(RNN) - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced Saturday the suspension of his campaign to become president as his Republican rival, Donald Trump, won the Republican primary in South Carolina on Saturday and Democratic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won the Nevada Democratic caucuses.
"I remain optimistic that with the right kind of leadership America's best days are ahead," Bush said.
Trump, a billionaire businessman, established a commanding early lead and left Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in a tight race for second place.
In Nevada, Clinton told supporters her win was for them. "Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other," she said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) congratulated Clinton on her victory, and he said he was proud of his campaign.
"Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election," he said. "And we probably will leave Nevada with a solid share of the delegates.”
Initial results had Clinton neck-and-neck with Sanders, but her lead started to increase slightly as more results came in. Once about 60 percent of the votes were in, the state was called for her.
That makes her two-for-two in the caucus states after a narrow win in Iowa earlier this month. Sanders won handily in New Hampshire, a primary state that borders his home state of Vermont. The Democratic race now turns toward South Carolina, where the primary will be held Feb. 27.
A hallmark of the presidential primary process is watching the two major parties polarize and drift miles apart in an effort to appeal to their most dedicated followers.
The distance between the Democrats in Nevada and the Republicans in South Carolina is 2,424 miles physically and immeasurable ideologically. The parties use different formats. Republicans cast their votes in a primary election while the Democrats went the caucus route.
Both races were hotly contested, but it was a coin flip - make that the luck of the draw - entering the caucuses in Nevada. According to a CNN-ORC poll, former Clinton led Sanders 48 percent to 47 percent. Her win was similarly slim, barely breaking the 50 percent threshold. When the projection was made, Clinton had claimed 52 percent of the vote.
The margin was well within the realm of possibility that drawing cards - that's how they break ties in Nevada - would determine some outcomes just like coin flips did in Iowa earlier this month.
It wasn’t always such a fierce fight. Clinton watched a dominating lead (as much as 46 percentage points) deteriorate in the waning weeks before the caucus.
She's utilized a plethora of endorsements from the Democratic establishment and stump speeches from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to fight off the insurgent Sanders.
The self-described democratic socialist hasn't gone away quietly, though.
After Bill Clinton criticized Sanders' support of being linked to empty promises, which he said was similar to claims made by the far-right's tea party movement, the senator chimed in.
"I do understand - obviously - he's trying to do his best to get his wife to win the nomination," Sanders said in an interview on Bloomberg's With All Due Respect. "But we should not be making silly remarks."
After being handily defeated in New Hampshire, the Clinton camp is relying on states with larger minority populations (particularly African Americans) to seal its pathway to the nomination.
Sanders sought to counter Clinton's strategy by meeting with African American leaders after his victory in New Hampshire. Rapper Killer Mike accompanied Sanders on the campaign trail.
The closeness in the polls was reminiscent of the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1, which Hillary Clinton narrowly won amid criticism that the process was unorganized.
In South Carolina polls, the Republicans were led by Trump, the maverick billionaire. According to a Bloomberg survey, he led his bitter rival, Cruz, by 19 percentage points.
Trump and Cruz tore at each other’s throats in the last week. After the Texas senator ran an advertisement criticizing Trump for his past stance on abortion, Trump threatened to sue the Cruz campaign for defamation. Trump also threatened to take Cruz to court over his contested status as a natural-born American citizen.
During a town hall event broadcast by CNN on Wednesday, Cruz - a Harvard-trained lawyer and former solicitor general in Texas - said he “laughed out loud” when Trump threatened him with legal action over the advertisement. He even spent time on the campaign trail digressing into legal jargon, seemingly relishing a chance to return to his roots in law.
His campaign vowed to air the ad even more.
Cruz is not the only one trading barbs with Trump.
On Thursday, Pope Francis visited the United States’ border with Mexico and brought into question the faith of someone who “thinks only about building walls.”
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” the pontiff said. “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
Trump responded sharply on Facebook.
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” he wrote. “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. [Mexico] are using the Pope as a pawn, and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.”
However, the Republican front-runner softened his rhetoric later in the day at a town hall broadcast on CNN.
“I don’t like fighting with the Pope,” he said. “I like his personality. I like what he represents. I think he was very much misinterpreted.”
Sen. Marco Rubio sat in third place in Bloomberg’s poll, but he struts into this weekend with a much needed momentum. He received the endorsement of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a popular and battle-tested governor whose removal of the Confederate Flag on state grounds elevated her national profile in 2015.
The Rubio team, who views their candidate as the alternative to “outsiders” like Trump and Cruz, hoped the endorsement would translate into a strong finish in the primary and an opportunity to rebound after a poor finish in New Hampshire.
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