Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump rolled to victory on Saturday in South Carolina in a contest that saw former Florida Governor Jeb Bush drop out, while Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton beat back a strong challenge from Bernie Sanders in Nevada.
The victories by Trump, who is running as an anti-establishment outsider, and Clinton, a preeminent political insider, solidified their positions as the front-runners to win their parties’ respective nominations ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election.
By winning both South Carolina and New Hampshire and holding leads in 13 states that hold Republican contests on March 1, Trump was arguably on track to win the nomination, an outcome that seemed astounding to contemplate when he entered the race last summer.
“It’s going to be very difficult for him to be derailed at this point,” said Hogan Gidley, who was a senior adviser to former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.
The 69-year-old real estate billionaire and reality TV star was declared the winner in South Carolina about an hour after polls closed, and launched into a feisty victory speech.
“Let’s put this thing away,” Trump told cheering supporters in Spartanburg.
“There’s nothing easy about running for president,” Trump said at his victory rally. “It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s vicious. It’s beautiful – when you win it’s beautiful.”
He denounced TV pundits for saying there could be enough anti-Trump votes to beat him when the race thins further.
“These geniuses,” he said. “They don’t understand that as people drop out, I’m going to get a lot of those votes also. You don’t just add them together.”
Trump easily defeated Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who were in a close fight for second place and the right to declare themselves the anti-Trump alternative.
With 99 percent of South Carolina precincts reporting, Trump had 32.5 percent, followed by Rubio with 22.5 percent and Cruz with 22.3 percent.
Cruz’s inability to distinguish himself from Rubio in the state was a blow to his campaign, which had invested heavily there to rally support among South Carolina’s large population of evangelical voters.
Trump’s victory won him at least 44 of the state’s 50 delegates, bringing his delegate count to 61, compared to 11 for Cruz and 10 for Rubio, according to a tally by Real Clear Politics. Republicans need 1,237 delegates to win the party nomination.
And while Clinton’s campaign once saw Nevada as an opportunity to start pulling away from Sanders, her team had anticipated a close contest with Sanders.
The victories put Clinton and Trump in strong positions as the 2016 presidential election barreled toward the March 1 Super Tuesday contests, a delegate-rich voting bonanza.
Clinton’s roughly five-point win eased the rising anxieties of her backers, who feared a growing challenge from Sanders.
At a raucous victory rally in Las Vegas, she lavished praise on her supporters and declared, “This one is for you.”
Trump’s strong showing in South Carolina marked his second straight victory in the Republican primaries and strengthened his unexpected claim on the party nomination. No Republican in recent times has won New Hampshire and South Carolina and then failed to win the nomination.
Summarised from: Reuters