TOPICS > Politics > Vote 2016

Candidates scramble for support before Super Tuesday

February 24, 2016 at 7:05 PM EDT
Following Donald Trump’s solid victory in the Nevada caucuses, political director Lisa Desjardins reports on a race that has become a scattershot scramble for votes across dozens of states prior to Super Tuesday. Gwen Ifill consults Andy Shain of South Carolina’s The State and Abby Livingston of the Texas Tribune for more on the tooth-and-nail struggle for support in those states.

GWEN IFILL: And it’s off to the races, as the 2016 campaign turns into a scattershot chase among Democrats and Republicans for votes across dozens of states.

Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

LISA DESJARDINS: Donald Trump is on a roll.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: Thank you, everybody. Thank you.

LISA DESJARDINS: After winning in Nevada last night, he’s sprinting to Super Tuesday states, like Virginia today.

DONALD TRUMP: I think we’re really doing well. It looks like we’re in a great trend, and we have tremendous support, and we have amazing people in this country.

LISA DESJARDINS: Out of the first four Republican contests, Trump has won three straight: New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada. But now the map and the game is changing dramatically, no more one-state-at-a-time campaigning; in the next three weeks, a blitz of states will vote. In fact, half of the states in the country will go to the polls between now and March 15.

That’s why Trump tackled Virginia today, and John Kasich was in Mississippi and Louisiana. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio, who placed second in Nevada, plus third-place Ted Cruz and fourth-place Ben Carson, they were all in Texas, the crown jewel of Super Tuesday, with 155 convention delegates.

For Lone Star Senator Cruz, it’s a must-win state. And he’s telling supporters the stakes next Tuesday are high.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: This call from Texas to the country, we have six days to stand together and say we will not give up on our country, we will not give up on our freedoms, we will not give up on our children!


LISA DESJARDINS: Also, look who’s sitting next to Cruz there, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who endorsed him today.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), Texas: Unlike far too many in Washington, the Ted Cruz we have seen in the Senate is the same Ted Cruz we elected.

LISA DESJARDINS: As Republicans fan out, the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, was in South Carolina focusing on a theme, African-American voters. Democrats there vote Saturday.

Today, she shook hands with members of a social justice group, and then spoke of racial equity at a black sorority luncheon. Clinton is also using endorsements, like one today from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, to argue that she has momentum.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Minority Leader: I think the middle class would be better served by Hillary.

LISA DESJARDINS: Bernie Sanders has a different strategy. He started the day in South Carolina as well. But he told reporters he’s already looking past the Palmetto State.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: The nature of the world is that we have got to go out to other states. I think I’m leaving for Oklahoma in a little while, where we think we have a shot to win. We think have a shot to win in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, and in other states.

LISA DESJARDINS: From there, Sanders flew to Missouri, and Oklahoma, and the bigger Super Tuesday map. And so it is for both sides. As February melts away into March, the 2016 race has shifted into a cross-country scramble to stay alive.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

GWEN IFILL: Now we take a closer look at two key upcoming states, with Andy Shain of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, and in Houston, Texas, Abby Livingston, the Washington bureau chief for The Texas Tribune.

Andy Shain, what has been the pitch that the candidates have been making heading into this Democratic primary in South Carolina?

ANDY SHAIN, The State: Well, both candidates are trying to win over the African-American vote.

They make up a majority of the Democratic voters here in South Carolina. It’s crucial if you are going to win here in South Carolina. And at this moment, Hillary Clinton is doing a much better job. She has been winning over African-Americans as part of an effort that she’s been doing for a number of years now, as she’s built the ground work for her campaign.

Also, of course, she was a major factor in the 2008 primary, where she didn’t beat Barack Obama here in South Carolina. But, of course, those are relationships that she was able to carry over. Senator Sanders has been working very hard to try to win over African-Americans, especially by visiting African-American churches, working with African-American lawmakers. It just hasn’t made the inroads that he was hoping.

GWEN IFILL: In fact, today, he had a press conference. He didn’t throw in the towel, but he sounded a little resigned to the possible outcome.


His pollster told our Jamie Self yesterday that he understands that he doesn’t want folks to look at the margins, because it is going to be fairly big. Right now, Secretary Clinton is leading by 28 points in the most recent polls. It’s not looking good.

Senator Sanders was here for the news conference today. And he said, “I’m not giving up on South Carolina,” and then he flew off to the Midwest to obviously look at some Super Tuesday states, where he is hoping to do better.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talk about Super Tuesday, Abby Livingston.

Texas is one of the jewels in the crown that everyone is waiting to see which way it goes. And in the Republican primary, at least, it has a home state favorite son, as it were, in Ted Cruz, who today got the governor’s endorsement, not a big surprise, but certainly a sign of things to come.

ABBY LIVINGSTON, The Texas Tribune: Absolutely.

