblog of the South Carolina Republican primary and Nevada Caucus for the Democrats, which will hopefully offer some important clues as to what the rest of the race will look like. Are Donald Trump’s poll numbers in the Palmetto State for real, or will Ted Cruz and his ground game overtake him again as he did in Iowa? Is Rubio’s momentum building or collapsing? And in Nevada, will the rising Bernie Sanders prove his doubters wrong and emerge victorious over Clinton again?

The Latest:

10:00 p.m. ET: Final post of the night. With 99% reporting, Trump has won the South Carolina primary with 32.5 percent of the vote, and second place is too close to call, with Rubio beating Cruz by less than two tenths of a percent. (That’s less than a thousand votes.) It also looks like Trump will nonetheless sweep the state’s delegates.

Otherwise, tonight saw Jeb retire his exclamation point, and Cruz, Rubio, and even John Kasich all declare victory from behind, each vowing to prove that assertion right in the future. Where’s Ben Carson you ask? He’s in dead last, but won’t be dropping out until you visit his website.

9:50 p.m. ET: March Madness is starting a little early. Like Rubio, Kasich is also feeling like a winner tonight, emphasizing to his supporters that “It started as a 16-person race. And now, folks, it’s down to the final four.”

Meanwhile, don’t tell the Cruz or Rubio campaigns, because they are assuring everyone it’s now a three or two-man race, respectively.

And then there’s the Donald, of course, who thinks it’s a one man race as always, telling his supporters during his victory speech tonight, “Folks, let’s go, let’s have a big win in Nevada, let’s have a big night in the SEC, let’s put this thing away.”

9:47 p.m. ET: Looking at the returns, I’m surprised Cruz hasn’t pulled ahead of Rubio. Looks like it could go either way with the places still out. And I’d say if Rubio finishes second he’ll owe a lot to Trey Gowdy, whose Greenville County (where Rubio leads Cruz narrowly) sticks out of the Uplands returns like a sore thumb. Meanwhile, Rubio’s running a mediocre third in Nikki Haley’s Lexington County. Greenville County just rolled in, and Rubio’s hanging onto a 900 vote lead over Cruz statewide. There are scattered precincts out, but best I can tell, most are in counties where Cruz is running ahead. “Virtual tie,” but the Rubio hype machine could really use a second place finish here. — Ed Kilgore

9:41 p.m. ET: While going through the South Carolina results, the Upshot’s Nate Cohn discovered a weird and troubling demographic trend:

Trump is faring best in the counties with the largest black population (though it should be emphasized that there are still almost no black Republican voters in these areas). Trump is doing about 15 points better in a county that’s almost entirely black than one with no black adults at all.

The Harvard political scientist Ryan Enos said Mr. Trump’s strength in heavily black areas looked a “classic racial threat effect,” a theory that large minority populations are perceived as a threat by whites — causing changes in white political behavior.

9:30 p.m. ET: Rubio just gave his victory concession speech:

For me, the state of South Carolina will always be the place of new beginnings and fresh starts. I know that God’s hand is on everything, and so whatever God’s will is in this election is ultimately what will happen to us and to our country. But if it is God’s will that I serve as our 45th president, if it is God’s will that we win this election, then history will say that on this night in South Carolina that we took the first steps in the beginning of a new American century!

9:19 p.m. ET: Another piece of good news for Rubio based on today’s exit polls:

9:12 p.m. ET: The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs wonders whether Jeb’s dropout will have some unforeseen consequences for Trump:

The real estate mogul has made Bush his whipping boy throughout the campaign. Trump seemingly attacks Bush at every campaign event. He has labeled the former Florida governor as “low energy” and repeatedly attacked Bush’s family, his character and ethics. The question is how Trump will fare without his favorite foil.

9:10 p.m. ET: Looks like Rubio may defeat Cruz for his first second-place finish of the campaign:

8:57 p.m. ET: Chait is up with his take on the results in South Carolina and what they mean for establishment darling Marco Rubio. His bottom line:

Rubio’s campaign had long predicted South Carolina would supply him with his first victory. Going forward, he can raise more money as he assimilates the husk of Jeb Bush’s bloated apparatus. Perhaps the relentless pounding of the Republican message machine, which is aligning on his behalf, can slowly prevail. But the terrain is not going to get much easier for him going forward. If Rubio can’t compete with Trump in South Carolina, he may not find anywhere more favorable.

And don’t tell Rubio’s people any of that, they’re having a pretty good time tonight it seems:

8:43 pm. ET: Big news: During a speech to his supporters following his poor finish in South Carolina, Jeb Bush just announced that he is suspending his campaign.

8:30 p.m. ET: With 40 percent of the votes counted in South Carolina, Donald Trump (already declared the winner) has 34.4 percent, while Cruz and Rubio are in a dead heat for second place with 21.5 and 21.3 percent, respectively. Bush and Kasich, meanwhile, are tied at 8.2 percent.

