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Saturday Is SC Primary For Republicans And Nevada Caucus For Democrats


The 2016 presidential campaign has arrived at its next big juncture. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. On the Republican side, voters in South Carolina have been going to the polls all day in that state's GOP primary. In Nevada, Democrats have spent the afternoon at caucus sites across the state. Early results are coming in and show a very close race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. We want to check in with our reporters on the ground in each state. NPR's Don Gonyea is in Columbia, S.C., following the Republican race. Hi, Don.


MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith is in Las Vegas, Nev., following the Democratic race. Hi, Tamara.


MARTIN: And you are at Caesar's Palace on the Las Vegas Strip, where there was a caucus today that you got to watch. Obviously, this is a different setting from what we saw in Iowa. But is the process more or less the same?

KEITH: Well, yes, it is more or less the same. People form preference groups. They go to different sides of the room to show their support for their candidate and then they're counted up. So it is very much like Iowa, except that it is clear we are not in Iowa anymore because I was at Caesar's Palace where just an incredibly diverse group of voters came out to support their candidates. There were people wearing their uniforms. So there were the chef's coats and housekeepers in their blue housekeeping jackets and cocktail waitresses in their cocktail dresses. It was a very Las Vegas kind of scene. I spoke to two people who were participating in the caucus - Nora Gomez (ph), who supports Bernie Sanders, and Norma Anderson (ph), who supports Hillary Clinton. And here's a little sound from them.

NORA GOMEZ: He was more explicit in what he really wants and what he's going to fight for - you know, for the students, for veterans, you know, for a lot of the same-wage work - you know, for equal pay and all that stuff.

NORMA ANDERSON: I think she's for African-American women. I think she's honest. I think we can trust her with taking care of the country. She's shown - she's proven as secretary of state to care about the country, and I'm with Hillary.

KEITH: And you can tell it was a pretty raucous scene with people cheering for their candidates. And the final result at Caesar's Palace was 28 delegates for Hillary Clinton and 12 delegates for Bernie Sanders.

MARTIN: So Tam, just briefly before we turn to Don, you said it's raucous. But what was the atmosphere? Was it friendly raucous, or was it...

KEITH: Oh...

MARTIN: ...Not so friendly raucous?

KEITH: ...Absolutely. It was totally friendly. People were having fun, they were chanting. I mean, there was - these are people who left work to go caucus, and then they were going to go back to work. And I think they were - a lot of people talked about just having fun exercising democracy.

MARTIN: OK Tam, stay with us, but we want to turn to Don Gonyea...


MARTIN: ...Now. Don, South Carolina has a straightforward primary. People there have been voting since 7 a.m. this morning, and there is a lot on the line, is there not?

GONYEA: Oh, absolutely. This could change the shape of the race going forward. So let's start with the battle between Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. It may be the fight for second place because Donald Trump is still the frontrunner here. But listen, Cruz and Rubio have very different audiences. Cruz has been working the evangelical vote, which is very sizable here. He's been working it just like he did in Iowa. But this is a bigger state, way more spread out. So Rubio seems to have put his rough week just over a week ago in New Hampshire behind him. He seems a lot looser here, and he got the biggest endorsement you can hope for in this statement from Gov. Nikki Haley and from U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

MARTIN: And...


MARTIN: ...What about Donald Trump?

GONYEA: I saved him for last.

MARTIN: Got to hear about Donald Trump.

GONYEA: You never know what Donald Trump is going to say, right? At his last big rally here last night, he went into this riff telling this very violent story from World War I about Gen. Pershing and how Gen. Pershing brutally killed Muslim prisoners to stop terrorism. Now, there is no evidence that this story is true, that this ever, ever happened. But the legend has been around for a long time, but here's what Trump said last night.


DONALD TRUMP: He took 50 bullets and he dipped them in pig's blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people. And they shot 49 of those people, and the 50th person - he said you go back to your people and you tell them what happened.

GONYEA: OK, so you never feel like you heard it all from Donald Trump, right? But that one kind of stopped everybody cold. Again, no evidence the story ever happened. Again, his point - America has to be tough on terrorists.

MARTIN: What reaction, Don, though to this - I'm guessing that there's going to be more reaction as the time wears on - but what reaction so far to this?

GONYEA: Yeah, you know, Marco Rubio called it a shocking story. And he said people should be kind of shocked and offended by it. But it hasn't been getting a whole lot of buzz on the ground here today.

MARTIN: Today. OK - have to ask you, Don, about Jeb Bush, came in with such a commanding - came into this race with such a commanding presence - you know, the name of course, a huge war chest. This seems to be make or break for him at this point. Fair to say this is a critical night for his campaign?

GONYEA: Yeah, all of that just seems so long ago. And now we're all checking for vital signs. He needs a really impressive showing here or it's just hard to see how he makes the case to voters or to himself for that matter what the way forward is. You know, sixth place in Iowa, fourth place in New Hampshire, which was considered a victory. Third place here might keep him alive. Who knows? But anything less than that and they've got to start making some cold, hard decisions.

MARTIN: And I'm going to go back to Tam in just a second, Don, but one more question. South Carolina's a state known for some really bare-knuckle tactics. Has the Republican race lived up to that billing in this year?

GONYEA: Oh, yeah. You know how they make those robo-calls? You're at home and your phone rings and you pick it up and it's a recording? Give it a listen to this one from a group that's - a super PAC that supports Ted Cruz.


TRUMP: Put in the museum. Let it go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's Donald Trump supporting Nikki Haley removing the battle flag from the Confederate Memorial in Columbia.

TRUMP: Respect whatever it is that you have to respect because it was a point in time and put it in a museum.


GONYEA: Yeah, that robo-call referred to the Confederate flag as our flag, so that's just a little taste.

MARTIN: A little taste there. So that's Don Gonyea. Tam, back to you very briefly. Nevada was supposed to be essentially Clinton country, not a tough race for Hillary Clinton to fend off Bernie Sanders. Has it turned out that way? What happened?

KEITH: It is definitely closer than she wanted it to be, and I think what happened is that Bernie Sanders has momentum. He had momentum coming out of New Hampshire, and he brought that momentum into Nevada. He's had these very large rallies. He also surged staff into the state much later than Clinton. Clinton has been here since April with staff working with the community, but Sanders was able to surge staff in.

MARTIN: And so to this point though - now, Tam, we only have about 30 seconds. So we're going to actually be talking to both of you throughout the evening as we watch it all unfold. Very glad to have you both where you are on the ground telling us what's going on. That's Tamara Keith in Las Vegas and Don Gonyea in Columbia, S.C. We are awaiting the results of the Republican primary in South Carolina and private and the Nevada caucuses among the Democrats. Don Gonyea, Tamara Keith, thank you both. We'll be talking to you both later on.

GONYEA: All right, we'll be here.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
Michel Martin is co-host of Morning Edition, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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