Ted Cruz is definitely a native son and he’s a favorite among the base voters who will show up in a Republican primary. He ran a brilliant 2012 Senate campaign. He knows how to get the vote out. But the problem for Ted Cruz is, he can’t just narrowly win. And Donald Trump is coming in with a headwind of momentum. An Ted Cruz really has to run up the delegate count to upset wins that Donald Trump might get elsewhere.

So, it’s — we’re not quite sure. Cruz will probably come out far ahead of Trump, but how much is the big question.

GWEN IFILL: Well, so, Texas is a big state, I don’t need to tell you. How does campaigning happen there, especially hard on after these other back-to-back-to back primaries? Are the people all over the state? Is it playing out differently than we would expect?

ABBY LIVINGSTON: It’s been very quiet.

It’s almost as if Texas was is in the back of everyone’s minds in these political campaigns. They were just trying to survive week to week. And, suddenly, the juggernaut of delegates is upon these campaigns.

And so what they seem to be doing, it is almost too late to book television ads, too late to send direct mail. So, instead, they are blowing into these cities. A bunch — the Republicans are in town with the Houston debate tomorrow night, so they are doing local appearances here in Houston.

And they’re going into Dallas, which are the two largest cities and the two largest television markets. But beyond that, it’s fairly dormant.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s pop back to South Carolina and talk about the delegates. We’re talking about proportional allocation of the delegates after the primary. Does that mean that Bernie Sanders has a chance to walk away without his hands completely empty?

ANDY SHAIN: That’s for sure.

You know, you have a majority of the delegates here in South Carolina that will go to the winner, but you’re going to have three delegates in each of our seven congressional districts that are up for grabs.

And if Bernie is able to capture at least 15 percent of the vote in any of the congressional districts, he will be able to walk away with at least one delegate.

So, he won’t come away empty-handed, but he — it doesn’t look like he is going to come away with a large number of delegates here.

GWEN IFILL: And there is a treasure trove of delegates in Texas, Abby.


There’s 155 on the Republican side. Fifty-five — or about 57 of those are awarded statewide. So, Ted Cruz, if he could break 50 percent, he might be able to walk away with those, but that is very unlikely.

The rest are three for congressional districts. And so this is a big, big state, but it also is feeling smaller in recent days, as Donald Trump has been winning in multiple states.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the Donald Trump effect, especially in Texas, coming in after this kind of momentum.

And we saw him in the Nevada caucuses come out pretty strongly last night. Is that when people perk up and pay attention, or is there a way that things work in Texas that maybe none of these candidates have figured out yet?

ABBY LIVINGSTON: Texas just hasn’t been that relevant in primary campaigns.

We’re usually too late, and we’re pretty bitter about it. And so, this time, Texas is totally relevant. And it’s very much like a national campaign. There are 20 media markets. Typically, in the past, when you run a state campaign, you get on a private plane, and you bolt from place to place.

And, here, they are just heading up the local markets in Dallas and Houston, and just trying to make their case. Donald Trump has a big rally in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday, and it’s competing with Marco Rubio in Dallas.

And so it’s all pinned around this debate tomorrow night. And the rest are bolting onto the other states and trying to hit up the rest of the March 1 primaries.

GWEN IFILL: As we saw in Nevada, for both the Democrats and Republicans, lots of conversation about the Latino vote. How big a factor is that in the Democratic primary especially — well, on the Republican primaries? It doesn’t matter which primary in Texas.

ABBY LIVINGSTON: Republicans say that the Latino vote is consequential, that there are plenty of Hispanics who are business owners and religiously conservative, so there is an appeal.

But, boy, in the Democratic primary, it’s powerful. Secretary Clinton began her political career in 1972 registering South Texas voters. And so they are certainly coming back. They are reminding all of their old friends of these relationships.

But I was down in South Texas last week. And I started to sense some tremors that the local colleges, some of the kids were starting to feel the Bern and were loving Bernie Sanders. And so it’s much like what we are seeing play out in South Carolina. You have these voting blocs that the Clintons are trying to remind, hey, we have been there you for decades.

And the kids are just starting to revolt some.

GWEN IFILL: And, Andy Shain, in South Carolina, you are probably getting ready for all these ads to go off the air. But what are voters seeing and what are they saying in their mailboxes, on their radio and on television?

ANDY SHAIN: Well, for the most part, it’s been on television.

And what we are seeing mostly is Hillary Clinton ads at the moment. Between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, they have spent about — this is of last week — about $1.5 million here in the state. That’s about the same as Donald — what Donald Trump spent. And he was by — he was way behind Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

So, they haven’t really saturated the market here, I think in part because of just the wide margin that Secretary Clinton has held.


Well, Andy Shain of The State newspaper in Columbia, Abby Livingston of The Texas Tribune, have fun.

ABBY LIVINGSTON: Thank you for having me.

ANDY SHAIN: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: And be sure to tune in tomorrow night for Judy Woodruff’s pre-primary report from South Carolina.