8:27 p.m. ET: So guessing by the exits and where the votes are and aren’t coming from, I figure Cruz will probably finish second, but only after the country hears over and over how brilliantly Rubio did. Wouldn’t be surprised if he got out there early and borrowed Bernie’s “virtual tie” line from Iowa. — Ed Kilgore

8:24 p.m. ET: So since Trump may sweep all 50 of South Carolina’s delegates, two points why that is the case: 1) South Carolina is a “carve-out” state, meaning it’s got its own separate deal on rules, just like Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, and 2) unlike Democrats, Republicans define “proportional” as pretty much anything other than a statewide winner-take-all system. In some states it’s truly proportional, in others it’s winner-take-all by congressional district or some other subdivision. — Ed Kilgore

8:17 p.m. ET: So what’s up with South Carolina’s delegates?

8:15 p.m. ET: Trump is in good company, with regard to winning the nomination:

8:10 p.m. ET: I don’t think it’s safe to assume that entire blocs of voters move monolithically from candidate to candidate just because we categorize them as the same. I agree Rubio’s back in a good place, but I can see winning scenarios for all three of them. On a smaller note, I haven’t heard anything about Kasich dropping out until at least Michigan on March 8. — Ed Kilgore

Indeed:

8:07 p.m. ET: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver reminds us why the Rubio campaign and many pundits would consider a top-three showing a victory:

The reason that some people (us included) think second and third place finishes can be “good news” for Marco Rubio is because there’s lots of evidence from polls and other data that Rubio will gain support as other candidates drop out.

If other candidates, particularly Jeb Bush and John Kasich, don’t drop out relatively soon, that could be a big problem for Rubio. And perhaps voters’ hypothetical second choices in polls won’t match their actual choices as the field winnows. […] If the bulk of the Bush/Kasich vote eventually goes to Rubio — that’s about 18 percent of the vote based on the results so far tonight — he’ll run very competitively with Trump and start winning states.

8:00 p.m. ET: The New York Times’s Alan Rappeport shakes his head in amazement:

So to recap: Trump denounced George W. Bush, went to war with Pope Francis, embraced the core of Obamacare and proposed executing Islamic terrorists with pig blood bullets this week. And he won big.

7:44 p.m. ET: With a whopping 2 percent of votes reported, Rubio and Cruz are tied for second place in South Carolina.

7:41 p.m. ET: Regarding the quick calls of a Trump victory, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver explains

It seems like a quick-ish call, but Trump had a lead in pre-election polls, a narrower lead in the exit polls, and he has a lead in votes reported thus far. Decision desks are more willing to make a call like that when the consensus of the evidence points in the same direction.

7:35 p.m. ETA sign of Trump’s strategy if Rubio makes a strong showing today?

7:30 p.m. ET: That didn’t take very long. Donald Trump has won the South Carolina primary, per the APNBC News and ABC News:

7:11 p.m. ET: Exit polls say 73 percent of the South Carolina voters were Evangelicals. That may save Cruz from slipping to third place. — Ed Kilgore

7:05 p.m. ET: South Carolina’s polls are closed and the race is too close to call, though CNN’s exit polls suggest that the votes have settled along the same lines as pre-voting opinion polls: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio all vying for the top three spots. 

7:00 p.m. ET: Bernie Sanders, in his concession speech in Nevada looked ahead to Super Tuesday, and reminded supporters that regarding Nevada, “You know, five weeks ago we were 25 points behind in the polls.” He went on to insist that “we have the momentum; and I believe that when Democrats assemble in Philadelphia in July at that convention, we are going to see the results of one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States.”

6:50 p.m. ET: In her victory speech, Hillary Clinton told supporters that “Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other.” She also dinged her rival, noting that while Americans have a “right to be angry,” they also need to seek “real solutions.” Said Clinton, “There’s so much more to be done. The truth is we aren’t a single issue country. We need more than a plan for the big banks.” She also used the speech to list what else she had in mind, which was pretty much everything. She also pushed a theme that was more “we” than “me,” telling the crowd that “This is your campaign and it is a campaign to break down every barrier that holds you back. We’re going to build ladders of opportunity in their place so every American can go as far as your hard work can take you.”

6:40 p.m. ET: Another key point regarding how Nevada may be a sign of bad things to come for Bernie:

Another interesting point is that Clinton’s support in Nevada among African Americans was apparently almost the exact reverse of what it was in 2008 against Barack Obama.

6:37 p.m. ET: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver points out some exit polls in South Carolina where Donald Trump won just 16 percent of late deciders, with both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio taking at or near 30 percent:

If the exit polls are accurate — big caveat — this is bad news for Trump. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll lose South Carolina. Trump also did relatively poorly among late-deciders in New Hampshire but still won the state easily. His poor performance with late-deciders did cost him a win in Iowa — but he enters South Carolina with more of a cushion in the polls than he had in the Hawkeye State.

Still, this is not a great trend for Trump. Trump has a loyal base, and used it to win early-deciders by huge margins in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But voters who are shopping around tend not to wind up in his column. That’s consistent with the hypothesis that Trump has a relatively low ceiling on his support, whereas Rubio and perhaps Cruz could pick up more support as other candidates drop out of the race.

