--7 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE LATEST SOUTH CAROLINA POLL: Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump maintain strong leads over their opponents heading into their respective primaries in South Carolina, according to the latest CNN/ORC polling released yesterday. Trump leads the GOP pack by 16 percentage points, with 38 percent of likely voters saying they would support him if the South Carolina primary were held today. Trump has retained this lead since the last CNN/ORC poll was released on Oct. 14. http://abcn.ws/217BifH
--ON THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE, Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by almost 20 percentage points, 56-38 percent. In the last South Carolina poll, released Oct. 12, she was leading the Vermont Senator 70-20 percent when excluding Vice President Joe Biden, but that poll factored in Vice President Joe Biden, who was mulling a run at the time. The GOP South Carolina primary is this Saturday, while the Democrats hold theirs on the Feb. 27. ABC’s ALANA ABRAMSON and RYAN STRUYK look at the key takeaways from the poll. http://abcn.ws/217BifH
--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: What will Jeb do? There may be no bigger question in the Republican race after the two GOP contests that will fill the next week. Unless Jeb Bush turns expectations on their head, he’s in for a rough South Carolina: a new CNN/ORC poll there has him in a distant fourth place – as close as he is to catching Marco Rubio as Ben Carson is to catching Bush. That’s despite perhaps his strongest debate performance, in a state where he’s leaned as heavily as possible on his family legacy to turn things around. Then comes Nevada, where the new CNN numbers have him in sixth place in the caucuses – out of six remaining candidates. If that’s how Bush limps into Super Tuesday, the question will be asked sooner rather than later by the donor and pundit classes: Will remaining in the race do more harm to the other candidates than good to Bush’s own chances? Bush has earned the right to stay in the race as long as he wants, and even diminished fundraising capabilities leave him with the ability to stretch through the March 1 and March 15 elections. But he’s awkwardly positioned to reach a point where some hard questions will need to be asked, particularly if Donald Trump romps through the balance of February. Photos of firearms on Twitter may be the least of his concerns.
--NEVADA WAKEUP CALL: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are now in a dead heat in the crucial state of Nevada, according to a new CNN/ORC poll released this morning, ABC’S RYAN STRUYK reports. Clinton garners 48 percent to Sanders’ 47 percent just three days from the pivotal third contest. The survey shows both candidates running even among nonwhites – a major contrast to South Carolina polling, where Clinton holds a broad lead.
TRAIL MOMENT -- WHY JOHN KASICH KEEPS TELLING KIDS: ‘DON’T DO DRUGS.’ It has become a staple of Republican presidential candidate John Kasich’s campaign events: Find a child in attendance — sometimes more than one — call him to the front, and tell him to not do drugs. From New Hampshire to Michigan and South Carolina, kids have promised the Ohio governor they’ll stay away from drugs, ABC’s BEN GITTLESON notes. Kasich’s crusade began as a response to questions from voters about how he would address substance abuse; he says “we’ll give you some money” but that personal pitches are key. That message has become part of his stump speech regardless of whether his audiences actually broach the topic themselves. “Do you know you’re made special? Did you know that?” Kasich told two young boys Saturday after pointing at them and beckoning them onstage at a rally in Mauldin, South Carolina. “You want to make a commitment to get your buddies to realize,” he told Preston, 11, and Daniel, 14, “that you don’t mess around with drugs? Huh?” http://abcn.ws/1RMQA7b
DISPATCH FROM THE SILVER STATE -- HARRY REID ON SCOTUS: ‘WE COULD HAVE FILIBUSTERED CLARENCE THOMAS. WE DIDN’T.’ In his first on-camera comments regarding the Supreme Court nominating process to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada told ABC News he’s given his recommendations for a replacement to President Obama, but would not say who’s on his list, according to ABC’s JOSH HASKELL. When pressed about whether Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval made the cut, Reid said “I have done everything confidentially.” “I’m very happy that we’ve had a few renegade Republicans break from the pack and say there should be action taken on the person this year,” said Reid. "They cannot continue with what McConnell suggested. To just do away with Obama’s fourth year as President.” The Senate Minority Leader told the mostly Latino crowd at a mock caucus training in East Las Vegas that Senate Republicans should take note: “We could have filibustered Clarence Thomas,” he said. “We didn’t do that.”
YESTERDAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ
CLINTON IMPLIES RACISM BEHIND GOP EFFORTS TO STOP OBAMA SCOTUS NOMINATION. Hillary Clinton stepped up her attacks yesterday against Republicans vowing to block whomever President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court, accusing them of racism and bigotry, ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and LIZ KREUTZ report. “The Republicans say they’ll reject anyone President Obama nominates no matter how qualified. Some are even saying he doesn't have the right to nominate anyone, as if somehow he's not the real president,” Clinton said during remarks at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, referring to the recent passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. “You know that's in keeping what we heard all along, isn't it?" she continued. "Many Republicans talk in coded racial language about takers and losers. They demonize President Obama and encourage the ugliest impulses of the paranoid fringe,” she continued. “This kind of hatred and bigotry has no place in our politics or our country.” http://abcn.ws/1Q0aqKW
HOW DONALD TRUMP IS TURNING ON FELLOW REPUBLICANS. It’s no surprise when GOP presidential contenders aim their attacks at their Democratic rivals, but recently Donald Trump has been engaging in friendly fire. The real estate mogul may be running for the Republican nomination, but that doesn’t mean that his fellow GOP candidates or his party’s leadership are off limits. Trump hasn’t just taken aim at his fellow White House contenders. In recent days, he’s gone up against some of the pivotal bedrocks of his party, including former President George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee itself. Here are a few of the big targets of Trump’s recent backlash. More from ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and RYAN STRUYK: http://abcn.ws/217abl3
CRUZ ASSAILS OBAMA FOR ‘YEARS OF NEGLECT’ OF US MILITARY. Aboard a decommissioned World War II-era battleship here, Ted Cruz unveiled a sweeping plan to rebuild the U.S. armed forces, arguing that the military “has fallen to the bottom” of President Obama’s priority list. Less than a week before the South Carolina primary, Cruz offered his ideas for expanding the size of the military, in both equipment and personnel, bolstering bases, updating technology and improving services for veterans. His guiding principle, he said, would be simple: “more tooth, less tail.” “Starting next year our sailors won’t be on their knees with their hands on their heads,” Cruz said referring to the U.S. sailors who were held in Iranian custody after their ship entered that country’s waters. Cruz called for an increase in the active duty military force to 1.4 million in order to be prepared for the "possibility of multiple, near-simultaneous conflicts” on the world stage, ABC’s JESSICA HOPPER and MICHAEL FALCONE report. http://abcn.ws/1QjJykK
TRUMP GIVES RALLIER HERO’S WELCOME AFTER TAKING PROTESTER’S SIGN. A man received a hero’s welcome from Donald Trump after ripping a sign out of a protester’s hands during a Tuesday rally. In a raucous scene, Trump paused his remarks as he watched a scuffle break out in the crowd. As a protester was escorted out, Trump invited two men up on stage -- one who confronted the protester, another who broke up the ensuing chaos -- and then turned the podium over to them. The protester was holding a sign with a pro-immigration message. Witnesses said Jerry Black, from nearby Clearwater, tore the sign away, and that the protester took a swing at him. While the sign was ripped to shreds by the crowd, the two men grappled with each other until an off-duty sheriff’s deputy stepped in, the deputy said. Law enforcement said the protester remained peaceful as he was led outside, though held up his middle fingers as he left. No one was injured or charged, ABC’s BRAD MIELKE notes. http://abcn.ws/1Q0g7IN
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
JEB BUSH JOKES WITH ABC NEWS ABOUT HIS GLASSES. After Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush met with employees at gunmaker FN Manufacturing yesterday, he took some questions from the press. The usually bespectacled Bush was notably missing his glasses. Reporters, in addition to addressing the serious topics of the day, were determined to get the scoop. As usual, this reporter, height-challenged as I am, positioned myself in the center of the gaggle. As Bush walked over, he looked at me through clear eyes and greeted me. http://abcn.ws/1SwaxjF
@mattklewis: Am now convinced the only way to stop Trump is for everyone else to coalesce around 1 alternative by early March. This seems very unlikely.
@JohnBerman: One question about "winnowed field" theory...don't we all think Kasich stays until Ohio no matter what? @SteveKornacki
@ShaneGoldmacher: Early voting is probably the most important and undercovered phenomenon of the 2016 primaries, w/ @MarcACaputo http://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/florida-early-bush-rubio-219342 …
@TeddyDavisCNN: Wash Post fact checker: Rubio campaign ad echoes a false Donald Trump claim http://wpo.st/9oXC1
@alexis_levinson: Colorful, fascinating read from @elianayjohnson on why South Carolina is so critical for Cruz http://www.nationalreview.com/article/431461/ted-cruz-south-carolina-big-test …