--TRUMP LEAD NARROWING -- BY THE NUMBERS: A new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll in South Carolina released today shows Donald Trump in the lead in the Palmetto State with 28 percent support compared to 23 percent for Ted Cruz, 15 percent for Marco Rubio, 13 percent for Jeb Bush, 9 percent for John Kasich and 9 percent for Ben Carson. This is the smallest lead we've seen for Trump in recent South Carolina polling, ABC’s RYAN STRUYK notes. Every other recent South Carolina poll has had Trump leading by double digits, including yesterday's Fox News poll, with Trump leading 32 to 19 percent over Cruz. Trump, who was closely matched with Cruz among very conservative GOP voters in the state in a late January NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, now trails Cruz by 20 points, 22 percent to 42 percent.
--TRUMP ON WHETHER FRANCIS FRACAS WILL HURT: Trump says he is unsure whether his battle with Pope Francis just days before the South Carolina would hurt his support "Well, you never know, George," he told ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on "Good Morning America" today. "We have to have the wall and we have to stop the drugs from coming in," he continued, focusing on his positions on illegal immigration. http://abcn.ws/1Q5c0v4
--HAPPENING TODAY -- JAMES CLYBURN TO ENDORSE HILLARY CLINTON: Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, will endorse Hillary Clinton for president today in the Palmetto State, the Clinton campaign confirmed. The endorsement from Clyburn comes as Clinton battles with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for support among minority voters before the Nevada Democratic caucuses Saturday and South Carolina's presidential primary Feb. 27. He is expected to endorse Clinton at 11 a.m. today at Allen University in Columbia. Clinton will not be in attendance at the event, ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ and BENJAMIN SIEGEL report. http://abcn.ws/1OiM6OL
--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Did Pope Francis do Donald Trump a solid? Usually Trump needs creativity – and a certain amount of gall – to shamelessly change the subject at just the right moment. With one answer to a reporter aboard his plane, the pope did the hard work for Trump. Sure, having perhaps the world’s most prominent religious leader say you’re “not Christian,” just days before a primary dominated by religious voters, may not seem helpful. But Trump has shown there’s no public feud he can’t win. It’s hard to imagine evangelicals who might have supported Trump suddenly abandon him because the leader of the Catholic Church raises questions about his values and compassion. And – in classic Trump style – he used the episode to display indignation and anger. His hardline anti-immigration message gets some late airing, blocking out questions about, say, his positions on abortion and the war in Iraq.
THIS WEEK ON ‘THIS WEEK’: Fresh out of Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary and Nevada Democratic caucuses, George Stephanopoulos anchors a jam-packed hour which includes a Sunday exclusive with Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus and the latest analysis from the powerhouse roundtable, featuring Purple Strategies chair and founder of NewRepublican.org Alex Castellanos, ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, senior advisor for Correct the Record and former Democratic Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Host and Managing Editor of News One Now on TV One Roland Martin. See the whole political picture, Sunday on “This Week.”
SOUTH CAROLINA SPEED READ: MAPPING THE POLITICS OF THE PALMETTO STATE. Four Republican candidates attended the Faith and Family Presidential Forum at Bob Jones University in South Carolina last Friday. But the local Greenville News was more concerned with those who didn’t bother. “Trump, Kasich no-shows at BJU presidential forum,” the headline blared. It wasn’t an accident. The religious university sits in the heart of South Carolina’s “Upstate” region, one of the most conservative stretches in the nation. Some candidates, like John Kasich, feel better-served by playing to their strengths in other parts of the state. ABC’s BRAD MIELKE has your guide to understanding South Carolina’s three major regions, and the voters that live in them. http://abcn.ws/1WuyiH0
YESTERDAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ
HILLARY CLINTON SAYS SHE’S ‘ALWAYS TRIED’ TO TELL THE TRUTH TO AMERICANS. Hillary Clinton on Thursday said she has "always tried" to tell the truth and that she doesn't "believe" she has ever lied to American voters. "Have you always told the truth?" CBS News' Scott Pelley asked Clinton during an interview. "I've always tried to. Always, always," Clinton replied. "I'm going to do the best I can to level with the American people," she added later. The Republican National Committee immediately pounced on the moment. “The fact Hillary Clinton felt the need to waffle on a question about whether she is a liar is precisely why two-thirds of the American people think she’s dishonest and untrustworthy," RNC spokesman Michael Short said in a statement. ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ has more. http://abcn.ws/1oO4ri6
NOTED: CLINTON BOOED AT TOWN HALL. Some audience members booed Clinton at MSNBC’s town hall last night when she said Bernie Sanders was not really a Democrat until he joined the 2016 presidential campaign, according to ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ. The moment happened when the moderators asked Clinton about Sanders’ criticism of Bill Clinton and President Obama. http://abcn.ws/1oO7bMx
