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Here’s what we learned from the South Carolina primary and Nevada caucuses

February 21, 2016 at 5:24 PM EST
On the heels of the Nevada Democratic caucuses and the Republican primary in South Carolina, the 2016 race for the White House is entering a new, faster-paced phase. NewsHour Political Director Lisa Desjardins joins Alison Stewart from Columbia, South Carolina, to discuss what's next for the presidential candidates.
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ALISON STEWART: The 2016 race for the White House is entering a new, faster-paced phase, with roughly 90 percent of the delegates in the nominating process still up for grabs.

After winning yesterday’s first-in-the South primary in South Carolina and sweeping all 50 Republican Convention delegates, businessman Donald Trump is in the lead. Trump and his rivals are now focusing on the dozen states holding primaries and caucuses on March 1, known as Super Tuesday, when a quarter of the nominating delegates are at stake.

Next Saturday, it will be the Democrats’ turn in South Carolina, where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will compete in a primary.

Fresh off her victory in the Nevada caucuses yesterday, Clinton says she is looking ahead to the states that have yet to vote.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), Presidential Candidate: I’m on my way to Texas. Bill is on his way to Colorado. The fight goes on. The future that we want is within our grasp.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Thank you all. God bless you.

ALISON STEWART: The former senator and secretary of state had a decisive win in the first-in-the-West contest. She beat Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by more than 5 percent of the vote and walked away with at least 19 of the 35 delegates at stake in the Nevada caucuses. Sanders received 15.

Right after her Nevada win, Clinton headed to Texas, the biggest prize for both political parties, on March 1.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: It’s been eight months since I was here, and the stakes are even higher than they were then. Now the Supreme Court hangs in the balance.

ALISON STEWART: Clinton hopes her proven support with black voters translates into victory in South Carolina. So far, her weakness in the first contests has been with lower-income voters and voters under 45 years old.

Today, Sanders said voter turnout in Nevada wasn’t as large as he had hoped.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Presidential Candidate: By the way, we did phenomenally well with young people. I think we did well with working-class people. Remember, we were taking on a candidate who ran in 2008.

ALISON STEWART: Republican front-runner Donald Trump says he has high hopes to win the seven Southern states voting on Super Tuesday.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Candidate: I went to Mobile, Alabama, 35,000 people. We went to Oklahoma recently twice, 20,000 people, 20,000 people. No matter where we go, we fill up the arenas.

ALISON STEWART: In the final tally in South Carolina, Trump won 32.5 percent of the vote, 10 points ahead of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who edged Texas Senator Ted Cruz for second place.

With a distant fourth-place finish in a primary once won by his father and brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called it quits.

JEB BUSH (R), Presidential Candidate: But the people of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision. So, tonight, I am suspending my campaign.

ALISON STEWART: For more analysis on the presidential race, “NewsHour” political director Lisa Desjardins joins me now from Columbia, South Carolina.

And, Lisa, Donald Trump is running a unique campaign, and it seems to be his strength. How did that play out yesterday?

LISA DESJARDINS: Absolutely.

We saw him win by double digits in South Carolina. That’s not easy to do after such a big win in New Hampshire. There’s two different types of voters there. But we saw what he did is, he did very well with almost all income groups, but not every one.

And I think, when we’re looking at the long-term momentum for Trump, that is the real question now, right? Is this the man that is going to be the Republican nominee?

Something that I noticed in the exit polls yesterday, Alison, was loyalty among Trump voters. When you asked voters yesterday if they were satisfied with only their candidate or could take other candidates as an acceptable nominee, 30 percent said they would only accept their candidate.

Of those Republicans, the largest number, 49 percent, were Trump voters.

ALISON STEWART: It was definitely a big win for Mr. Trump last night, but there were signs of slowing momentum. Can you walk us through what happened in the past month?

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

If you look at the last few days, those voters went to Cruz and Rubio. You look at the very last day, there, you see Donald Trump doing a little bit better, 22 percent, but still not winning. And that’s a big change from New Hampshire, where Donald Trump was winning those last-minute deciders, by and large.

Now, is that just a factor, something that happened in South Carolina, or is that something that has changed about how voters in general look at Donald Trump? It’s not clear — Donald Trump, as you said, a unique campaign. No one who has won both New Hampshire and South Carolina in the Republican Party has lost the nomination, but, again, no one has ever been a multibillionaire reality TV star before either.

ALISON STEWART: Senator Marco Rubio came in second last night. How is he going to capitalize on this?

LISA DESJARDINS: I think we really saw sort of a new, energized Rubio last night.

He is appealing across the board to Americans outside the Republican Party, as well as in. And he’s going back and saying, I’m going to take a previous mantle of this party and carry it forward.

Listen to one of his key quotes.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Presidential Candidate: Now, those of us who grew up when it was morning in America and Ronald Reagan was in the White House are ready to do for our generation for — are ready to do for the next generation what Ronald Reagan did for ours.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ALISON STEWART: So, Lisa, it sounds like Senator Rubio is thinking about expanding the base.

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right.

His advisers are almost obsessed with that concept. They realize the Republican Party in the long term in presidential elections has a problem. And they think that Marco Rubio is really the only one who can expand that base, not just among young people, where Marco Rubio is starting to gain some momentum, but especially when you are talking about diversity.

You saw on stage he had African-American Senator Tim Scott, Indian-American Governor Nikki Haley. That’s something that Rubio really paid a lot of attention to in his speech last night. And I think, to some degree, he seemed to have been more charged-up personally than ever.

But he still has to deal with Donald Trump. And there is a real question of, when does he start swinging, if he does start swinging, and how, at the current front-runner?

ALISON STEWART: Ted Cruz came in third place, after having come in second place in New Hampshire and having won in Iowa. What happened?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right.

That’s not the direction a campaign usually wants to go in. But the Cruz campaign is saying, hey, it was very close. And it was, within 1,000 votes here in South Carolina. That is a close race.

I think the bigger problem for Ted Cruz is not that he placed third here, but more that his support is a very specific type of voter, very conservative voters, evangelicals. That will play well in a lot of the Southern states coming up on Super Tuesday, but, past that, Ted Cruz might need to broaden his support in order to win the nomination, when he has someone like Donald Trump on one side and Marco Rubio on the other.

ALISON STEWART: Let’s turn to the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton had a solid win last night, after a really tough battle in New Hampshire. But there could be signs of weakness. It was a mixed bag when it came to minority voters. Can you explain what happened?

LISA DESJARDINS: You look at how African-Americans voted, overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, 76 percent. That’s getting into an Obama-type of African-American support level.

Now, you look at the other races, Hillary Clinton didn’t win with white voters. Bernie Sanders eked out a win there. And she lost by more with Latino voters. So, it really was that African-American large majority that carried her.

But think about a state like Texas, where there are more Latino voters, and think about where Hillary Clinton is going next. It’s Texas.

ALISON STEWART: What is Bernie Sanders’ next move?

LISA DESJARDINS: Bernie Sanders has to really think strategy now.

He has had some phenomenal fund-raising, but he’s got to think very carefully about where he spends those dollars and where he spends his time. He’s got some good places for him, Massachusetts, Vermont. He’s got some happy states coming up in the Sanders momentum category.

But he’s got some other places that might be difficult, like the South after South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia. Those kinds of places are where he needs to build more perhaps than he has right now.

ALISON STEWART: Lisa Desjardins from Columbia, South Carolina, thanks so much.

LISA DESJARDINS: My pleasure.

ALISON STEWART: How complex is the delegate math on the road to each party’s nomination? Find out at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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