The Nevada expectations game

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Buzz Cut:
· The Nevada expectations game
· Meet Trump’s evangelicals
· Unions flex muscle for Hillary
· Hillary, Cruz led the January money race
· More than she bargained for

Predicting the outcome of the Nevada caucuses is particularly hard on the Republican side given the fact that there is no useful polling. Caucuses are always challenging for pollsters with the additional commitments of time and greater complexity for voters compared to primary elections. It’s even worse in Nevada where voters lack the long history and experience with the process that their counterparts in Iowa enjoy.

Donald Trump - Trump needs to win and win big. If he does so, he will further cement his status as the irresistible force taking over the Republican Party and deepen the despair of his opponents.

While, things are certainly looking up for Marco Rubio after rebounding from a New Hampshire setback with a strong showing in South Carolina. But the Silver State looks like a gold medal for Trump.

As Hillary Clinton demonstrated on the Democratic side, this can be a big opportunity for well-organized campaigns that get their folks out to caucus. That’s certainly not Trump’s situation, but he should win easily anyway on the merits of the strength of his core supporters and the demographic makeup of the state.

Only 28 percent of caucus-goers in 2012 identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians. That is 8 points lower than Iowa caucus-goers this year. While Trump scored well with born-again Christians in South Carolina, his best showing so far came among the more secular voters of New Hampshire.

But Nevada’s demography is not all good news for Trump. 2012 saw more self-described “very conservative” voters in Nevada than this year did in Iowa. It’s also a closed caucus meaning the Democrats and independents that helped carry Trump to victory in the two previous contests will be excluded.

An additional variable for Trump in Nevada is a large Mormon population. Mormons went big for their brethren Mitt Romney in 2012 and made up a quarter of the electorate. This will be Trump’s first interaction with the sizable Mormon block of the GOP.

Marco Rubio - Nevada could be the decisive moment in the battle between the two senators duking it out for the GOP nomination. And Rubio could win it here.

The Republican Party seems to be coalescing around Rubio faster than ever, but that also means the expectations are rising too. Rubio has long kept his eye on Nevada, and invested early resources and time in a state that his supporters once hoped would be his first victory.

Trump’s stranglehold on something like a third of the Republican Party has changed that calculus, but if Rubio disappoints in Nevada the same way he did in New Hampshire it would spell big trouble for his rejuvenated campaign.

Rubio needs to finish at least second in Nevada to keep his momentum moving as the huge delegate prizes of March 1st loom one week away.

Ted Cruz - What Ted Cruz needs in Nevada is simple: Beat Rubio.

One of the big questions in the Battle Born State is how well Ted Cruz, the Iowa victor who has seen his fortunes dimmed in successive contests, will fare.

Cruz had a disappointing showing in South Carolina falling to third place behind Rubio, and even losing among evangelical voters. But the famously well-organized campaign is looking for a chance to show that it can still hustle its way to a win.

But at the very least Cruz must show that he is the stronger contra-Trump candidate than Rubio. A third-place finish, especially if it is by any significant margin, could leave Cruz in big trouble with voters who are increasingly focused on candidates’ viability against Trump and in the general election.

John Kasich - Kasich isn’t really playing in Nevada but he has skin in the game there too. It’s less about his performance, which is expected to be poor, but about his continued campaign overall.

Jeb Bush’s departure from the race on Saturday increases the pressure on Kasich to step aside as well. The urgency for consolidating behind Rubio increases with each Trump victory. Kasich would probably benefit most from a Cruz win in Nevada, since it would show the race in flux and show also that Rubio was not as strong as he would seem.

If Trump wins and Rubio finishes second, however, the willingness of donors and voters to indulge Kasich’s long-shot bid will go down, not up.

Ben Carson - Carson ran fourth in Iowa and last in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. So suffice it to say, he is has pretty effectively managed expectations for Nevada…

Nevada GOP Caucus Power Index - 1) Donald Trump; 2) Marco Rubio; 3) Ted Cruz; 4) John Kasich; 5) Ben Carson

What would you say? -
 Give us your take on the 2016 Power Index. We will share the best and brightest with the whole class. Send your thoughts to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM

Meet Trump’s evangelicals - NRO: “The South Carolina election results suggest that practicing Christians in the state voted differently than their peers who attend church less regularly. Take, for instance, one of Trump’s strongholds, the area in and around Barnwell County, near the central part of the state. Trump won nearly 43 percent of Barnwell County, while Cruz collected less than 20 percent. Unsurprisingly, church-attendance rates in Barnwell lag behind those in the rest of the state. Compare that to Greenville County, which has one of the highest rates of church attendance in the state: It was one of Trump’s worst counties.”

