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Trump triumphs over Haley in South Carolina GOP primary

Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Abraham Kenmore and Jessica Holdman, SC Daily Gazette
February 24, 2024

COLUMBIA — Former President Donald Trump won an expected blowout victory over former S.C. governor Nikki Haley Saturday in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.

The Associated Press called the race at 7 p.m. with zero percent of the precincts reporting.

Once all counties had reported, Trump had 59.8% of the votes to Haley’s 39.5%, according to unofficial results from state election officials.

“This is a little sooner than we anticipated” and “an even bigger win than we anticipated,” Trump said as he took the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” He told supporters who had been gathering at the fairgrounds in Columbia all day, “You can celebrate for about 15 minutes and then we have to get back to work.”

The preliminary results actually appear closer than predicted. A South Carolina poll published 10 days ahead of the primary by Winthrop University put voter support for Haley at 29%, compared to 65% for Trump.

Trump was joined on stage by S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham. Graham, who spoke briefly, was booed by the crowd while a Trump mention of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz as “a very noncontroversial person” brought cheers and chants of “Gaetz, Gaetz, Gaetz.”

Trump was on stage for about 30 minutes and stuck to his usual talking points — the situation on the border is “the worst it’s ever been” and the country “is a failing nation.” He predicted that Michigan autoworkers would support him in that state’s primary on Tuesday.

He added “Nov. 5 – it’s going to be the most important date, perhaps, in the history of our country” before thanking his supporters and telling them to go home and get some rest because “we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Haley waited until about 8:30 p.m. to come out to address about 400 supporters at her watch party in the ballroom of a downtown Charleston hotel.

“I know 40% is not 50% but I also know 40% is not some tiny group,” Haley said of the preliminary results. She reiterated her promise to stay in the race, saying: “I’m a woman of my word.”

Despite losing in her home state, Haley said, “I’m grateful to South Carolina; I always have been and always will be. “And I’m grateful that today is not the end of our story.” She added that the campaign heads to Michigan on Sunday.

Pointing out that over the next 10 days, 21 states will cast votes, 15 of those on Super Tuesday, March 5, Haley said to cheers: “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet style election with only one candidate.”

 Former S.C. Gov. and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during her primary election night gathering at The Charleston Place on Feb. 24, 2024 in Charleston, South Carolina. Haley was defeated in her home state’s primary by Republic challenger, former U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

She also congratulated Trump on his victory but added as she has said repeatedly in her speeches that she does not think he has the support needed to beat Joe Biden in November.

“What I saw today was South Carolina’s frustration with our country’s direction. I’ve seen that same frustration nationwide. I share it; I feel it to my core,” she said. “But here’s the thing, America will come apart if we make the wrong choices.”

South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Christale Spain issued a statement on the results, saying: “The stage for November has been set and the choices South Carolinians will have at the voting booth are becoming clear. Voters have seen what’s at stake: Donald Trump is running to ban abortion nationwide, end the Affordable Care Act, and gut Social Security and Medicare — all while pulling apart the fabric of our democracy.

“Three weeks ago, a diverse coalition of Black voters, rural voters, Medicare recipients, college students, teachers, service members and veterans overwhelmingly showed up to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and they’re ready to do it at the ballot box once again so they can continue delivering record accomplishments for South Carolina.”

About 131,000 voters cast ballots in the state’s Democratic primary earlier this month. Because voters in South Carolina do not register by party, any registered voter in the state who did not vote in the Democratic primary was eligible to cast a ballot in the GOP primary.

A man in a suit and red tie faces someone off screen
 South Carolina GOP Chairman
Drew McKissick speaks with the press at former President Donald Trump’s election watch night party in Columbia, S.C. on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024 (Abraham Kenmore/SC Daily Gazette)

S.C. GOP Party Chairman Drew McKissick said earlier Saturday that he did not expect many Democrats to cross over and vote for Haley. “Self identified Democratic participation in our presidential primary has been going down over time, and that’s largely because most of those folks were conservative Democrats who now have joined the Republican party,” he said.

McKissick added that he expected the state would set voting records on Saturday. According to the S.C. Election Commission, 205,099 people voted early in the primary and 12,018 people had cast absentee ballots ahead of Saturday.

‘She’ll have her time’

The candidates and their allies have spent the past month pushing their message to voters across the state. Trump held Get Out the Vote rallies in Conway, North Charleston and Rock Hill, and a Fox town hall in Greenville, while his proxies toured the state. Haley meanwhile spent weeks crisscrossing the state on her tour bus.

The former president also made international news during his visits to South Carolina, including saying he told the head of a NATO ally he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if they did not meet defense spending goals.  

Messages like that rang true for Andrew Middleton, a 40-year-old IT network engineer in Charleston, who said he wants a president who will keep the U.S. out of foreign conflicts and focus on a domestic agenda. Middleton, who grew up in rural Illinois but has lived in the Charleston area for 12 years now, pushed his young son in a stroller as he walked out of West Ashley High School in the Lowcountry after casting his ballot for Trump.

Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Trump’s administration, attacked the former president over his comments, and President Joe Biden said the remarks were “shameful” and “dangerous.”

Trump’s comments, however, did not lessen enthusiasm for the former president at the polls.

“If anybody can get things straightened out quickly, it’ll be him,” said Charleston-area voter Amy Coffey.

Saturday marked the first time the 48-year-old office administrator had cast a ballot in a primary. She said the current presidential race felt “crucial” to her and Malcolm Coffey, a 49-year-old electrician, prompting them to come out.

Both cast ballots for Trump, citing border security as the top issue concerning them.

“It’s not that I don’t like Nikki Haley,” Amy Coffey said. “ I just don’t think now is the perfect time to bring someone new in. She’ll have her time.”

Haley has been careful to manage expectations for her results in South Carolina, saying victory would be “making sure it looks close” rather than winning outright. 

“All I can do is my part; I don’t know if it will make a difference or not,” said Colleen Geis, a 48-year-old medical care coordinator living in the Charleston area who voted for the perceived long-shot Haley.

While Haley cast her own ballot on gated Kiawah Island, Geis was among a steady stream of James Island residents who stepped into the polling place at Harbor View Elementary.

 A man participates in exit polling after voting in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary at Dreher High School on Feb. 24, 2024 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Some living in the surrounding neighborhood used the opportunity to walk their dogs as they fulfilled their civic duty.

“Anybody but Trump,” said Lauren May, a 32-year-old doctor’s assistant, after casting her vote.

Haley also earned the support of Mark Leon. The 51-year-old marketing consultant said 2016 was a difficult year. It was the first time he saw people become emotional and angry over politics. It was the first time he saw lifelong friendships end based on who they voted for.

“It’s only going to get worse this year because it’s the same players,” Leon said of a Trump-Biden faceoff.

He felt if Haley were chosen as the Republican nominee, she would bring more empathy to the race rather than instantly polarizing an issue.

Haley is the last major candidate opposing Trump, but two extreme long-shot candidates remain in the running — Pastor Ryan Binkley of Texas and veteran Air Force combat pilot David Stuckenberg of Florida. 

Three other candidates, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, all dropped out of the race after making it onto the South Carolina ballot. 

SC Daily Gazette is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. SC Daily Gazette maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seanna Adcox for questions: Follow SC Daily Gazette on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from SC Daily Gazette under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.