Bumps and Bruises await ‘Establishment’ Republicans in Battle Born Swing State

After a bruising confrontation in South Carolina, the remaining Republican presidential candidates have moved to Nevada for Tuesday’s caucuses. Historically a safe Republican state, Nevada strongly voted for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012, an indication of the changing demographics of the region. However, the current Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, was re-elected in 2014 with landslide 70 percent victory over his Democratic challenger. As at 2016, Nevada remains a highly attractive ‘swing state’. With this in mind, here’s what you should look for on Tuesday.

  1. Trump’s Support

Fresh off of a strong victory in South Carolina, polls indicate that businessman and current frontrunner Donald Trump is leading in Nevada by anywhere between 16 and 26 points. This is a huge number in an increasingly pivotal state. With big victories in the vastly different states of New Hampshire and South Carolina, a big lead in Nevada, and polling leads in at least eight of the states that will vote on Super Tuesday (March 1), Trump is coming the closest to looking like he has a message that will unite the Republican Party.

  1. Cruz’s Strategy

A dispiriting third in the South Carolina Primary cracked the Texas Senator’s illusion of strength in the South. Nevada’s population is much more diverse than that of South Carolina (or Iowa) and Cruz will need to show that he can make inroads into the non-evangelical communities. Currently, Cruz is sitting at an average of 20 percent in the polls, far below the number that he will need to convince voters that his campaign is best suited to win the nomination.

  1. Rubio’s Need to Keep up Appearances

A surprise (but not a particularly strong) second place in South Carolina buoyed the Rubio campaign’s fortunes. To maintain his minimal momentum, the remaining Floridian will be looking for another surprise second place finish in this state. Currently, he is polling a point behind Senator Cruz, so second place is not out of the question. Rubio has also secured the support of Republican Senator Dean Heller, who endorsed Rubio after previously supporting Jeb Bush who exited the race after South Carolina. In addition, Nevada Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison serves as the Rubio campaign’s Nevada Chair. This raises expectations for a strong finish by Rubio, but also allows Cruz (in particular) and Trump to tie Rubio to the Republican establishment, a difficult label to shake in year dominated by anti-establishment sentiment.

  1. Kasich and Carson

Kasich continues to hang in the race, claiming that he has a good chance for strong finishes on Super Tuesday. He is not campaigning in Nevada before the Caucuses, listing events in Virginia and Georgia, two states Donald Trump currently leads in the polls. Jeb Bush’s supporters may flow to Kasich, giving him a boost in the Northeast and Midwest. Ben Carson’s campaign continues as he limps toward an overwhelmingly likely withdrawal before Super Tuesday. From a high of 22 percent in October 2015, Carson is currently polling at an average of 6 percent.

  1. Diversity and Polling

The diversity of the Nevada electorate is a big factor here too. Approximately 40 percent of the Nevada electorate is non-white, and it will be interesting to see how these non-white voters are divided (if at all) amongst the candidates. Complicating this is the scarcity of reliable polling data, compared to the other early voting states, Nevada is largely untouched by pollsters, with just 5 public polls commissioned in Nevada, compared to dozens in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Here’s how the results will probably be spun:

Trump will win and will head into Super Tuesday with three wins in a row, an impressive feat even by normal standards. Expect the Cruz and Rubio campaigns to become increasingly desperate as they feel their momentum slipping.

If Cruz performs below expectations look out for a low vote being spun to convince the strongly evangelical (and heavily moralistic) voters in the Super Tuesday states that Cruz had a moral objection to winning a state that has legalised gambling, easy marriage and divorce laws, and legal prostitution.

If Rubio performs above Cruz, he will be pegged by Cruz and the conservative media as the ‘establishment candidate’. if Rubio performs worse than Cruz expect to see more questions raised over his suitability to be the nominee.

Carson will drop out.

All in all, expect more bombast, more combat, and very bruised candidates heading into the Super Tuesday contests.

Disclaimer:  this is the view of the author and Flinders University does not take responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the material and does not accept responsibility for, or endorse the contact or condition of, any linked website.

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