GOP, Dem hopefuls fend off drives in S.C., Nevada

Steve Peoples
Associated Press

Myrtle Beach, S.C. – — The Republican campaign for South Carolina turned deeply personal on the eve of Saturday’s high-stakes presidential primary, as New York businessman Donald Trump eyed a delegate sweep and his Republican rivals jockeyed for a southern surprise.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the son of a pastor, evoked “the body of Christ” in his closing message while fending off allegations of “dirty tricks” in a state where most Republicans identify as evangelical Christians. At the same time, Trump allies took subtle shots at Pope Francis for questioning the Republican front-runner’s devotion to Christian principles. Ohio Gov. John Kasich continued hugging supporters, while Jeb Bush turned to his mother to help revive his campaign.

Friday marked an emotionally charged day in the Republican presidential contest amid a growing sense of urgency. South Carolina offers the six candidates still in the race a trove of 50 delegates — and perhaps more importantly, momentum to help survive into the next phase of the campaign: March 1’s Super Tuesday.

On the other side of the country, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders competed for votes ahead of Saturday’s Democratic caucuses in Nevada.

“Guess what? There’s a caucus here in Nevada! We are here to win,” Sanders said at a rally in sparsely populated Elko.

Back in South Carolina, Trump appeared to hold a commanding lead less than 24 hours before voting began. With a big win, the billionaire businessman could take home most, if not all, of the state’s delegates. Such a victory would mark a particularly painful blow to Cruz, whose consistent focus on Christian values and southern roots should have given him a distinct advantage here.

Trump’s campaign tried to brush off an extraordinary criticism from Pope Francis the day before. A spokesman for the Pope insisted Friday the pontiff was “in no way” launching an attack on Trump, nor was he trying to sway voters by declaring someone who advocates building walls isn’t Christian.

Meanwhile, a scheduling quirk that may allow Nevada Republicans to vote in the Democratic caucuses on Saturday was drawing howls of protest and threats of legal action.

The two state political parties organize their own caucus events with differing rules and procedures.

The Democrats are allowing for on-site registration at its caucuses Saturday, a policy that can bulk up its voter numbers. This means anyone can look up their neighborhood’s designated caucus site and on the same day, change their party affiliation and have a say between Clinton and Sanders.

A daily look at what the 2016 presidential candidates are doing and saying as Michigan’s March 8 primary approaches