TRUMP CALLS POPE’S COMMENTS ABOUT HIS CHRISTIANITY ‘DISGRACEFUL’. Donald Trump lashed out Thursday after Pope Francis questioned his Christianity, saying the pontiff will "wish and pray" he the real estate mogul were President "if and when the Vatican is attacked," ABC’s PAOLA CHAVEZ and VERONICA STRACQUALURSI report. “So if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS' ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said during an appearance in South Carolina. The real estate mogul admits he "likes" the pope, but said his comments were "disgraceful." http://abcn.ws/1TsIYaV READ DONALD TRUMP’S FULL RESPONSE TO POPE FRANCIS: http://abcn.ws/1Wu8Otk
CANDIDATES REACT TO POPE FRANCIS-DONALD TRUMP DUSTUP. Trump’s fellow Republicans joined the fray Thursday in response to the pope’s suggestion that the New York real estate mogul was “not Christian.” ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ round up the responses: http://abcn.ws/1KYeCKS
NOTED: DESPITE CRITICISM OF POPE, DONALD TRUMP QUESTIONED RIVAL’S CHRISTIANITY. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacted strongly to Pope Francis' criticism of his immigration policies as "not Christian" Thursday, calling Francis' questioning of his faith "disgraceful." But Thursday’s battle comes after Trump himself has spent days repeatedly questioning the faith of his biggest rival, Ted Cruz, ABC’s EVAN MCMURRY notes. "I've never seen anybody that lied as much as Ted Cruz," Trump said at a press conference Monday. "And he goes around saying he's a Christian. I don't know, you're going to have to really study that.” http://abcn.ws/1UaPK4I
WHAT HALEY’S ENDORSEMENT MAY (AND MAY NOT) MEAN FOR RUBIO. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley threw her support behind presidential hopeful Marco Rubio Wednesday, ahead of the state’s Republican primary Saturday -– the jewel in the crown of Rubio’s Palmetto State endorsements. Haley’s nod could be a big boost for Rubio. But other campaigns are putting their own spin on it, suggesting the endorsement could be a double-edged sword for the Florida senator, ABC’s VERONICA STRACQUALURSI and PAOLA CHAVEZ report. http://abcn.ws/1UaL0w1
LATINO VOTE IN NEVADA KEY TO BERNIE SANDERS, HILLARY CLINTON IN DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS. Blanca Gamez of Las Vegas can't vote in her state's Democratic caucus on Saturday, but that's not stopping her from volunteering and serving as a precinct chair for Hillary Clinton. “I’m undocumented and her message resonates with me because I know that she will fight for our families," Gamez said. The 26-year-old sat in a circle with Clinton on Sunday here at her east Las Vegas campaign office. Joined by other DREAMers, she told the presidential candidate about her struggles. ABC’s JOSH HASKELL has more. http://abcn.ws/1UaqZFL
TALES FROM THE TRAIL -- THAT TIME MARIO RUBIO WAS PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR LITTLE BROTHER MARCO'S BIRTH. Mario Rubio doesn’t like to brag, but he’s one of the reasons his brother, presidential candidate Marco Rubio, was born. “Well, my mother called -- she couldn’t get a hold of my father and so I took her to the hospital to deliver him,” he told ABC News during a recent visit to a South Carolina field office. At 21, he was old enough to be Marco’s father -- and that’s exactly who hospital staff thought he was. “They wanted me to sign some paperwork and I said, ‘I can’t sign it. I’ve got to wait for my father,’” he recalled, eyebrows raised. “They said ‘You’re old enough to have a child, and you have to wait for your father?’ I said, ‘No, that’s my mother!’” Now, the trim 65-year-old, who left Cuba with his parents as a boy and went on to become a Green Beret, is helping his brother in a different way: speaking to veterans across military-minded South Carolina, ABC’s BRAD MIELKE reports: http://abcn.ws/1Q59eG9
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
INSIDE HILLARY CLINTON’S MIDNIGHT VISIT TO A LAS VEGAS HOTEL LAUNDRY ROOM. Before going to bed Wednesday, Hillary Clinton paid a late-night visit to a laundry room at her Las Vegas hotel to court a group of union housekeeping workers -- a sign of just how intense the race for every single vote in Nevada has become. Clinton, wearing her glasses, entered the brightly lit room at Caesar's Palace just after midnight where four female workers from Culinary Union 226 were folding hotel room linens as part of their 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. She immediately gave each of them a hug. ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ has more. http://abcn.ws/1OiiPnn
@AndrewRomano: Bill Clinton gets philosophical in Vegas: "I often think I am useless to Hillary in this campaign because I am not mad at anybody."
@bykowicz: As primary heats up, Sanders seeks to remind people of this: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/b2e31b8c72cb4d6da87dd201b6384c75/speeches-earned-clinton-millions-remain-mystery …
@BillWeirCNN: Donald Trump and the politics of the middle finger http://wpo.st/5_9D1
@TomBevanRCP: .@CHueyBurnsRCP in Greenville: South Carolina Lives Up to Dirty-Politics Reputation | RealClearPolitics http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2016/02/19/south_carolina_lives_up_to_dirty-politics_reputation.html …