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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Joan E Greve in Charleston, South Carolina, Lauren Gambinoin Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and George Chidi in Lancaster, South Carolina

South Carolina Republican primaries: Haley defiant as Trump confident of win

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks after casting her vote in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks after casting her vote in South Carolina's Republican presidential primary Photograph: Meg Kinnard/AP

South Carolinians headed to the polls on Saturday to cast their ballots in the Republican presidential primary, as the state’s former governor, Nikki Haley, fights to hang on in a race still dominated by Donald Trump.

At her primary eve rally in Mount Pleasant, just outside of Charleston, Haley had called on her supporters to turn out in large numbers on Saturday.

“In a general election, you’re given a choice. In a primary, you make your choice,” Haley said. “This is the time we make our choice.”

But at this point, Haley would have to pull off a shocking upset to win South Carolina. According to the FiveThirtyEight average of South Carolina polls, Trump leads Haley by roughly 30 points in the state, and the former president has already won the first three voting contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. At his own primary eve rally in Rock Hill, near the North Carolina border, Trump voiced robust confidence that he would deliver a decisive victory on Saturday and indicated he was already turning his attention to the general election fight against Joe Biden.

“We’re going to have a gigantic victory here in South Carolina,” Trump told thousands of supporters. “We’re going to show crooked Joe Biden and the radical left Democrats that we are coming like a freight train in November.”

Trump’s allies have expressed exasperation that the primary is continuing even though Haley has not yet managed to win a single state. Her best performance to date was in the New Hampshire primary last month, when she lost to Trump by 11 points. At an event in Charleston on Friday, Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, told voters that the primary “should be over” and blamed Haley’s large donors for keeping her campaign alive.

“The billionaire donors that don’t actually care about conservative values but care about having a puppet in the White House will feed more money to the campaign to prolong the agony, to drag it out, to make it harder for us to get to the real fight, which is going after Joe Biden,” Trump Jr said.

South Carolina primary: read more

Despite the tough talk from Trump and his surrogates, Haley’s team appeared undaunted in the days leading up to the primary. Haley has insisted she will stay in the race until Super Tuesday on 5 March, when 15 states and one territory will hold their primary contests. During a press call with reporters on Friday, Haley’s campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, announced a seven-figure ad buy across Super Tuesday states, indicating the candidate has no plans to drop out after Saturday.

“We know the odds, but we also know the stakes. And we think a whole lot of Republicans do, too,” Ankney said. “So we are going to continue to fight as long as we see that there is an appetite for our message, and so far, we’re seeing that there is.”

Haley voted on Saturday morning in her home precinct on Kiawah Island, alongside her mother, a naturalized US citizen from India, and her two children. It was poignant, Haley said, to watch her immigrant mother cast a ballot for her daughter for president.

A middle-aged woman with long dark hair and a purple dress and black tights helps an older Indian woman in a black, white and gray shawl out of a wheelchair in front of an indoor voting booth.
Nikki Haley helps her mother, Raj Kaur Randhawa, cast her ballot on 24 February 2024 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Speaking briefly afterward, Haley called Trump’s recent comments about Black people “disgusting” and said it should be a “warning” for Republicans who continue to support him.

“Donald Trump cannot win a general election,” she said. “He won’t. We can make him the primary nominee if we want but Republicans will lose come November.”

Peggy Hudson, 72, had a similar mindset as she cast her ballot for Haley at the main branch of the Charleston county public library on Saturday. She described her vote for Haley as “more of a counter-vote” against Trump and planned to vote for Joe Biden in the general election.

“I’m disgusted by Donald Trump,” Hudson said. “I’ve always been disgusted by Donald Trump, and how any woman could support that man is beyond my comprehension.”

Despite her Democratic leanings, Hudson gave Haley credit for continuing her candidacy.

“I think that’s a sad state of affairs for our country that those are the two best candidates that we can come up with,” Hudson said. “And not that Joe Biden has not done a good job. He has done some very good things for this country. But I do think it is time for a new generation of leaders.”

Most Republican voters were expected to stick by the former president.

“I had to get Trump in there, to tell the truth,” said Joe Roney, 69, a retired chemical plant worker and maintenance person in Lancaster. “It’s the economy, groceries, everything. I’m retired, on social security, and it’s hard on an old man. It’s bad everywhere.”

Solomon Cruz, 38, a former Marine in Lancaster, has long been a campaign volunteer and political actor. “I’ve worked every election since 2016, other than this one. I served in the military and still think that it’s part of the American public’s duty.”

He said it was partly a lack of options driving his vote for Trump.

“I think that if there was somebody better, I would vote for him. But I don’t see anybody else being able to be Joe Biden. For me personally, it’s getting it out there for organizations like Save22 [a non-profit focused on suicide prevention for first responders and military veterans]. Because there are a lot of homeless veterans and military personnel that have a tough, tough time adjusting to civilian life when they get out. They make up the big majority of homeless people in this country,” Cruz said.

“That was one reason I voted for Donald Trump. Because one of the things that he did was open up healthcare for veterans, so they didn’t have to go to the VA to get healthcare, they could go to regular doctors.”

In a sign of different perceptions, some voted for Haley for the very same issue.

Judith Smith, a longtime Haley supporter, said Trump made a mistake when he mocked Haley’s husband, Michael Haley, the former first man of South Carolina, who is on a yearlong deployment in Africa with the South Carolina national guard.

Smith’s husband had been planning to vote for Trump – until he made those comments. Now, she said, he will support Haley.

“The fact that Trump would denigrate our veterans is worse than disgusting,” she said, noting that South Carolina is home to several military bases and a large veteran population.

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