Hillary Clinton seems to be coasting towards victory in the South Carolina primary, but Nevada is a different story. A new CNN/ORC poll finds her in a virtual deadlock with Bernie Sanders. Clinton’s one point lead (48-47) is well within the margin of error (fewer than 300 people participated).
As the preferred candidate of the union bosses, Clinton may be better positioned than Sanders to get supporters to show up at caucuses (Nevada isn’t a primary state). But the Clinton campaign appears to be deeply concerned, nonetheless.
Jon Ralston, the dean of Nevada political coverage, reports that “the Clinton panic is palpable.” In fact, “Clinton spent Monday in Nevada and sent Bill to fill in for her at Florida events.”
In addition, Clinton’s staff is spinning furiously. According to Ralston, it “repeatedly claimed that Nevada was as white as the first two early states [Iowa and New Hampshire].” Nevada may be roughly as non-black as these states, but it was included in the early primary lineup, at the urging of Harry Reid, precisely because of its diversity, i.e., its substantial Hispanic population.
When Reid therefore criticized the Clinton campaign’s assertion, Hillary contradicted her staff. This campaign is having trouble getting out of its own way.
Perhaps more salient than the racial composition of Nevada is the fact that it has struggled economically. James Hohmann of the Washington Post suggests that because Nevada has been hit much harder than Iowa and New Hampshire, voters may be especially receptive to Sanders’ “promise of political revolution.”
On the Republican side, things are much less exciting (for a change). Donald Trump has a massive 45-19 lead over his closest rival, Marco Rubio, according to CNN/ORC (the poll covers a period both before and after the South Carolina debate). Ted Cruz, at 17 percent, is the only other Republican in double figures.
Trump may be a good fit for Nevada, but the poll result in that state may signal problems for the rest of the field in many other states. Republican contenders have spent considerably less time in Nevada than in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Trump may have a natural advantage in states where candidates don’t spend lots of time courting voters at an individual level.
In these states, which will make up the overwhelming percentage of the remaining calendar, name recognition and “brand” count for more than in states where voters believe they “get to know” the candidates. And candidates like John Kasich can’t use scores of town hall meetings to offset a Trump mass rally.
If Trump couples a win in the Nevada caucuses with a victory in South Carolina, I suspect he will become not just the frontrunner, but a more-likely-than-not favorite to be the Republican nominee.