The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images
By Zeke J Miller
February 17, 2016

It’s getting personal in the Palmetto State. Just six months ago, heads were turning when Sen. Ted Cruz called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar. Now the term is being used with such frequency it’s losing its meaning. Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are seeking to undercut Ted Cruz’s “TrusTed” message with the charge—coming in response to a wave of attack ads from Cruz and his supporters. On Tuesday, the Rubio campaign launched a robo-call accusing Cruz’s campaign of negative push-polling—a time-honored tactic in the state—against the Florida senator. Cruz’s campaign maintains its attacks are 100% truthful, but the counterpunches are taking a toll on their candidate’s favorability rating.

The Democratic race in Nevada may be tightening, but Hillary Clinton‘s firewall in South Carolina appears to be holding, thanks to a commanding lead among black voters. Bernie Sanders has demonstrated little ability to attract minority voters in the state, raising doubts about his long-term viability. But Sanders can win by losing, reshaping the Democratic Party thanks to a strong delegate haul even if he loses the nomination.

President Obama says he has faith in the American people that Trump won’t win the White House, as he promises to fulfill his constitutional duty by nominating a candidate to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

Fresh off a campaign stop with his brother, Jeb Bush is bring his mother, former First Lady Barbara Bush, back on the campaign trail in South Carolina, he told reporters Tuesday. She will be with him Thursday through Saturday, as Bush’s candidacy faces an existential test in the state.

How the economy may shape the general election. John Kasich bets on Michigan. Jeb Bush does “the dab.” And how Marco Rubio handled a supporters’ suggestion that Clinton be waterboarded.

Here are your must-reads:

Must Reads

Why Bernie Sanders Is Struggling With Black Voters in South Carolina
TIME’s Philip Elliott on why the state is Hillary Clinton’s firewall

Rubio Releases Robo-Call Slamming Alleged Ted Cruz Campaign Tactics
The campaign war of words heats up in South Carolina

John Kasich Hopes for Another Success Story in Michigan
An untraditional look at the primary calendar from the New Hampshire runner-up [New York Times]

Why Bernie Sanders Wins Even If He Loses
If you have delegates, you can make demands [Politico]

The Speech Hillary Clinton Should Give to Young Women
TIME’s Jay Newton-Small looks at how she should pitch herself

For Ted Cruz, the 2013 Shutdown Was a Defining Moment
It solidified his position with the base, and as an enemy of the mainstream GOP [Washington Post]

Economic Uncertainty Muddles Election Prospects
Concerns of a global slowdown may shift campaign spotlight to U.S. growth [Wall Street Journal]

Why Pope Francis Is on the Mexican Side of the Border
It’s indicative of his approach to politics, writes TIME’s Elizabeth Dias

Sound Off

“I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president. I have a lot of faith in the American people.” — President Obama at a news conference Tuesday

“You’re lucky I didn’t run last time, when [Mitt] Romney ran, because you would have been a one-term president.” —Donald Trump responding to Obama’s comments

Bits and Bites

President Obama: ‘Mr. Trump Will Not Be President’ [TIME]

Ted Cruz Twists the Truth in New Anti-Trump Video [TIME]

Rubio Appears to Chuckle at Voter Suggestion to ‘Waterboard Hillary’ [TIME]

Jeb Bush, That Subtle Jokester, Isn’t ‘Looking’ So Good [New York Times]

Barbara Bush to Hit the Trail for Jeb in South Carolina [CNN]

How Antonin Scalia’s Death Will Help Teachers’ Unions [TIME]

Jeb Bush Does the ‘Dab’ [Twitter]

Obama Says He Will Pick a ‘Qualified’ Supreme Court Nominee [TIME]

Rubio Attacks Cruz’s Honesty in South Carolina [TIME]

Clinton Announces Plan to Address ‘School-to-Prison Pipeline’ [TIME]

Why This Cowboy Painter Is Watching the 2016 Race Closely [TIME]

Barack Obama Declines to Endorse in Democratic Primary — for Now [Wall Street Journal]

Write to Zeke J Miller at zeke.miller@time.com.

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