Trump, Clinton hope for frontrunner status in S.C., Nev. primaries

CHARLESTON, S.C., United States -- Today could be the day everyone starts using the F-word to describe Donald Trump. And that people stop using it to describe Hillary Clinton.

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Frontrunner.

Voters will cast ballots in two races that could shape the U.S. presidential primaries leading into Super Tuesday -- Republicans are voting today in South Carolina, and Democrats in Nevada.

Victory by Trump could make him the clear Republican frontrunner, by historical standards: Nobody in the modern era has won New Hampshire and South Carolina, then gone on to lose.

He expressed awareness in his last campaign rally that winning isn't the only thing that matters today. The vote totals for each candidate will also set the stage for March 1, when 12 states vote in Super Tuesday.

Trump urged his supporters not to take for granted his lead in South Carolina surveys, and asked every single one of them to get out and vote.

"The polls are very nice -- but who knows. We can't take a chance," Trump said.

"And the more we can win by, the bigger the mandate, the better it is."

Republicans will be watching the results closely, at a stage in the race where major candidates start dropping out and donors and supporters must decide whom to back.

The most important outcome in South Carolina could involve the fourth- and fifth-place Republican positions. If candidates like John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio keep it close enough, it's more likely they'll remain in the race -- which could keep the anti-Trump vote fragmented, with Trump benefiting from the split.

Pressure is mounting from donors and the party establishment for also-rans to drop out, so that the party brass can rally around a more mainstream candidate who could defeat Trump and firebrand conservative Ted Cruz.

Cruz, on his last full day of campaigning in South Carolina, wasn't willing to predict a Trump victory despite the big poll lead. He reminded supporters that he'd managed an upset in Iowa.

"(Before Iowa) it was Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump," Cruz told a rally. "We ended up winning more votes than any Republican in the history of the Iowa caucuses."

He was applauded by a crowd that is far more ideologically conservative than Trump who, like his fans, tends to cherry-pick policy preferences from left and right.

Trump, for his part, called for a boycott of Apple products Friday because of the company's unwillingness to help federal investigators access the phones of terrorists.

A few people clapped at the line. Many more people in the room snapped pictures of Trump with their iPhones.

Trump's defence of torture got far more applause. He called waterboarding "minor, minor" torture -- and when describing how he felt about the now-abandoned tactic he said, "I feel great about it."

He also approvingly shared a story about an early 20th-century general who allegedly shot Muslim enemies with bullets dipped in pig's blood, to discourage others. The story appears to be an urban legend.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton faces a big test in Nevada.

Her huge lead has disappeared. The polls are tight.

A loss here would be more worrisome for her than the rout she suffered in New Hampshire, because this state is more ethnically diverse -- with more minority voters, who are supposedly Clinton's firewall against a surprising challenge from socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The state's best-known political analyst offered his own view of the stakes.

"Forget polls," Jon Ralston tweeted.

"Pretty simple: If (Clinton) loses diverse (Nevada) after having (a) great organization, all major endorsements, huge last-minute blitz, very ominous."

She retains a big lead with African-American voters and is expected to win next week in South Carolina and other southeastern states on March 1.

But until recently she also had a huge lead in Nevada, which has a large Latino population -- and that lead has disappeared.



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