US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has strolled to victory in South Carolina in a contest that saw former Florida Governor Jeb Bush drop out, while Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton beat back a strong challenge from Bernie Sanders in Nevada.
The victories by Trump, who is running as an anti-establishment outsider, and Ms Clinton, a preeminent political insider, solidified their positions as the front-runners to win their parties’ respective nominations ahead of the 8 November US presidential election.
The night’s most prominent casualty, Bush suffered a distant fourth place finish in the Republican contest and announced he had suspended his campaign, ending his dream of becoming a third Bush president after his father and brother.
“The people of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have spoken, and I really respect their decision,” an emotional Bush said in Columbia.
He finished far out of the running in each of the first three states.
By winning both South Carolina and New Hampshire and holding leads in 13 states that hold Republican contests on 1 March, Trump was arguably on track to win the nomination, an outcome that seemed astounding to contemplate when he entered the race last summer.
“It’s going to be very difficult for him to be derailed at this point,” said Hogan Gidley, who was a senior adviser to former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee.
With 99% of South Carolina precincts reporting, Trump had 32.5%, followed by Rubio with 22.5% and Cruz with 22.3%.
Clinton’s Nevada result denied Sanders the breakthrough win he had sought in a state with a heavy minority population, but his ability to close a one-time double-digit polling lead for Clinton suggests the Democratic nomination race will be long and hard fought.
With 90% of precincts reporting, the former first lady was leading with 52.6% of the vote to 47.4%.
Clinton’s campaign has argued she would assert control of the Democratic race once it moved to more diverse states with black and Hispanic populations who have traditionally backed Clinton and have been slow to warm to Sanders.