By ALEX ALEXIEV
The republican primary in South Carolina and the democratic caucuses in Nevada this past weekend have helped narrow the competition to the three top GOP candidates and established Hillary Clinton as the dominant candidate on the democratic side.
The Republican Party – the GOP primary ended up with the predicted big victory by Donald Trump with 32.5%, which guaranteed him all 50 electoral votes. The important battle for second place was won by Rubio (22.5%) with just a few thousand votes over Ted Cruz (22.3%). Perhaps the most significant result was yet another poor showing by Jeb Bush (7.8%), ahead of Kasich (7.6%) and Ben Carson (7.2%). This led Bush to drop out of the race giving immediate rise to speculations as to who his big political donors and the Bush political machine will line up behind now that Jeb is out. Informed observers believed that the beneficiary will be Marco Rubio whom they anointed the republican ‘establishment’ candidate and the most likely to challenge Trump for the nomination from here on out. Indeed, within minutes of Jeb Bush’s concession speech, there were numerous speculations that Bush donors are indeed lining up behind Rubio. It would be especially significant if the Koch brothers, who run the largest republican donor network, reportedly worth $400 mln were to line behind Rubio.
The excitement the narrow Rubio victory generated is partly due to the fact that South Carolina was supposed to be the best possible political environment for Ted Cruz with nearly two-thirds of the GOP primary voters declaring that they are evangelical or born again. For some observers, Cruz’s failure shows the limit of his appeal, while highlighting his negatives and in particular his likability. There were also doubts expressed about Trump’s staying power despite his huge victory. Theoretical one-on-one match-ups with both Rubio and Cruz, for instance, show him losing to either one, while the percentage of ‘late-deciders’ who voted for him (16%) was the lowest of the three top candidates.
The Democratic Party – Clinton’s victory by 53% vs 47% for Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses put an end to the speculations that Sanders is on an unstoppable romp over Hillary that his huge victory in New Hampshire gave rise to. Even though he did better among Hispanics than Clinton, it was nowhere near enough to make for her crushing superiority among African-Americans. It was also noted that the expected wave of first-time voters who were supposed to turn out for Sanders, simply did not materialize. Indeed, number of people who turned out to vote in the caucuses this time were 30% fewer than the last time Hillary was on the ballot in 2008 (80,000 vs 120,000). There is no reason to expect that Sanders will give up the fight, but he is clearly the underdog in the race after Nevada.