Nevada (D) and South Carolina (R) Predictions

(Note: it is crazy busy at PPFA headquarters as I struggle to keep up with a pile of work whose size could reasonably be described as Christie-esque. Sorry for the absence the last two days and any days to come.)

Today the parties split their schedules. Here are the February contests which lead up to March 1’s Super Tuesday:

Democrat Primary Schedule
Monday, February 1: Iowa caucuses
Tuesday, February 9: New Hampshire Primary
Saturday, February 20: Nevada caucuses
Saturday, February 27: South Carolina Primary

Republican Primary Schedule
Monday, February 1: Iowa caucuses
Tuesday, February 9: New Hampshire Primary
Saturday, February 20: South Carolina Primary
Tuesday, February 23: Nevada caucuses

Both of today’s contests have enormous consequences on the primaries, so let’s dive right in.


The Democratic Nevada caucuses

I already wrote a Nevada preview . . . back in December! In a post called, “Nevada Caucuses: Forgotten Yet Vital,” I identified this state as a crucial point in the primary, despite much more focus on Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Some excerpts:

  • This blitzkrieg of early March primaries means that momentum heading into them will be critical. . . . The last contests of February could have huge consequences on the first ones in March. In that context, Nevada, relatively ignored in political punditry, takes on a great deal of importance.
  • For Sanders supporters clinging to hope, I think you need to keep a close eye on Nevada as a must-win state. If Sanders can somehow win both Iowa and New Hampshire, it won’t much matter if he goes on to lose Nevada and South Carolina before Super Tuesday.
  • Nevada is a caucus state, which lends itself well to the forceful Sanders crowd, and he might be riding momentum after his win in New Hampshire.

All of these thoughts still apply two months, and two contests, later. The stakes are clear:

  • If Sanders loses Nevada, he’s going to lose South Carolina big. Clinton then regains control of the Democratic Primary and wins Super Tuesday going away. The rest is history.
  • If Sanders wins Nevada, he can beat the expectations game in the South Carolina Primary. Note that unlike the quick three-day Republican turnaround, it’s a full week between Nevada and South Carolina for the Democrats. That’s a long time for the Clinton Campaign to answer questions about her eroding national numbers before South Carolina can redirect the narrative. In the meantime, I suspect Sanders would poll as the national leader more often than not. Super Tuesday would then be up for grabs, and the longer this race is close, the worse for Clinton’s inevitability argument.

So yeah, Nevada is HUGE. But who’s going to win?

Let’s go to the numbers, which, it must be said, are disappointingly sparse. Again, so much intention is given to the other three February states that Nevada is kind of an afterthought. (Then again, maybe polls that are done in Vegas stay in Vegas?) From the polls we do have, it appears Clinton has slight, if unreliable, momentum. Here are Huffington Post’s trendlines for the month of February, which include only three polls:

Untitled

The same three polls were charted by Real Clear Politics:

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Ostensibly, it appears Clinton has grown her support since her big loss in the New Hampshire Primary, but I’m skeptical. It’s important to remember that she had polling momentum in both Iowa and New Hampshire before Sanders nearly tied her in the first and blew her out in the second. So far, it seems that Sanders shows much better on voting day than in the polls. It’s reasonable to expect the same today. So while the polls have Clinton building up to a sizable mid-to-high-single-digit lead, I again feel a very narrow Clinton win that doesn’t allow her regain momentum, though it will act as a sort of tourniquet for the next week.


The South Carolina Republican Primary

Frankly, I think my picture from Tuesday‘s “Thrilla in South Carolinna” post has appreciated like a Monet:

IHY

It’s held up. These guys have savaged each other — well, except for John Kasich, who’s “just happy to be here talking to you fine voters guffaw guffaw.”

Like Nevada for the Democrats, today’s South Carolina Primary has enormous consequences on the Republican Primary. Unlike the Dems, however, we know who will win the GOP’s contest. It’s the order after him that’s so important. Depending on the results, there’s a strong chance we lose two more candidates within the next couple days.

On Tuesday, I outlined which candidates were jockeying against each other:

  1. Trump vs. Cruz for first
  2. Cruz vs. Rubio for second
  3. Rubio vs. Bush for third
  4. Bush vs. Kasich for fourth

Things have changed a bit. Let’s again look at the numbers before the analysis. First, here are Huffington Post’s South Carolina trendlines since February 10, the day after the New Hampshire Primary:

Untitled
Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Kasich, Carson

While gravity has pulled Trump back down to Earth a bit, no candidate jumped up to get him. Will his anti-George W. Bush comments cost him the South Carolina Primary? How about his apparent 2002 waffling on the Iraq War, contradicting what he’s said about his war position during this entire campaign? Will his rivalry with the Vicar of Christ? Of course not!

On Tuesday, I did note that “It doesn’t seem that Trump can be caught,” though Cruz’s evangelical strength certainly put him in the best position to do it. Instead, Cruz has had to contend with Rubio for second, and this battle remains close. Here are the Real Clear Politics numbers in the state:

Untitled

Wow! Whereas HuffPo had Cruz with the narrow lead, RCP says it’s Rubio by a nose’s pimple. A total toss-up. (Side note: Does that Augusta Chronicle poll give us hope that Trump can be caught after all?)

Most disappointed by these numbers is Jeb Bush. He was hoping that finishing ahead of Rubio in New Hampshire could translate to a third place finish over him in South Carolina, but his momentum petered, even after bringing in his big brother to fire up the military folks. He now has to contend with the surprisingly feisty John Kasich for fourth. If Bush loses that battle, we can expect his withdrawal on Sunday, avoiding an embarrassment in Nevada where he recently polled at 1. (He claims he won’t, but he reeeeeally should.) Kasich would love to just finish in fourth above Bush in order to knock him out to become the last governor and the last moderate in the race. Uniting those two groups into one candidate can make him viable into March.

Ben Carson is Ben Carson. Some polls suggest he can sneak into the top five, but whether it’s fifth or sixth, we can expect him gone well before Super Tuesday, maybe even tomorrow.

Predictions:

  1. Donald Trump by about 10. Even with downward momentum and God angry with him, he’s just too popular in the state.
  2. Hmm…
  3. Hmmmmmmmmm…
  4. Bush
  5. Kasich
  6. Carson

The Rubio/Cruz battle for second is tough. On the one hand, Cruz is notorious for organization and voter turnout. He’s the only candidate we can say beat expectations in both of the first two states. That’s not nothing. On the other hand, Rubio earned the endorsement of popular South Carolina governor Nikki Haley on Wednesday, a development that might explain why his last three polling performances (22, 18, then 24) are stronger than the three before that (15, 15, then 19). Like in New Hampshire, Cruz’s numbers are more consistent. He has his base, and they will vote. We can expect him to finish at close to 20 percent. Rubio, however, has a wider range — anything from 15 to 25 is in play. This is so difficult and I have work to do!

Rubio in second.

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