Trump wins in S. Carolina; Clinton takes Nevada in tight race

COLUMBIA, United States -- Everyone can now start using the F-word to describe Donald Trump. And feel safer using it to describe Hillary Clinton once again.

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Frontrunner.

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

Trump won a victory that made 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 the nomination.

There was only one sour note for him: the collapse of the also-rans in the field, increasing the likelihood of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place candidates dropping out and rallying behind either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.

Disastrous performances by Jeb Bush and John Kasich left them far behind in the anti-Trump tranche, raising the odds of a realignment in the field sooner than Trump might have wanted. A dozen states vote on March 1, delivering a motherlode of delegates and Trump's odds of scooping them up could decrease in a dwindled field.

As for Clinton, Saturday's results were a potential campaign-saver.

She staved off what could have been a ground-shifting loss to Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator who has put up a surprisingly strong challenge and threatens to eclipse her.

I am very proud of the campaign we ran. Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 20, 2016

The former secretary of state clung to a four-percentage-point lead in Nevada -- not nearly the advantage she once had in polls, but perhaps enough to quash talk of a campaign death-spiral.

"Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other," Clinton told supporters.

To everyone who turned out in every corner of Nevada with determination and heart: This is your win. Thank you. -H

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 20, 2016

The feeling is mutual, Nevada. pic.twitter.com/Z32JkpNKAp

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 20, 2016

She listed parts of her campaign platform, arguing that it would achieve more for regular Americans than the angry anti-business rhetoric of her opponent -- whom she describes as a single-issue candidate: "Americans are right to be angry, but we're also hungry for real solutions."

Results for the Republicans were still rolling in late Saturday.

Trump expressed awareness in his last campaign rally that winning isn't the only thing that matters. In his latest campaign speech, he urged every supporter to get out and vote: "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.

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.

Rubio has already begun forecasting brightened prospects for himself as others drop out.

"It's a very crowded field," he told NBC earlier Saturday. "Now you have six people... I think once you get this race down to two, three or four people you're going to have a much more traditional campaign."

He also criticized recent comments from Trump.

Trump tweeted an observation Saturday that perhaps the reason President Barack Obama isn't attending the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is because it's not being held in a Muslim mosque.

This was after he delivered a speech the previous night where he recited an urban legend: about a U.S. general scaring off a Muslim insurgency by killing 49 Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood -- then telling the 50th to warn his friends.

The story appears to be, at best, a drastically embellished combination of two other tales from the early 20th century -- and at worst a complete fabrication, the equivalent of an Internet chain letter being aired from the podium of a U.S. presidential campaign.

Trump also defended torture in his final campaign speech Friday.

He called waterboarding "minor, minor, minor" torture -- and when describing how he felt about the now-abandoned tactic he said, "I feel great about it."

Rubio reacted to the pig's-blood story.

"I'm sure people were offended. I hope people were offended by that. That's not what the United States is about. It's doubtful whether that even happened," he said. "We're in a very weird year here... People are saying whatever they want in politics today and there seems to be no accountability."

He said the presidency is a serious job and it's time to start talking about serious things -- not the "circus."

Among Democrats, Clinton 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 essentially disappeared.



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