What's next for the candidates?
MOUNT PLEASANT (South Carolina) • The rivals of Mr Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination dug in yesterday for a hard fight in the South Carolina primary, where the real estate mogul will seek to gain a clear upper hand in the 2016 race after his smashing victory in New Hampshire.
But the effort to stop Mr Trump is only one element of the hard- edged, multifront campaign shaping up among five candidates, nearly all of whom are facing immense pressure to demonstrate strength.
The contest has in some respects been clarified into two parallel battles: between Mr Trump and Senator Ted Cruz, the anti-establishment duo, and among three establishment-friendly hopefuls.
But the contenders have begun exchanging fire in a way that illustrates the complexities of the race.
Above all, there is a fight against Mr Trump, which will be waged by both Mr Cruz and the mainstream candidates. After largely avoiding a sustained advertisement assault in New Hampshire, Mr Trump is likely to face more attacks here, a state where campaigns can turn rough.
Mr Cruz wasted little time yesterday in signalling how he intends to run against the New York tycoon in the Bible Belt. "The only way to beat Donald Trump is to highlight the simple truth of his record: It is not conservative." But in a sign of how he is facing challenges on two flanks, Mr Cruz has also begun airing ads against Senator Marco Rubio as well as Mr Trump.
The Republican Party in South Carolina is a lot like the party writ large. It is torn between activists enraged by President Barack Obama and eager for the bald confrontation promised by Mr Trump and Mr Cruz, and party leaders hungry to take back the White House and considering candidates such as Mr Rubio and Mr Jeb Bush.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former business executive Carly Fiorina both ended their presidential campaigns on Wednesday, narrowing the field challenging the front runner, Mr Trump.
The contest among the three mainstream candidates appears to be a race against Mr Trump and a primary-within-a-primary among Mr Bush, Mr Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich to win the right to ultimately challenge Mr Trump and Mr Cruz.
Mr Rubio and Mr Kasich criticised Mr Bush for having spent so much money seeking to take down his opponents in the first two nominating states. (Mr Bush spent US$36 million (S$50 million) on advertising in New Hampshire alone.)
And Mr Bush, his once forlorn campaign re-energised after outpolling Mr Rubio in New Hampshire, made it clear he will aggressively target the two establishment-aligned rivals he needs to defeat to consolidate the party's support.
Should Mr Trump win in South Carolina, it could grow exceedingly difficult for his rivals to slow his momentum as the race moves into conservative states across the south in the next few weeks.
NEW YORK TIMES