A Multifront Battle in South Carolina

“Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination dug in Wednesday for a hard fight in the South Carolina primary, where Mr. Trump will seek to gain a clear upper hand in the 2016 race after his smashing victory in New Hampshire,” the New York Times reports.

“But the effort to stop Mr. Trump was only one element of the hard-edged, multifront campaign shaping up here among five candidates, nearly all of whom are facing immense pressure to demonstrate strength.”

Washington Post: “A state known for its nasty political brawls is about to host an epic one, pitting a foul-mouthed celebrity billionaire against a band of senators and governors scrapping to challenge him.”

New Hampshire Result Surprised Clinton

New York Times: “Bernie Sanders’s nearly 22-point victory came after Mrs. Clinton’s advisers had worked hard to lower expectations, but privately, many people close to Mrs. Clinton, including her husband, believed the state would once again serve as a lifeline.”

“The rout rocked the Clinton campaign. As the results rolled in, Mrs. Clinton’s advisers took a somber assessment of the exit polls, recognizing early missteps that had allowed an insurgent challenger to gain the momentum, and their failure to capture the imaginations of young voters — in particular, young women.”

“A rethinking of the campaign’s strategy and message was already underway Tuesday evening.”

Nevada Turns Into a Battleground

New York Times: “The Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada were supposed to be an afterthought: lost in the shadows of high-profile battles in Iowa and New Hampshire, and fought in a state far off in the West where voters have a long, warm history with Bill and Hillary Clinton.”

“Instead, after Mrs. Clinton’s overwhelming defeat in New Hampshire by Senator Bernie Sanders on Tuesday, eight days after she barely won the Iowa caucuses, Nevada is looming as a turning point in their increasingly competitive contest, offering critical tests of the two candidates’ strengths.”

Obama All But Endorses Clinton

Huffington Post: “Clinton and Sanders have sparred in Democratic debates over who is the true ‘progressive,’ with Clinton arguing that progressivism is about results, and Sanders arguing that it’s about principle. Obama, who appointed Clinton his first secretary of state after defeating her in the 2008 Democratic primary, seemed on Wednesday to clearly fall on the Clinton side of the ideological divide. He said that labels, such as ‘not a real progressive’ — which Sanders has used against Clinton — are damaging to the national discourse.”

Said Obama: “So when I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I’m not impressed. All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments, like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe … It cuts both ways, guys.”

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Huckabee Says Cruz Practices ‘Low-Life, Sleazy Politics’

Mike Huckabee “is no longer running for president, but he is still criticizing Ted Cruz — this time attacking Cruz’s campaign for spreading a report on the night of the Iowa caucuses suggesting Ben Carson would be dropping out of the presidential race,” BuzzFeed reports.

Said Huckabee: “I can attest to the fact that even in our campaign there were many efforts to try and say that people shouldn’t vote for me or Rick Santorum or Ben Carson. The Cruz people said it would be a wasted vote and they should vote for Cruz. It wouldn’t have made a difference for any of use but it is the kind of low-life, sleazy politics people truly get sick of.”

Former Spokesman Says Obama Prefers Clinton

Former White House press secretary Jay Carney tells CNN that President Obama has a strong preference in the Democratic primary to replace him: Hillary Clinton.

Said Carney: “I don’t think there is any doubt that he wants Hillary to win the nomination and believes that she would be the best candidate in the fall and the most effective as president in carrying forward what he’s achieved.”

Marco Rubio Tries to Bounce Back

Wall Street Journal: “The rebuilding effort will start Wednesday when Mr. Rubio heads to South Carolina for a series of campaign stops in the next state on the nominating calendar. He will get a chance to rehabilitate his image at a weekend debate, and he can expect many of the same attacks as those leveled by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in New Hampshire, who pointedly charged that he is overly reliant on talking points and hasn’t accomplished anything meaningful in his five years in the Senate.”

“Money will be a major concern. Like many of his rivals, Mr. Rubio’s campaign was relying on a strong finish in New Hampshire to juice his fundraising. Some of his top donors expected well-heeled supporters of many of his closest rivals, including Mr. Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to jump ship and support the senator. But those hopes were dashed by Tuesday’s results.”

Nate Silver notes Rubio’s slide in the betting markets halted since last night “maybe based on people realizing other ‘establishment’ candidates are even worse?”

What Clinton Is Missing

Paul Waldman: “Right now, the Clinton campaign has a much bigger problem than the story it wants to tell about New Hampshire. That problem is this: the campaign has no story to tell the voters about Hillary Clinton and why she should be president. … She doesn’t have a clear diagnosis of the problem the country faces, nor does she have an explanation of what the solution is, nor can she say why only she can bring about the better future voters are hoping for. Of course, Clinton can make a persuasive argument for her preferred solution on any policy area you can name. She also has a strong argument for why Sanders is being unrealistic about much of what he wants to do, an argument I basically agree with. And if you asked, she could tell you all about her ample qualifications for the presidency. But it doesn’t add up to a coherent story.”

Brendan Nyhan: “Mrs. Clinton has instead focused on her experience and electability, but that strategy offers little to motivate Democrats to vote for her. Her realism about the prospects for the Sanders agenda is implicitly dispiriting about the prospects for liberal domestic policy change in her presidency as well. Indeed, she often sounds as if she were acquiescing to a status quo that Democrats find objectionable. However implausible it may be, the prospect of a Sanders ‘political revolution’ at least offers a formula for change.”

“Mrs. Clinton will continue to struggle until she clarifies the stakes of the campaign — why does being more electable matter? … Until she fixes her flawed message, Mrs. Clinton’s aides are right to worry about an enthusiasm gap in her race against Mr. Sanders. When it comes to firing up the party faithful, you can’t beat something with nothing.”

Bush Super PAC Increases Spend in South Carolina

“The super PAC backing Jeb Bush’s Republican presidential campaign is planning to increase its ad buy in South Carolina ahead of the Feb. 20 primary,” the Washington Post reports.

“Right to Rise USA is pouring another $1.7 million into the Palmetto State in the next 10 days on top of the more than $10 million the group has already spent in the state, according to people familiar with the plans. The money will be spent primarily on television, radio and digital advertising.”