- Trump eyes win in South with blunt talk in bare-knuckled fight
- Jeb Bush struggles for strong finish to stay in the race
With the polls now closed in South Carolina, Donald Trump and the Republican field awaited results from the latest nomination test, with exit polls showing strong turnout among evangelical Christians who have strongly supported Senator Ted Cruz in the past.
On Saturday, Trump, the Texas senator and four other Republican candidates faced off in South Carolina, while Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses. The former secretary of state won a strong victory in the western state.
During the final full day of campaigning in South Carolina on Friday, Trump’s most dramatic move was to call for a boycott of Apple Inc., following the company’s refusal to cooperate with a judge’s order to assist law enforcement in unlocking the iPhone of a shooter in the San Bernardino, California, rampage that killed 14 people in December.
"Boycott Apple until they give up the information," the billionaire said at a rally in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. "The phone is owned by the government."
The real estate mogul singled out Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, saying he’s "looking to do a big number, probably to show how liberal he is." Trump later tweeted that he’d stop using his iPhone -- and only use a Samsung device -- until Apple cooperates with authorities.
At an earlier stop, Trump suggested that one of South Carolina’s top employers could lose jobs if he isn’t elected president because nobody else will negotiate as well with the Chinese.
“Boeing is building massive plants in China,” he said at a rally in Myrtle Beach. “You have a beautiful plant. Be careful because when they cut the value of their currency, in two years after their plants are built, and you find out you’re losing -- not going to happen if Trump is president, that I can tell you -- but be careful."
Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner assembly plant came on line in 2011 in North Charleston and employs about 8,000 people in the region, the top example of a manufacturing renaissance the state has enjoyed in part because of its mostly non-unionized workforce.
The company doesn’t build jetliners outside of the U.S., although it unveiled its largest industrial investment in China last year: a new plant to finish work on planes before they’re delivered to local carriers.
"Boeing is committed to South Carolina, our workforce and the local community. We have invested more than $2 billion in the state since 2009,” Elizabeth Merida, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
Trump, who holds a commanding lead in most South Carolina polls, also went after Cruz, his nearest rival, for being "the biggest liar I have ever seen," and took credit for bringing Senator Marco Rubio of Florida into the fight.
“Even Marco Rubio said, ‘He’s a liar,’ and when a politician says another politician is a liar -- I’ve never heard that before -- I felt so good," Trump said.
Cruz, in turn, launched a new attack on Trump, suggesting that he can’t be trusted to pick a conservative justice to fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, like the one created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
"If a candidate says -- and described himself as very pro-choice and supporting partial birth abortion for the first 60 years of his life -- there’s no reason on Earth to think they’d suddenly wake up and start fighting to appoint conservative justices," Cruz told a crowd at the College of Charleston.
He didn’t mention Trump’s name, but the reference was unmistakable. Cruz’s campaign and allies have been hammering Trump in recent weeks for telling NBC in a 1999 interview that he was "very pro-choice" and wouldn’t ban partial-birth abortion.
Cruz, who has been emphasizing his credentials as a former Supreme Court litigator, vowed that if elected president, "every justice I put on the Supreme Court will be a principled constitutionalist" with a "proven" record.
"If we elect a Democrat, we will lose our constitutional rights for a generation," Cruz said. "But here’s the sad truth: Electing a Republican, if it’s the wrong Republican, doesn’t ensure we keep our rights."
Later during the Cruz rally, some in the crowd chanted, "Dump Trump!"
Cruz also picked up the endorsement of U.S. Representative Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican, during a rally at the College of Charleston.
Rubio won the endorsement of South Carolina’s popular governor, Nikki Haley, on Wednesday and she has been at his side on the campaign trail ever since. That could give him a boost as he continues to try to recover from his fifth-place finish in New Hampshire’s Feb. 9 primary.
