Charleston, February 20

The race to the White House entered its third round today as Republicans began voting in a South Carolina primary and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off for the Democrats in Nevada caucuses.

Polls opened at 7:00am in South Carolina, where pre-vote surveys showed flamboyant businessman Donald Trump with a commanding lead over five Republican rivals.

Trump is banking on a big symbolic win ahead of Super Tuesday — March 1, when about a dozen states will go to the polls to choose candidates for the November 8 presidential election, with a quarter of the nominating delegates up for grabs.

“It’s crunch time, folks,” Trump, 69, told voters at a North Charleston rally, his final pitch yesterday before the primary.

The real estate billionaire finished second to Texas Senator Ted Cruz in Iowa on February 1, but secured a commanding win in New Hampshire one week later.

“I don’t want your money,” said Trump, who is self-funding his campaign. “We want your vote.”

The one-time reality TV star who has upended the political landscape with his brash style and controversial comments has his eye on a particular date: March 15.

After that day, many of the Republican primaries will be winner-takes-all in terms of delegates. If his five rivals are still in the race at that point, they will be splitting the anti-Trump vote and increasing his chances of winning the nomination.

On the eve of the primary, Trump led with about 28 per cent of likely Republican voters backing him, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.

The ultra-conservative Cruz followed with 23 percent. Trailing were Senator Marco Rubio at 15 per cent and former Florida governor Jeb Bush at 13 percent.

Rubio and Bush are under intense pressure to fare well today, as is Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, whose campaign has struggled to gain ground. To the west in the desert state of Nevada, Democrats will caucus — group themselves together by candidate to voice their support.

Both Clinton and Sanders have been working hard to reach out to the African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans that make up roughly half of the state’s population.

Clinton, who won by a hair in Iowa but was crushed by Sanders in New Hampshire, is counting on a major Hispanic voter turnout, especially among Las Vegas hotel and casino employees.

Nevada has some three million residents, and the population is overwhelmingly concentrated in Las Vegas and Reno, the state’s two large urban centres.

Since Wednesday, the former secretary of state has visited staff at casinos in Las Vegas, where workers can “caucus” right on the famous Strip. Clinton says she is the natural Latino ally on immigration.

The former first lady, 68, has relentlessly attacked Sanders for voting against immigration reform in 2007.