Trump has head start on organization for March 1 - AP: “Donald Trump’s unorthodox bid to win the Republican presidential nomination has some distinctly traditional trappings: offices and employees across the country. Trump, the winner in two of the first three states in the presidential primary season, has long been laying the groundwork for more victories in March, when two dozen states go to the polls, new campaign finance reports show. In January, his campaign had roughly 100 people on its payroll and a scattershot of field consultants and offices from Alabama to Texas, giving him a head start on connecting with voters as the primary calendar intensifies.”

[In another sign of Rubio’s elevated status, Trump has also changed his tune about Rubio’s eligibility for president.]

Erickson won’t back Trump as nominee - Conservative tastemaker Erik Erickson explains why he has rescinded his pledge to support Donald Trump if he becomes the Republican Party’s nominee: “I have become convinced that Donald Trump’s pro-life conversion is a conversion of convenience. Life is the foremost cause in how I vote. Therefore I will not be voting for Donald Trump at all. Ever.”

[GOP delegate count: Trump 67; Cruz 11; Rubio 10; Kasich 5; Carson 3 (1,237 needed to win)]

Thirty-six years ago today, a group of young men brought hope to a nation in desperate need of a miracle moment. The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3 in the final moments of the game. The game, played in Lake Placid, N.Y., was set against the backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviets’ recent invasion of Afghanistan. No one gave the U.S. team of college hockey players a chance against the seasoned players of the USSR, especially since the men’s hockey team had only claimed one gold medal in the span of the winter games. Under the instruction of coach Herb Brooks the team overcame their challenges and infighting and not only beat the Soviet Union but went on to win the gold medal against Finland. The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame has the whole miraculous story.

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Real Clear Politics Averages
National GOP nomination:
 Trump 34.2 percent; Cruz 20.6 percent; Rubio 16 percent; Kasich 8.6; Carson 6.6 percent; Bush 5.4 percent
National Dem nomination: Clinton 47.6 percent; Sanders 42 percent
South Carolina Dem Primary: Clinton 57.4 percent; Sanders 33.3 percent
General Election: Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +2.8 points
Generic Congressional Vote: Democrats +1

NYT: “In an effort to refute what they say is a false narrative that union voters are closely split between Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Hillary Clinton, a group of more than 20 unions representing more than 10 million workers is releasing a statement on Monday reaffirming support for Mrs. Clinton…The statement is partly a reaction to the aftermath of the announcement by the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions, that it would not vote during its executive council meeting this week on whether to endorse a candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries, essentially postponing an endorsement until the primaries are no longer competitive.”

[Ron Founier argues that as the race intensifies, Hillary’s issue with trust becomes a problem even for her supporters.]

Hillary, Cruz led January money race - WSJ: “Mrs. Clinton had $33 million in the bank at the end of last month, more than twice as much as rival Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $14.6 million. Both Mr. Cruz and Mrs. Clinton are also backed up by well-funded super PACs…The primary super PAC backing Mrs. Clinton, Priorities USA Action, had almost $45 million in the bank at the end of the month, having spent little so far on her primary battle with Mr. Sanders. The combination of campaign and super PAC funds means Mr. Cruz and Mrs. Clinton are in a better position than their rivals to pay for the blitz of travel and advertising in the dozens of states holding nominating contests in the coming weeks.”

Bernie rallies for black voters - WaPo: “At a Bernie Sanders rally here Sunday night, the Democratic presidential hopeful was introduced to a crowd of more than 5,200 people by a pair of high-profile African American supporters: actor Danny Glover and former NAACP leader Benjamin Jealous. It was the first rally that Sanders has held in South Carolina since his loss to Hillary Clinton in Saturday’s Nevada caucuses…In a joint interview backstage at Sanders’s event here, Jealous and Glover talked about why they are backing the senator from Vermont…”

[Democratic delegate count - Clinton 502; Sanders 70 (2,382 needed to win)]

BBC: “A mugger got more than they bargained for after picking on a 76-year-old former national arm wrestling champion. Betty Jeffery was on her way to a funeral in Pitsea, Essex, when a woman tried to grab hold of her handbag. In response, Ms Jeffery punched her on the nose. Basildon police are seeking information on the attacker, described as in her 20s and wearing an olive green jacket and burgundy tracksuit bottoms.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.