Donald Trump claimed a big victory in South Carolina’s Republican primary, deepening his hold on the party’s presidential field as the contest moved into the South. Out West, Hillary Clinton pulled out a crucial win in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses.
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has done poorly in the first three early Republican contests, suspended his campaign.
The victories put Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump in strong positions as the 2016 presidential election barrelled toward the 1 March Super Tuesday contests, a delegate-rich voting bonanza.
“There’s nothing easy about running for president,” Mr Trump said at his victory rally. “It’s tough, it’s nasty, it’s mean, it’s vicious. It’s beautiful. When you win it’s beautiful.”
Mrs Clinton’s roughly five-point win eased the rising anxieties of her backers, who feared a growing challenge from Bernie Sanders.
At a raucous victory rally in Las Vegas, she lavished praise on her supporters and declared: “This one is for you.”
Mr Trump’s strong showing in South Carolina marked his second straight victory in the Republican primaries and strengthened his unexpected claim on the party nomination. No Republican in recent times has won New Hampshire and South Carolina and then failed to win the nomination. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, a pair of freshman senators, were locked in a race for second place in South Carolina. Bush and other candidates lagged far behind.
“This country is ready for a new generation of conservative to lead this country into the 21st century,” Mr Rubio said of his strong finish, calling himself among the political children of former President Ronald Reagan.
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. That gave Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who put up a stiff challenge to Mrs Clinton in Nevada, and Trump openings over many more mainstream candidates.
In Nevada, Mrs Clinton won the backing of voters who said electability and experience were important in their vote. But in a continuing sign of her vulnerability, Mr Sanders did best with voters looking for a candidate who is caring and honest.
Mrs Clinton capitalised on a more diverse Democratic electorate who helped her rebound after a second-place finish to Mr Sanders in the New Hampshire primary.
“Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other,” Mrs Clinton told her cheering supporters during a victory rally in Las Vegas. “This one is for you.”