A Guide to the S. Carolina GOP Primary and the Nevada Democratic Caucuses — Happening Today

Donald Trump waves to supporters at a rally in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Feb. 19, 2016. (Photo: Richard Ellis, European Pressphoto Agency)
Donald Trump waves to supporters at a rally in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Feb. 19, 2016. (Photo: Richard Ellis, European Pressphoto Agency)

Saturday will be a critical day for the presidential nomination campaigns in both parties, but in two different states.

Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you navigate the news in the event you don’t plan to spend all day Saturday glued to a television.

GOP on the right, Dems on the left (of the map)

For reasons we shall not bore you with, Democrats and Republicans are having nominating contests 2,600 miles apart (capital to capital) on Saturday.

For Democrats it is the Nevada caucuses; for Republicans the South Carolina primary. Next week they will swap — Republicans caucus in Nevada on Tuesday, Democrats have a primary in South Carolina on Saturday.

What’s gonna matter — S.C. remix

Donald Trump has had a yuuuuuuge lead in the polls in South Carolina, up until an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll Friday showed him leading Ted Cruz by only 5 points. If he wins by less than 10%, that will be news, and folks will suggest that Trump’s conflicts with George W. Bush and the pope (really — the pope) finally dented his Teflon armor.

The other major storylines coming out of South Carolina will be survival stories. Does Jeb Bush do well enough to soldier on to Super Tuesday on March 1, when a dozen states hold contests? No Republican nominee in the modern primary era has won the nomination without winning either New Hampshire or Iowa. Bush has already lost both of those contests; sooner or later he is going to have to start winning.

Short of a Bush victory, the news out of South Carolina will be rankings of the bottom tier. Can Ohio Gov. John Kasich convert his surprise second-place finish in New Hampshire into a solid second- or third-place result in South Carolina? Can either he or Bush come out ahead of Florida’s Marco Rubio, who came in fifth in New Hampshire after declaring a moral victory for his third-place showing in Iowa?

What’s gonna matter — Nevada remix

The story line in the Silver State is simpler: Who wins?

The USA TODAY Poll Tracker tells the whole story. In July, Hillary Clinton had a 23-point lead over Bernie Sanders in a Nevada poll. In December it was a 20-point lead. Now it’s a 5-point lead. (Warning: Nevada polling is notoriously suspect.)

Nevada was supposed to be indicative of Clinton’s advantages as a candidate. As a caucus state instead of primary state, on-the-ground organization matter more, and she has the money and the apparatus to build a top-flight ground game. And unlike Iowa where she squeaked out a win and New Hampshire where Sanders crushed her, Nevada is diverse. It has a huge Hispanic population, which is supposed to be one of the communities that will favor Clinton over Sanders by a large margin.

If Sanders can best Clinton here, it calls into question some of Clinton’s key strengths and gives Sanders another opportunity to stand on a stage and claim that he is David to her Goliath.

High card wins

Yes, this is Nevada, gaming capital of the world, so of course, ties are resolved not with a coin flip, but with a card draw. The rules are hilariously specific: a fresh pack of cards, shuffled seven times, spades trump diamonds. This little ritual only applies in places where a delegate needs to be awarded and the caucuses are deadlocked.

When will we know?

Warning: It is a real possibility that results from the two events will roll in for more than eight hours. The Nevada caucuses begin at 11 a.m. local time (2 p.m. on the East Coast) and first results should begin arriving two to three hours later. Smart folks on the ground in Nevada say totals should be complete by dinnertime in Carson City, which is also dinnertime for New York hipsters.

South Carolina is a regular primary, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If Trump’s margin is as large as his lead in most polls from the past month, he could be declared the winner there by 8 p.m. Eastern. But if the race is as tight as the NBC poll indicates, it might take a little while. And since second-third-fourth place results are going to be critical for the race going forward, it is likely going to be closer to 10 p.m. before we really know the story of South Carolina.

SOURCE: Paul Singer