COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Presidential candidates in both parties battled for the crucial backing of blacks and Hispanics on Friday as the race shifted toward states with more minority voters.
Republicans crisscrossed South Carolina looking to derail billionaire Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who each came to the state with a burst of momentum after the first two nomination contests. Several candidates embraced the chaos as they felt out the best strategies to survive South Carolina and advance into a grueling March primary schedule, when 58 percent of the party's delegate total will be at stake.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was embracing his family ties. Bush on Friday defended his decision to bring his brother, former President George W. Bush, to South Carolina to help him campaign. Speaking to ABC's "Good Morning America," Jeb Bush said recruiting the former president wasn't a sign of desperation, as Trump has suggested. George W. Bush, who is slated to campaign for his brother on Monday, left the White House in January 2009 with low approval ratings.
"This is the beginning of the campaign," and "for my brother to speak on behalf of the skills I have to lead this country will be quite helpful," Jeb Bush said. He later picked up the endorsement of South Carolina's former first lady Iris Campbell, a longtime Bush family ally.
Bush's rival in the fight for the moderate establishment was still introducing himself to South Carolina voters. In a new biographical ad, Ohio Gov. John Kasich notes that his parents' death in a drunk-driving crash in 1987 "transformed" him and helped him find his faith.
A second new ad promises a whirlwind of activity in the first 100 days of a Kasich presidency — "no excuses, no surrender," says a narrator with a hint of a Southern accent.
Florida Sen. March Rubio, looking to re-establish his footing after a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, lashed out at Trump, Cruz and Bush Thursday saying none of them possesses foreign policy experience required of a commander in chief.
Trump was the only Republican to bypass South Carolina on Friday, redirecting his typically unconventional campaign to Florida, where he planned to hold a rally in Tampa.
Meanwhile, at Thursday's Democratic debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton, who has cast herself as the rightful heir to President Barack Obama's legacy, accused rival Bernie Sanders of diminishing the president's record and short-changing Obama's leadership.
"The kind of criticism I hear from Sen. Sanders, I expect from Republicans. I do not expect it from someone seeking the Democratic nomination," Clinton said in a sharp exchange at the close of the two-hour debate. Her biting comments followed an interview in which Sanders suggested Obama hadn't succeeded in closing the gap between Congress and the American people — something the president himself has acknowledged.
Sanders responded: "Madam Secretary, that is a low blow." And he noted that Clinton was the only one on the stage who ran against Obama in 2008.
Long viewed as the overwhelming front-runner in the Democratic race, Clinton has been caught off guard by Sanders' strength, particularly his visceral connection with Americans frustrated by the current political and economic systems. Clinton's own campaign message has looked muddled compared to Sanders' ringing call for a "political revolution," and her connections to Wall Street have given the Vermont senator an easy way to link her to the systems his supporters want to overhaul.
Clinton was scheduled to campaign in South Carolina on Friday, after which, the two Democratic rivals were scheduled to attend a dinner event in Minnesota.
Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard and Bill Barrow in South Carolina and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.