6:30 p.m. ET: The Upshot’s Nate Cohn thinks the numbers in Nevada are a sign that Sanders still faces a very steep climb to the nomination:

Nevada is fairly representative of the national electorate, and it’s a state where Bernie Sanders would be expected to fare slightly better than he would elsewhere.

Mr. Sanders’s supporters will undoubtedly protest this framing. Their candidate exceeded the expectations of a month ago, and he fared better among Hispanic voters than many would have guessed. Her lead is 4.3 percentage points with 80 percent of precincts reporting.

But judging him merely by whether he makes life tough for Mrs. Clinton diminishes his candidacy. It assumes that he’s a mere protest candidate who should be judged by a lower standard. If he is taken as a serious candidate, and judged by whether he’s on a path to the nomination, then his performance today fell short.

6:20 p.m. ET: Meanwhile in South Carolina, polls for the GOP primary will be closing at 7 p.m. The State reports that voting has been strong and steady throughout the day there. 

6:13 p.m. ET: Still trying to figure out exactly what the Nevada turnout was, but if this tweet ends up being correct, that does not bode well for Bernie Sanders, who is counting on driving new supporters to the polls as part of his so-called political revolution:

6:00 p.m. ET: Good news for Clinton looking ahead to South Carolina. It seems like she absolutely crushed Sanders among African-American voters in Nevada:

5:55 p.m. ET: Via the Guardian, here was the moment Clinton’s campaign party realized she won:

Sanders has conceded to Clinton via phone, as well.

5:40 p.m. ET: While Bernie Sanders continues to dominate among most millennials, what’s not yet clear is who won Nevada’s small but powerful googly-eye vote — though from this image it would seem that Bernie once again has the advantage:

5:30 p.m. ET: Recall that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but lost delegates awarded, in 2008. — Ed Kilgore

5:28 p.m. ET: So how will Nevada’s convention delegates get split?

5:18 p.m. ET: Well that looks like that’s it. Clinton has won Nevada. Here’s the AP with their call (and the Times and everybody else is making similar declarations). With 66 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton has held her roughly 4 percent lead.

5:14 p.m. ET: The New York Times passes along an update on what issues were important to Nevada voters in entrance polls:

According to preliminary results of entrance polls, the top issue for Democrats caucusing in Nevada is the economy and jobs, which was mentioned by one-third of respondents. Just over one-quarter picked the issue of income inequality, and a nearly equal number mentioned health care. The issue of terrorism was mentioned by fewer than one in ten attendees.

By a narrow margin, Hillary Clinton captured the support of those selecting the economy as the top issue, in addition to six in ten caucusgoers who selected health care. Senator Bernie Sanders won the support of two-thirds of those concerned with income inequality.

5:07 p.m. ET: Fox News has called Nevada for Clinton, and the (NYT) Upshot’s models are predicting a win for her as well:

Meanwhile the AP count has Clinton still up around 52 percent to 48 percent, with 57 percent of precincts reporting.

5:03 p.m. ET: More good news for Clinton:

4:58 p.m. ET: Unconfirmed reports of magic being used to deal with ties at some Nevada caucus sites:

But Clinton didn’t need any help on the Las Vegas strip:

So far Clinton has about a 200 delegate lead with around 5,000 delegates having been awarded.

4:52 p.m. ET: The AP has Hillary holding her 52–48 percent lead over Bernie with nearly half (48 percent) of precincts reporting.

4:50 p.m. ET: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver says that according to his model, it looks like a win for Clinton so far: 

I rigged up a really simple model, which extrapolates out the eventual Nevada result based on the results in each county so far. If you assume that turnout is proportional to what it was in 2008, Clinton would win statewide by 5 to 6 percentage points once all votes are counted, based mostly on her lead in Clark County.

4:48 p.m. ET: Another good sign for Clinton, her minority firewall appears to be holding in Nevada:

4:44 p.m. ET: A potentially good sign for Clinton in the essential Clark County (which contains Las Vegas). So far about 9 percent of results are in from there:

4:38 p.m. ET: While Clinton is currently ahead of Sanders 52 percent to 48 percent (33 percent of precincts reporting), our own Eric Levitz has a quick take up on the NV entrance polls.

4:30 p.m. ET: With roughly 29 percent of precincts reporting, Clinton and Sanders are still basically tied, with Clinton ahead by about one percentage point. 

4:19 p.m. ET: The Nevada caucus results are starting to come in, and as the Associated Press notes, with 14 percent of precincts reporting, Sanders is winning 50 percent to 49 percent. 

4:15 p.m. ET: Many Nevadan Democrats are hitting Las Vegas casinos to caucus today, and according to PBS pollster Joe Ralston, Hillary is doing well at those sites:

She already won the caucus at Caesars, here’s some video of the scene there:

4:03 p.m. ET: No huge surprise regarding the demographics seen at this one caucus site:

3:55 p.m. ET: With the Nevada caucuses underway, a potentially good sign for Bernie:

3:47 p.m. ET: Nevada results may be delayed, as there are reports of long lines at poorly run caucus sites. And lots of tweets like these:

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Photo: JOHN GURZINSKI