Trump wins South Carolina contest, swamping Nikki Haley in her home state

COLUMBIA, South Carolina – Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican contest on Feb 24, US media projections showed, extending his winning streak as he marches toward a third consecutive presidential nomination and a rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Within seconds of the polls closing, CNN and NBC predicted a fourth victory in the fourth major nominating contest for the ex-president going into the “Super Tuesday” 15-state voting bonanza in 10 days – although his winning margin was not immediately clear.

“I have never seen the Republican party so unified as it is right now,” Trump told supporters in Columbia, the state capital, just minutes after the polls closed at 7pm. He did not mention Mrs Haley once in about 30 minutes of remarks.

The former president had been widely favoured to win, with poll after poll showing him holding a sizeable lead despite his litany of criminal charges and Mrs Haley’s status as a native of South Carolina who won two terms as governor.

The lopsided outcome will bolster calls from Trump’s allies that Mrs Haley, Trump’s last remaining challenger, should drop out of the race.

Trump has dominated all five contests thus far – in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, the US Virgin Islands and now Mrs Haley’s home state – leaving her with virtually no path to the Republican nomination.

A defiant Mrs Haley, who served as UN ambassador under Trump, insisted this week that she would sustain her campaign through at least “Super Tuesday” on March 5, when Republicans in 15 states and one US territory will cast ballots.

“We need to beat Joe Biden in November,” she told supporters in Charleston, South Carolina, after the Feb 24 election was called in Trump’s favour. “I don’t believe Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden.”

She argued that her vote share, while less than 50 per cent, showed large numbers of Republicans were still uneasy about Trump.

Trump was leading 59.7 per cent to 39.7 per cent with about half of the expected vote tallied, according to Edison Research.

Mrs Haley, whose foreign policy credentials as the former United States ambassador to the United Nations are at the centre of her campaign, has focused in recent days on Trump’s stance toward Russia following the death of Alexei Navalny, the main opposition leader there.

She criticised Trump for waiting days before commenting on Navalny’s death and then for failing to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin. She also condemned Trump’s recent remarks that he would not defend Nato allies from a Russian attack if he felt they had not spent enough on defence.

But there is scant evidence that Republican voters are interested in any standard-bearer except Trump.

Immigration, which Trump has made a key focus of his election campaign, was the No. 1 issue for voters in the Republican primary on Feb 24, according to an Edison exit poll. Some 39 per cent of voters cited that issue compared with 33 per cent who said the economy was their top concern.

Approximately 84 per cent of voters said the economy is not so good or poor, highlighting a major potential weakness for Mr Biden in November’s general election.

Once again, however, exit polls also pointed to Trump’s own vulnerabilities. Nearly one-third of voters on Feb 24 said Trump would be unfit to serve as president if he were convicted of a crime.

Trump’s first criminal trial is scheduled to begin on March 25 in New York City. He is charged in that case with falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

He faces three other sets of charges, including a federal indictment for conspiring to reverse Biden’s victory in 2020. Trump has pleaded not guilty in every case and claimed, with no evidence, that the charges stem from a Democratic conspiracy to derail his campaign.

‘My ultimate and absolute revenge’

Both Trump and Mr Biden have already begun looking ahead to November, with the president characterising Trump as a mortal threat to the republic.

Before flying to South Carolina to watch returns on Feb 24, Trump addressed a gathering of conservative activists near Washington in a 90-minute speech that painted a dark picture of a declining America under Mr Biden.

He said if he beats Mr Biden in the Nov 5 general election it will represent a “judgment day” for the US, and “my ultimate and absolute revenge.”

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy emerged as favorites for Trump’s vice-presidential pick, according to a poll of activists at the conservative conference. They each received 15 per cent support.

Mrs Haley had hoped that South Carolina’s “open” primary, which allows registered voters – Republicans, Democrats and independents – to cast a ballot, would lead to a higher turnout among independents and even some Democrats who are determined to stop Trump.

But Edison exit poll data showed only 21 per cent of voters considered themselves moderate or liberal, only slightly higher than the 19 per cent who said the same in the party’s 2016 primary.

Ms Kelli Poindexter, a Democrat and transcriptionist who lives in Columbia, the state capital, voted for Mrs Haley “simply to, maybe, cancel out one of the Donald Trump votes”.

“I think he’s dangerous,” she said. “I think he’s a threat. And if Democrats come out and give a vote to Nikki, it takes one away from him.”

But Mr Kevin Marsh, a 59-year-old Republican and truck driver who also lives in Columbia, said he voted for Trump on Feb 24 because he trusts him more than Mrs Haley.

“She’s more of a globalist and I just can’t support that,” he said.

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