Hillary Clinton won Saturday's Democratic caucuses in Nevada — a race that marked the first test for Clinton against Bernie Sanders in a more racially diverse state than New Hampshire or Iowa. While Clinton's campaign once saw Nevada as an opportunity to start pulling away from Sanders, her team was nervously anticipating a close contest with the Vermont senator.
Meanwhile, after a week of bitter attacks, Republicans faced off Saturday in South Carolina's presidential primary, a contest that could determine Donald Trump's strength as a front-runner and help clarify whether a more mainstream politician can ever emerge to challenge him.
Voters head to the polls
For both parties, the 2016 election has laid bare voters' frustration with Washington and the influence of big money in the political system. The public mood has upended the usual political order, leaving more traditional candidates scrambling to find their footing.
The 'first in the south'
Saturday's vote in South Carolina is traditionally known as the 'first in the south' primary. Republicans in the state have long prided themselves in picking the eventual GOP nominee, a streak that ended in 2012 when Newt Gingrich won 48 per cent of the cote, compared to Mitt Romney's 28 per cent.
Pickens County is perhaps the most conservative area in South Carolina, voting Republican in the highest percentage of any county in at least the past three presidential elections.
Trump's state to lose
No candidate has shaken the establishment more than Donald Trump. The billionaire spent the week threatening one rival with a lawsuit, accusing former President George W. Bush of lying, and even tangling with Pope Francis on immigration. While polls show that Ted Cruz has made some gains against Trump, the New York businessman still looks to win the state by a wide margin.
'Trump can't win, plain and simple'
The prospect of a Trump victory alarms rival Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor trying mightily for a strong showing in the first Southern state to vote.
"This isn't about appealing to people's deep anxiety, which is legitimate," said Bush. "He can't be president. A ton of people would be very uncomfortable with his divisive language and with his inexperience in so many ways."
Cruz hopes to overtake Trump
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has questioned Trump's conservative credentials, banked on a well-regarded get-out-the-vote operation and 10,000 volunteers to help overtake Trump on Saturday, as well as in the Southern states that follow.
A failure to top Trump in South Carolina could puncture that strategy, though Cruz, who interrupted his campaign briefly Saturday to attend the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's funeral mass in Washington, will still have more than enough money to run a long campaign.
Rubio looks to establish himself as a credible alternative
Both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are fighting to establish themselves as credible alternatives to Trump and Cruz, candidates some Republican leaders believe are unelectable in November.
Rubio scored the endorsements of several prominent South Carolina politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, and seemed to have rebounded after a dismal debate performance two weeks ago that contributed to a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire.
Contest between Clinton and Sanders closer than anyone expected
Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, has energized voters, particularly young people, with his impassioned calls for breaking up Wall Street banks and providing free tuition at public colleges and universities.
Clinton hoped to offset Sanders' youth support by winning big majorities among blacks and Hispanics. She eyed Nevada, where one-fourth of the population is Hispanic, as the first in a series of contests that would highlight that strength.
Sanders' hoped for large turnout
Even a narrow loss to Clinton could give Bernie Sanders' campaign a boost heading into the Democratic contests on Super Tuesday.
"If there's a large turnout I think we're going to do just fine," Sanders told reporters in Las Vegas. "If it's a low turnout. That may be another story."
Democrats were to gather at 200 caucus sites, including six at Las Vegas Strip casinos so housekeepers, blackjack dealers and others with weekend schedules could attend.
Democrats and Republicans will swap locations in the coming days. The Republican Party holds its caucus in Nevada on Tuesday, while Democrats face off in South Carolina on Feb. 27.