Sweet: Looking ahead at the presidential contest

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LAS VEGAS — Some takeaways after the South Carolina Republican primary and the Nevada Democratic caucus, with voting on the Strip, produced clear winners on Saturday: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

First, some Illinois presidential campaign news:

A key member of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s organization, Mike Schrimpf, a deputy chief of staff for communications, is joining Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign as his communications chief. His last day on the state payroll was Friday. Schrimpf joins his twin brother, Chris, who is Kasich’s senior communications adviser. Mike Schrimpf will remain an adviser to Rauner and the Illinois Republican Party. Rauner has not endorsed a presidential candidate in the GOP primary. Lance Trover steps up to take on Mike Schrimpf’s deputy title in the Rauner administration.

The main communications job of the Kasich team is to deal with stories that say this is now a three-man race among Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Kasich is betting the March votes in many Midwest states will vault him into contention.

On the Democratic front, with the Illinois primary looming March 15 and early voting already started, Clinton’s Illinois operation will open two campaign offices on Tuesday at 5401 S. Wentworth Ave. and 1543 N. Wells St. Team Clinton planted a finance staffer in Chicago last April as she launched her presidential bid.


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Bernie Sanders’ Illinois campaign, led by veteran activist Clem Balanoff, opened its Illinois headquarters last Wednesday at 600 W. Roosevelt, the same day Clinton was in Chicago pitching for black votes.

Now, on to some takeaways:

• Only in Vegas. Democrats working on the Strip who couldn’t make it to their home precincts were able to caucus at six casinos. There is no early voting or absentee voting in a caucus; you literally have to stand to show your support for your candidate.

I went to the caucus at New York New York, where the crowd was heavily Hispanic and African-American, many in their uniforms. The attendees were the folks who make Vegas work: the special effects technicians at Cirque du Soleil; stagehands; poker room managers; blackjack dealers; housekeepers; kitchen workers; cocktail servers; electricians; and front-desk staffers.

The powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226 — which backed then-Sen. Barack Obama here in 2008 — this time was neutral, a favor to Sanders. But the union made sure its members could have easy access to Strip voting, a boost for Clinton.

The big hotel chains gave workers paid time off to caucus — MGM Resorts granted three hours — and at NYNY they needed it. After almost three hours of democracy in action, Clinton won this precinct with 196 votes to 97 votes for Sanders.

• With Iowa and New Hampshire done — and after the GOP Nevada caucus on Tuesday and the Democratic South Carolina primary this Saturday — the presidential campaigns become sprawling national operations. There are 28 states in play between March 1 and March 15. On both sides, the focus will increasingly be on the delegate score. Democrats need 4,763 delegates to win the nomination; Republicans need 2,472.

Superdelegates are Democratic party honchos. While Sanders and Clinton are tied in elected delegates with 51 each, according to unofficial tallies, it’s estimated Clinton has 449 superdelegate pledges to 19 for Sanders.

Undisputed GOP front-runner Trump has picked up 61 delegates to 11 for Cruz and 10 for Rubio.

• The old vote. Much has been made about Sanders’ appeal to young voters, and he won 82 percent of them in Nevada. Clinton is strong with voters over 65, gaining the support of 74 percent of them.

Sanders lost because his vote did not turn out. Seniors are reliable voters.

• Evolution of the revolution? Sanders is laser-focused on his call for a “political revolution,” fighting a rigged economy and a corrupt campaign finance system.

Just as Clinton was pushed to the left by Sanders, with the Nevada loss, will Sanders broaden his message?

• Trump’s stump. As the GOP field consolidates — Jeb Bush quit after a dismal finish in South Carolina — Trump is losing his targets who have been centerpieces of his stump speech.

• Trump’s South Carolina win was very impressive. Cruz was counting on a heavy evangelical vote and did not get it. Exit polls put Trump winning a plurality of evangelicals.

• Katon Dawson, the former South Carolina Republican chairman, told me the Trump victory was more remarkable because Rubio “didn’t win even with three superstars,” a reference to endorsements from the best known South Carolina GOP politicos: Gov. Nikki Haley, Rep.Trey Gowdy and Sen. Tim Scott.

• In Nevada, exit and entrance polls show Clinton won 72 percent of the black vote — a good sign as she heads to South Carolina and targets older, African-American females on the stump and in paid advertising.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., was here Friday and Saturday helping Clinton with Hispanic voters. Sanders collected 53 percent of that vote.

Tweets by @lynnsweet

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