As candidates from both parties vie for votes in separate states on Saturday, the focus will center on whether Hillary Clinton can stage a comeback and whether Donald Trump can remain on top.
Nevada Democrats will caucus during the day, less than two weeks after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) defeated Clinton by 22 percentage points in New Hampshire. The Clinton campaign has attempted to manage expectations following her narrow win in Iowa and loss in New Hampshire, emphasizing more diverse, later-voting states where Clinton is expected to do well.
Recent polls, including one from the Washington Free Beacon, have forecasted a close contest between Clinton and Sanders despite the fact that the former secretary of state held a double-digit lead over her competitor as recently as December. A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday showed Clinton and Sanders locked in a statistical tie in Nevada.
The Clinton campaign was downplaying her strength in Nevada even before the results in New Hampshire.
"Nevada is an important state. So is South Carolina, which comes after that," Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd the morning of the New Hampshire primary.
"There’s going to be a narrowing in both places–we’re clear-eyed about that. There’s an important Hispanic element to the Democratic caucus in Nevada. But it’s still a state that is 80 percent white voters. You have a caucus-style format, and he’ll have the momentum coming out of New Hampshire presumably, so there’s a lot of reasons he should do well," Fallon added.
Nevada, in actuality, is just over 51 percent white, according to the Census Bureau.
A win for Sanders in Nevada could significantly change the nature of the race as the two head into South Carolina for the primary the following Saturday.
"If Bernie logs a win in Nevada it becomes a different conversation about his [credibility] as a nominee and Hillary's credibility as a campaigner," Andres Ramirez, a Democratic operative in Nevada who supports Clinton, told the Associated Press. "We change the conversation dramatically."
Still, Clinton will be difficult to beat in South Carolina, where she enjoys considerable support among African-American voters. Clinton currently has double Sanders’ support in the state, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Friday.
Businessman Donald Trump, like Sanders, will come into Saturday’s voting off of a solid win in New Hampshire and a second-place showing in Iowa. Focus will center on whether Trump, an unorthodox candidate for the Republican nomination, will sweep the second-in-the-nation primary in South Carolina.
Trump’s unconventional campaign has fueled speculation about whether he can maintain his national lead of the GOP field. The business mogul will enter Saturday’s primary following a spat with Pope Francis about his faith and his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The GOP race in South Carolina appears to have narrowed. The NBC/WSJ/Marist survey put Trump in the lead with 28 percent followed closely by Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) with 23 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush captured 13 percent, edging ahead of Ohio Gov. John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson with 9 percent each. Five percent of voters were undecided.
Other polls have shown Trump with a more significant lead in South Carolina. According to a Real Clear Politics average of polls, Trump has a double-digit lead over his competitors in the state.
The results from the Iowa Republican caucus at the start of the month appeared to forecast a three-man race, with Cruz coming out on top and Trump and Rubio following closely in second and third. Kasich’s second place finish in New Hampshire behind Trump complicated matters, though a top three finish for Trump, Cruz, and Rubio in South Carolina could reaffirm them as the front-running trio.
Nationally, Trump has maintained a commanding lead for months. However, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday had Trump for the first time falling slightly behind Cruz, with Rubio coming in third.
The Republican field has narrowed since the start of February, with six candidates suspending their campaigns between the announcement of the Iowa caucus results and the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary.
Following the results in South Carolina, the candidates will move on to the Nevada GOP caucus, which will take place on Tuesday. A CNN/ORC survey released earlier this week had Trump winning 45 percent of the vote among likely caucusgoers, followed by Rubio in second with 19 percent, Cruz in third with 17 percent, and all others polling at 7 percent or less.