"We’ve got a lot of people watching us today and a lot of people want to know what we’re going to do tomorrow," Haley told about 500 people gathered Friday for a Rubio event in the state capital of Columbia.
"We need to nominate someone that can bring us together," said Rubio in his closing pitch. "I know that I can better than anyone in this race. I will bring this party and this movement together, so that we can begin the work of growing our movement."
In a statement Friday, Nevada Democratic Party officials sought to discourage any gamesmanship in their caucuses by Republicans on Saturday. Republicans caucus there Tuesday.
“We believe that registering under false pretenses in order to participate in the Democratic caucuses for purposes of manipulating the presidential nominating process is a felony," Roberta Lange, the state party’s leader, said in a statement. “The Nevada state Democratic Party will work with law enforcement to prosecute anyone who falsely registers as a Democrat to caucus tomorrow and subsequently participates in the Republican caucuses on Tuesday.”
The latest campaign chapter arrives with its share of twists -- a staple of the 2016 presidential race. Thursday brought a rare criticism of a White House candidate by a pope.
Condemning Trump’s hard-line immigration agenda, Pope Francis singled out the New York real-estate developer and suggested that he "is not Christian" because of statements he’s made about building a wall on the Mexico border. Trump responded by calling the pope’s actions "disgraceful."
Since 1980, the winner of South Carolina’s Republican primary has gone on to become the party’s nominee every time, with one exception. The outlier was in 2012, when a pair of strong debate performances just ahead of the voting lifted Newt Gingrich to a win over eventual nominee Mitt Romney.
South Carolina is also the first test for candidates in a diverse state and in the solidly Republican southern U.S., so its results could be predictive ahead of contests in March, when other southern states will host a large proportion of the primaries and caucuses. The state’s voting could spell trouble for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who once had hoped to win the state but is trailing in the polls.
Bush focused Friday on northwest South Carolina, the conservative heart of the state, where his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, joined him on the trail. At Wade’s Restaurant in Spartanburg, the 90-year-old matriarch posed for pictures and joked that Jeb Bush was “one of my four favorite sons."
"He’s steady. He’s honest. He is modest. He’s kind. He is good," Barbara Bush said.
Bush pitched himself as the most accomplished candidate in the race. He warned the crowd about backing a candidate who wasn’t ready for the job, and criticized Trump for saying George W. Bush was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Yes, Mr. Trump, he did keep us safe after 9/11. You’re just dead wrong,” Bush said to applause. "My first job as president of the United States will be to rebuild the military, and to talk a little less."
Democrats vote in South Carolina a week later, so the outcome in Nevada will be felt there. Clinton was believed to have the advantage in the western state because of its heavily Hispanic electorate, but some recent polls show the race tied. A Clinton loss in Nevada, after a crushing 22-point defeat by Sanders in New Hampshire, would further stoke doubts about her staying power in a general election against a Republican.
Clinton is in better shape in South Carolina. A Bloomberg Politics poll released Thursday showed the former secretary of state leading the senator from Vermont, 53 percent to 31 percent, among likely Democratic primary voters. She was buoyed by a 3-to-1 advantage among black voters.
Clinton received a boost Friday from the endorsement of the state’s highest ranking black Democrat, U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn. Her campaign also released a new ad narrated by legendary black actor Morgan Freeman that tells the story of her lifetime commitment to "breaking barriers."
A Trump win in South Carolina would help his prospects of winning his party’s nomination.
A Bloomberg Politics poll of likely Republican voters in South Carolina released Wednesday showed Trump leading the field with support from 36 percent, followed by Cruz at 17 percent, Rubio at 15 percent and Bush at 13 percent.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who has found little success in previous contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, was backed by 9 percent. Ohio Governor John Kasich was at 7 percent.
A second-place showing in South Carolina for Rubio would do much to anoint him as the establishment Republican favorite to confront Trump and Cruz. It could also go a long way toward extinguishing the flame of the campaign of his one-time mentor, Bush.