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Hillary Clinton wins Nevada Democratic caucuses as Republicans face off in South Carolina

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.

A busy weekend in politics south of the border

A voter arrives at a polling station in Columbia, South Carolina on Saturday. Residents of South Carolina were picking their candidate in the state Republican primary. (Alex Wong/Getty)

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 

Carl and Debbie Selander walk out of American Legion Memorial Cayce Post 130 after voting in the Republican presidential primary on Feb. 20 in Cayce, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty)

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.

Supporters cheer for their respective Democratic candidates outside a caucus location at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, Feb. 20. (David Becker/Reuters)

The 'first in the south'

Former Republican presidential hopefuls are crossed off a poster at a polling precinct in Walterboro, South Carolina, Feb. 20. (Mark Makela/Getty)

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. 

A customer purchases a shotgun from a vendor's table at the Pickens Flea Market on a chilly morning in Pickens, South Carolina, Feb. 10. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump's state to lose

Republican presidential contender Donald Trump speaks to South Carolina voters on the eve of the state's primary, Feb. 19. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

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.

Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at a polling place in Greenville, South Carolina on Feb. 20. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Reuters)

"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

Republican U.S. presidential contender Ted Cruz speaks during a campaign rally in South Carolina, Feb. 19. (Rainier Ehrhardt/Reuters)

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 

U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio speaks as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley looks on during a campaign event in North Charleston on Feb. 19. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

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

U.S. Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders celebrates on stage at a campaign rally in Henderson, Nevada on Feb. 19. (Jim Young/Reuters)

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.

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton attends a campaign event in Las Vegas with actress Eva Longoria, left, daughter Chelsea Clinton, second from left, actress America Ferrera, second from right, and former U.S. president Bill Clinton on Feb. 19. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty)

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 

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets workers in the cafeteria of the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, Feb 20. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

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."

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally in Las Vegas on Feb. 19. (John Locher/AP)

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.

With files from The Associated Press